Is competitive sport a positive activity for children?

Amanda Johnson/ Aspire Health Centre
Lead physiotherapist
23 April, 2014

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There is a debate on whether children should compete or just have fun. Children as young as six years of age, can experience a competitive environment, if involved in sporting activities at clubs and federations. The benefits of sports participation outweigh the negatives but it is the responsibility of the adults involved to ensure children find participation an enjoyable and challenging experience rather than one that leads to pain, injury and disillusionment.  Competitive sport can be character building by increasing self-esteem and reduce anxiety. It teaches children to problem solve, build self-discipline and respect for others. During competition, as there is usually a winner and loser it teaches them to deal with adversity and how to deal with disappointment, which is a valuable lesson for life in general. Any competitive situation involving children or adolescents should be in a controlled environment without excessive pressure from parents and coaches. Adults should ensure a strict adherence to the rules to prevent injury with the age-appropriate equipment such as the size of goals, footballs and pitches and the correct footwear.

Growth related problems are not uncommon and are usually the result of an increase in the load of training or competition, particularly during a period of growth but if they are looked after properly there are no long term consequences. If a child complains of any injury, discomfort or pain this should be investigated as some injuries can have a detrimental effect on developing tissue and could lead to problems in other parts of the skeleton.

Sleep is a crucial factor for children and up to the age of 12 years they require 10-11 hours of sleep every night. There are two types of sleep, sometimes termed “quiet” sleep and “active” sleep. During “quiet” sleep there is an increased flow of blood to the muscles, hormones are released to ensure growth and development, energy stores are replenished and tissue growth and repair will occur. “Active” sleep is the time during sleep our brains are active and we dream. Both types are required to be fully rested.

Diet and nutrition are the main source of energy for active children so the correct foods are vital to maintain good activity levels. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy especially foods such as bread, rice and pasta. Children must stay hydrated when participating in competition or training by drinking plenty of fluids. It has been shown that dehydration can cause a drop in energy levels, heat exhaustion and even heat stroke.

Too much training and competition can cause problems such as mood swings, loss of appetite, sleep disturbance and even injury but there is overwhelming evidence to show that regular exercise boosts academic achievement and helps concentration in the classroom particularly in teenagers, both boys and girls.

Children can enjoy the competitive environment as long as it is monitored and controlled by parents and coaches and can result in a healthy lifestyle which can be sustained into adulthood.




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