Above: Image © JakeOlimb, iStockphoto

Why play sports? Why not just sit on your couch watching sports—or playing video games, watching TV, and chatting on social media? This article provides some answers to these questions. It also highlights the importance of playing multiple sports.

Above all, sports are a great way of staying physically fit. And physical fitness is important for anyone at any age. But it’s especially important for younger people. Of course, playing sports when you’re young helps you develop motor skills. But it also helps your psychological and social development.

Did you know? Between 1978 and 2004, childhood obesity in Canada almost doubled!

Physical and cognitive benefits

Do you remember the first few years of your life, especially from ages two to five? I know I don’t! However, this was a key time for the development of both our brains and our physical skills. Physical activity at an early age helps develop fundamental motor skills like throwing, kicking and catching.

Throughout your life, staying fit helps keep your body healthy. Physical activity can improve your heart function and lung function. It also reduces health risks. For example, the more physically active you are, the less time you spend sitting. This reduces your risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. These conditions are on the rise among young people, so getting off the couch and playing sports is more important than ever!

Over the long term, studies have found that regular exercise can even improve brain function. For instance, one study showed that adults who stayed fit throughout their lives also performed better on memory and thinking tests.

Some scientists think that the cognitive (thinking) benefits of exercise are thanks to a molecule called irisin. When you exercise, your brain produces more and more of this molecule. Irisin then activates a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). In turn, BDNF stimulates genes involved in cognition—in other words, your thinking genes.

Psychological benefits

Personally, what I enjoy most about sports is being part of a team. Growing up, I was a shy kid. But that changed when I started to play sports. And it turns out that a lot of kids develop skills and personality traits through sports. For example, one study on youth and sports found that playing on a soccer team promoted skills like leadership, teamwork and initiative.

I also found that playing sports taught me a lot about responsibility. I had to make sure I showed up to practice on time, gave my full effort, and communicated clearly and consistently.

How many sports should you play?

Some people think that focusing on a single sport early in life is the best way to become an elite athlete. However, studies like this one suggest that, in the long run, multi-sport athletes can become just as good as kids who focus on only one sport.

For example, Steve Nash was twice named Most Valuable Player by the National Basketball Association. As a child, Nash tried many sports, including soccer, hockey and lacrosse. Only later did he specialize in basketball.

That study mentioned above also found that children who play multiple sports tend to remain physically active for longer. This means that these kids are more likely to reap the benefits you’ve been reading about throughout their lives, and not just when they’re young.

Different sports teach you different skills. By trying different sports, you develop into a more well-rounded athlete. So if you’re trying to excel at a particular sport, don’t let anyone tell you that other activities is a waste of time. Play sports for fun, and enjoy the benefits!

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Whatever your age, participating in sports is an effective and fun way to stay healthy and learn valuable life and motor skills. Playing multiple sports will help you become faster and stronger—so you can leave your competition in the dust! Next time your friends are over at your house and want to play video games, challenge them to a team sport instead!

Learn More!

Scientists Discover Why Exercise Makes You Smarter (2013)
Christopher Bergland, Psychology Today

The Benefits of Sampling Sports in During Childhood (2009)
J. Côté, S. Horton, D. MacDonald & S. Wilkes, Sports Information Resource Centre

Youth Sports: Implementing Findings and Moving Forward with Research. The Online Journal of Sport Psychology (2006)
J. Côté & J. Fraser-Thomas, Athletic Insight 8

Benefits of playing multiple sports
USA Baseball Amateur Resource Center

Yichi Zhang

My name is Tony Zhang and I recently graduate with a B.ScH in Kinesiology from Queen's University in 2014. I am currently living at home in Ottawa and I have conducted research on human vascular function in response to stress, the regenerative abilities of zebrafish, the effect of aging on mitochondrial protein turnover in human muscle, intrinsic defects in the muscle of mice with a disease called spinal muscular atrophy, and currently, the role of a family of transcription factors called NFATs in muscle and cardiac tissue during metabolic rate depression in hibernating squirrel. I am rower on Carleton University's rowing team. Also, basketball, and sports in general have always been my number one passion because of all the valuable experiences and opportunities that it has given me. As a result, I chose to pursue a degree in Kinesiology at Queen's University with the goal of learning how to inspire, empower, and help others improve their physical health and well-being through sport and physical activity. 

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