Sports Teams and the Brain

Sports are terrific for friendship, teamwork, exercise, self-confidence, and self-esteem. All good for the brain right? Yes, for the most part.

Kids often experience deeper relationships with others on a sports team. Having something in common brings them closer together, and the connection seems more pronounced. This friendship helps develop the insula of the brain which allows one to become more compassionate and kind.

Working as a team helps kids learn to anticipate other's actions and to learn fairness. This, too, helps build the insula. Kids, when forced to think of another's need quickly, develop attention to others based on body language. This is a beneficial skill in life. Unfortunately, this attention is sometimes left for the sport only. Recognizing this skill in everyday life would be life changing.

Exercise, as discussed in a previous post, helps the brain immensely. Excercise increases the oxygen to the brain, the vital nutrients to the brain, and the blood flow to the brain. It has also been shown to increase the number of neurons (neuroplasticity) in the hippocampus (responsible for memory) and in the prefrontal cortex (responsible for creativity, motivation, problem solving, advanced thinking, calm). So from these studies, we can deduce that the brain of a child (or adult) that exercises actually gets larger and builds more connections.

And of course, the brain to muscle connections (neuromuscular connections) multiply and work better to increase body control and physical ability and agility. Simply put, the kids learn to naturally do more body actions without active thought. It soon becomes muscle memory (engrams), just like riding a bike, or walking. After mastering these activities, our brains do the muscle activity without constant conscious thought. 

Sports are not all great, however. The part of organized sports that is bad for the brain is the lack of a schedule, the lack of quality time with your child, the lack of meals together as a family, the lack of real food and nutrition, the lack of sleep, the travelling, and the stress.

Children thrive on calm consistent schedules that include home cooked nutritious meals where all members of the family sit at the table, without being rushed, and talk. Sounds unimportant, but when their schedule gets disrupted and they are rushed to go here or go there, many children fail to accommodate. The calm is disrupted. Short term disruption can be beneficial and fun, but long term disruption is not brain building. Often, this disruption overshadows the positives. 

Do I like sports? Of course, but I do not think they should negatively affect the day, meals, nutrition, quality family time, or sleep. Life is so short. Enjoy each day to the fullest, and do what is best for your child. If that includes a sport, have it be a local one that has the fewest disruptions. The benefits will still be there, but you will have reduced the negatives so that your child can be well on their way to being.....


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