Matthew Yeoman, sports journalist for the Vancouver Whitecaps discusses how soccer benefits children’s physical health, social skills and worldview.
The simplicity of soccer, its worldwide appeal, and the particular nature of the sport make it ideal for promoting physical health, developing social skills and experiencing a worldview that includes equality.
These are all essential to the growth of children. Introducing an active outdoor sport like soccer will help them develop a love of sport that will encourage a healthy lifestyle for the commitment that the word ‘life’style implies.
An Alternative to Traditional Exercise Regimes
I frequently find myself bored senseless on the endless treadmill or while pounding the pavement of my local sidewalks. Soccer offers a cardiovascular exercise that can alleviate this repetitive form of exercise. Even at the youngest levels of soccer it has been found that players can travel eight to twelve kilometers during a match. This distance and activity level brings about the same cardiovascular endurance benefits as distance running, but with more fun.
Almost all other team sports have breaks in the action which lessen their effectiveness at increasing cardiovascular health. Think about all the time you see baseball, hockey, and American football players sitting on the bench. Why would you want your child sitting on the sidelines?
1. Physical Benefits
The constant movement of the sport, and the many different actions undertaken, lends itself well to gaining muscle tone and bone strength. Don’t believe me? The next time you watch a soccer match look at the players legs. The rest of their bodies have that level of definition because of the match-long engagement of all their muscles.
Soccer also works to strengthen bones in much the same way as it improves muscle tone. The entire skeletal structure has weight bearing loads placed on it during every match. This increases the strength of the skeletal frame by increasing bone density.
2. Social Development
The social benefits of soccer interest me the most, and I am studying these benefits further through my research project ‘Soccer and Societal Development in Africa: A Profile’, which looks at:
- Soccers’ ability to teach teamwork
- How soccer encourages communications skills
- How soccer instills the ideals of equality
The importance of teamwork relates to the growth of higher social skills which are essential to a child’s success in school and later in life. In soccer, the entire strategy of scoring goals is centered around the idea that the team works as one. All 11 players work towards a common goal of moving the ball forward towards the opposing teams goal in a coordinated effort. It is unlike hockey and American football where players sub on and off the field of play and can confer with coaching staff. Soccer is about a sustained effort to work together as a team on a rehearsed plan to achieve the goals of the club.
Encouraging Communication Skills
Communication relates to the teamwork mentioned above as the coach can only do so much when the players are out on the pitch. During game play there are no timeouts or huddles, the players have to learn to communicate with one another in real time. This is exactly how the real world functions; there are no timeouts in a board meeting. You must show up prepared and communicate right then at the time what it is you intend to do and what you need to do to accomplish those intentions.
Another aspect of the soccer players communications abilities is with themselves and their coach. Each player must know their own abilities and then communicate this with their coach. It teaches a player to know themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, and then to communicate this so their coach can put them in a position to succeed.
3. Instilling the Ideals of Equality
A young athlete playing soccer will see, through their own experiences and through watching world soccer, that people of all genders, races, creeds, and backgrounds are as capable of succeeding at their goals as any other person. The most successful soccer players in the world come from every nation on Earth, every religion, and every socioeconomic background.
I didn’t realize how big, how small, and how developed the world really was until I became interested in soccer. North American sports had taught me to follow North American athletes. Soccer changed all that, it showed me people from all over the world working together as equals on the pitch and as brothers and sisters off it. Yes, like any other large society there are still those who are in opposition to equality within the soccer community. They are seen as undesirable fringe elements and the exception to the inclusive rule of world soccer today.
Soccer is a sport like few others. It is simple to play but with the ability to teach complex skills that build a child into an adult. The unique character of the sport will do this for anyone who participates in it wholeheartedly and with their best efforts. Those with lower athletic gifts can still succeed by becoming knowledgeable about the mental aspect of the game. The naturally gifted can learn to put aside their personal ambitions for the betterment of the team, while still having their moments to shine. The true potential of soccer is how it taps into the talent of those who play it so that they become as whole and beautiful as the Beautiful Game itself.
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Do you think that soccer promotes equality because it is so accessible and affordable? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.