The mental and physical health benefits for kids associated with playing football
Kicking a ball about is an age-old pastime enjoyed by boys and girls in countries across the world.
Whether it’s playing after school, in a football leagues at the weekend, or just in their own garden, there’s something that draws kids in and makes them want to get out there and give it a go. Far from just messing about and coming home with scuffed knees and dirty clothes though, football is actually a wonderful sport for encouraging a healthy lifestyle and ensuring that your children keep active.
The positive physical effects associated with playing football
The physical benefits of physical exercise are plentiful. Most obvious is that any form of exercise is going to help increase kid’s levels of physical wellbeing. Focusing on cardiovascular health creates a great base of fitness. While this is applicable to playing sports and keeping fit in general though, there are a number of physical health benefits that are more closely related to football specifically:
Anyone who has ever done an hour-long workout, or even an intense 30-minute workout, will tell you that it’s a long time to keep active. A full football match is 90 minutes long, split into two 45-minute sections with a rest period in the middle. This is a long time to keep moving. Football requires stamina in lots of forms, from slower jogging from one end of the field to the other, to moving with the ball. Then, there’s quick turns and sprints more akin to a ‘HIIT’ type workout. A football match undeniably requires a good level of stamina, and the more kids play football, the more their stamina will increase. For even the fittest child, 90 minutes is always going to be a good workout!
Football is a fast-moving sport with swift changes from one position to the next at a moment’s notice. All this focusing on the football, concentrating on where your teammates are, and defending the space around you requires a certain level of coordination. The more kids practice at this, the easier it will become, and the more they will be able to transfer these skills to other sports and other areas of their lives. Coordination also develops self-awareness as it trains kids to be aware of who is around them and how to react quickly to unexpected situations.
Depending on the position your child is playing in, they will likely be accelerating at speed in reaction to something happening elsewhere on the pitch, and particularly if they are the one running towards the goal with the ball. They could be stopping quickly, turning at the last minute or even having to put on the brakes and start running backwards. Repeated accelerations and sprints like this are a sure way to develop and improve reaction times.
Increased muscle and bone strength
Playing football uses muscles in every part of your body from your feet up to your head. The more kids play, the more they will develop muscles in their feet from kicking, their legs from running and their heads, arms and backs from supporting these movements. As the system supporting these muscles (the skeletal system) will also be getting a good workout, leading to stronger, healthier bones. If your child is in goal, they might be diving to save the opposing team from scoring and if they are the one trying to score, they might be jumping for headers. What’s for certain is that they will be getting a full body workout like no other.
The positive mental impact of playing football
What you might not have considered, or may have taken for granted, are the many mental health benefits associated with playing football. Sure, kids may see it as just a game, but as adults, we can be more aware of the wider impact too.
Teamwork and communication
Football is a team sport. There is simply no getting away from the fact that to play it, you must learn to communicate with others. There is no point in simply kicking a ball and hoping someone else from the same team gets to it. You need to communicate physically and verbally with players on different parts of the field so that they are aware of what is happening. You too have to be willing to look to others and communicate with them about where you are, and what you are looking to do next. Which leads us onto the next point.
Strategy and planning
You have to know where on the field your teammates are, and where they are likely to run to next, so that you can position yourselves well. The overall goal is of course, to score goals, and more importantly, to score more goals that the other team in order to win the match. As with many things in life, there will occasionally be an element of luck, but the top football teams haven’t got to where they are today based on luck alone. They’ve done it by planning their moves on the field, before they ever step foot on it. By analysing what their opponents strengths and weakness are. By self-reflecting on what their own weaknesses are and how they can be addressed. To an outsider, it may just look like kicking a ball, but there is a lot of strategy and planning involved in becoming a good footballer.
Striving for a goal
Everyone playing a game wants to win. It’s only natural. Developing as a footballer starts with a simple kick, running in the right direction, and using a few basic techniques. As with any goal, striving towards it teaches us focus, discipline, patience and even how to cope with disappointment. These ae all valuable life lessons that are not just applicable to football, but to every stage of our adult lives. What better way to teach kids to be patient and to get them to accept that things don’t always come easy, than to let them learn it doing something they love. It will beat simply being told that life isn’t always easy every time.
The mental health benefits of exercise in general
Exercise is a proven mood-booster and a great way to raise those ‘feel good’ endorphin levels. Feeling happy also comes through reducing stress levels which again is something that can be achieved through taking part in regular exercise. If kids are happy and less stressed, they are also more likely to sleep better, which calms the mind and enables the body to recover from the day’s events.
So the next time your kids come home with muddy boots, and a smelly football kit, remember the physical and mental health benefits of playing football and know that while it may not be doing your housekeeping any favours, it’s definitely benefiting them as developing individuals!
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