Active Children Develop Character
There is evidence which suggests that exercise helps more than just physical development. Children who get regular physical activity are better able to pay attention in school and are more likely to improve their grades than children who do not. They are also less likely to have behavioral issues than children who do not engage in sports or exercise. Those positive benefits are important – and should not be overlooked – but here at Sports Backers we realize that there is more than just performance in school and physical fitness that is improved when children are active. We believe that physical activity impacts a child’s overall development as a person, not only in the academic realm.
Say It With Heart
Character development is one of the core focus areas of Challenge Discovery Projects, a local nonprofit organization with a commitment to improving the emotional health and well-being of at-risk children and their families in Greater Richmond through programs that promote self-worth and positive, healthy relationships. One of their programs, Say It With Heart, offers a summer camp at the Gill Community Center and Gymnasium in Richmond’s Fairfield Court. This summer Sports Backers came on board to provide physical activity programming throughout the two week long camp, which focuses on empowering children and helping them become model citizens and role models within their community.
As an end to that means, Sports Backers challenged the campers through various physical conditioning activities and running workouts. The campers were taught stretches, drills, and exercises that they could do at home, as well as basic running and fitness routines. They were also introduced to Soccer and Ultimate Frisbee, as a way to demonstrate alternative ways of getting physically active. Along the way, staff, interns, and volunteers from both Sports Backers and Challenge Discovery Projects, were engaging in the activities and modeling an active lifestyle.
Curtis Lee, Community Development Coordinator for Challenge Discovery Projects, strongly believes in the benefits of physical activity for children and adolescents. While the programs he implements are primarily focused on anti-bullying and emotional health, he believes that incorporating physical activity supplements those efforts. In terms of character development, Lee says that physical activity and programs like this “most definitely help.” He explains that “kids can use sports as a coping mechanism for the stress and trauma in their lives” and describes how “when kids can see the progress they make and say that their body feels better, then they can feel better about themselves.” Lee sees these programs, and this camp, as a way to help kids in every aspect of their lives.
The youth that Lee works with clearly love and appreciate the Say It With Heart Camp. “We learned to push ourselves and keep going, and how to pace ourselves” said Adrianne Smith, a child who attended the camp. “We have fun and learn how to feel better about ourselves and make things feel easier” explained Preston Langhorne. It is clear that the camp, and the overall Say It With Heart program, is making a positive impact on the kids that are participating. Throughout the two weeks, the campers consistently demonstrated respect, responsibility, and teamwork. They were eager to participate, ready to accept any challenge thrown at them, and excited to try new things. Based on experience, it seems clear that programs like this that incorporate physical activity have benefits beyond the merely physical. But what does the research say?
Character development can be a difficult topic to study. There is no objective measure for respect or responsibility, but that does not mean that the research does not exist. In “Sports, Youth, and Character: A Critical Survey,” Robert K. Fullinwider examines much of the research surrounding the link between participation in sports and character development. Although he explores various findings in his paper, Fullinwider eventually concludes that physical activity benefits children, especially those living in tough situations. One way that participating in sports and other forms of physical activity helps children is through the exposure to positive adult role models, such as coaches.
In the September 2009 President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports Research Digest, it was noted that positive character development achieved through physical activity is linked to positive adult role models. The more chances a child has to be exposed to an adult that cares for them and seeks to model a positive lifestyle, the greater chance that child has for positive development, both in their character and physically. That is one thing that makes Challenge Discovery Projects and the programs they implement so important. By providing positive adult role models for children and emphasizing physical fitness, they encourage both a child’s physical and mental growth.
In order to support children as they grow, and encourage them to be good athletes, students, and citizens, it is clear that they need the support of their family, their school, and their community. Focusing on one aspect of a child’s development neglects the child as a whole person. The cool thing about using physical activity as a way of supporting a child’s overall long-term growth and well-being is that you are able to make an impact on nearly every facet of that child’s development – academically, behaviorally, and emotionally. Here are five things that we encourage you to do in order to help the children in our community be healthy, happy, and achieve success in the long run.
- Follow the Example of Challenge Discovery Projects– Incorporate physical activity wherever and whenever possible. There is always a way to integrate physical activity into a lesson or an activity if the adult leading the activity is flexible. All it takes is a willing adult – that all important role model – taking the initiative to make physical activity a priority.
- Find Resources– Do some research and look into what groups you can partner with to get the children in your community active. Programs and organizations such as Sports Backers’ Kids Run RVA, Fit4Kids, First Touch Sports, Challenge Discovery Projects, and others are leading the way in getting children active in the Richmond region.
- Model Appropriate Behavior– The more adults are active around children, the more the children will be motivated to live a healthy lifestyle. Adults should try to model behavior in their own life that they wish to see in their child. Show them you are willing to try something new and, most importantly, just have fun doing it!
- Try New Things– Children can get bored easily, so the more new things they try the better. Anything that does not involve sitting can be a physical activity, so get out and get moving. The more opportunities they are exposed to, the more chances a child has to find an activity that will help them be active their whole life.
- Talk and Teach– Help them process the new activities they try by linking physical activity and the positive benefits. Ask them if they think they can run faster or longer after participating in a physical activity, or ask how a healthy diet can make their body strong. Help your children connect the dots of a healthy lifestyle by taking an active part in teaching them the connections between an active lifestyle and overall well-being.