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Research Says Sports Incite Good Behavior

By on August 28, 2011

The benefits of physical education are immeasurable, just ask First Lady Michelle Obama as she tackles childhood obesity in America. But beyond learning about fitness and a healthy lifestyle, sports are now believed to support better behavior among children.  A Tel Aviv University researcher has statistical evidence that sports participation benefits a child’s cognitive, emotional and behavioral well-being. Now although this was NOT part of the study, consider what this could mean for African American boys particularly who are disproportionately labeled as “disruptive” or “aggressive” in school. Sports could be a successful behavioral intervention for at-risk young men.

Tel Aviv University doctoral student, Keren Shahar  working under the supervision of Prof. Tammie Ronen and Prof. Michael Rosenbaum, says that over the course of her study, which included 649 children from low socioeconomic backgrounds, a continuous program of various sports helped improve self-control and discipline and lowered feelings of aggression in the children overall.

“We set out to determine whether sports training would have a positive impact on these children by lowering aggression, and how this result can be achieved,” explains Shahar. It would be more effective than verbal therapy, she says, because while verbal therapy encourages children to control their behavior, research indicates that it does not reduce negative emotions. The introduction of sport, however, is able to reduce aggressive behavior as a result of quelling negative emotions.

In 25 schools across Israel, Shahar and her fellow researchers analyzed a 24-week-long after-school program based on a variety of sports ranging from grades 3-6 played group sports such as basketball or soccer. Twice a week, they participated in martial arts, including judo and karate.

The analysis revealed an improvement in traits relating to participants’ self-control, such as self-observation, problem-solving skills, and delayed gratification – which ultimately led to a decrease in the incidence of aggression. Only those children who exhibited higher levels of self-control also demonstrated the decline in aggression.

Boys seem to benefit more than the girls, likely because they generally hold and present with a higher or more intense level of aggression over girls. Plus, boys typically exhibit a passion for sports activity.

According to the study author, the key is to introduce children to something that they love to do and in which they have a compelling interest. “Find something that motivates them,” she counsels. A strong connection with any activity gives children a sense of purpose and decreases the likelihood that they will “act out” their behavioral problems. And with so many single-parent households, mothers raising young boys without a male father figure in the home, sports participation could reasonably help to teach a young man self-control, patience, teamwork, accountability, and of course discipline to manage good behavior. Hopefully the researcher will do a follow-up study on these related issues. And parents might consider there are other benefits to their young boys playing sports.


This research was recently presented at TAU’s Renata Adler Memorial Research Center for Child Welfare and Protection Conference.


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