Sport and academics – do they mix?

As sport has always been at the forefront of my school life, I would always side with the argument that sport will benefit academic work, regardless of whether I knew this to be fact or not. As an A Level Psychology student, I have found it interesting to discover the scientific research which also supports this argument.

For many years, sport has been viewed as a way to stay fit and healthy – you are never too young to start physical activity that promotes a healthy lifestyle. However, the importance of sport goes much further than just health and well-being – playing sport instils life lessons such as responsibility, discipline, dedication, self-confidence and teamwork. These life skills will carry people through life with a better attitude towards anything they choose to tackle. Sport has often been falsely regarded as having nothing to do with academics, yet these two areas of life have more in common than people may think. The pressures of school work, especially at A Level, can be extremely challenging to manage, and part of this process is that, once in a while, you may fail or stumble under that pressure. Sport places a similar pressure onto athletes that cannot always be overcome. I believe that playing sport has taught me how to deal with failure and disappointments in life – it has given me a resilience that made tackling challenges in my academic life easier and failures less painful to handle. Sport has given me a positive attitude, focus and taught me how to pick myself up after disappointment.

We all feel pressure. Although there are benefits to be gained from experiencing pressure and the lessons we learn from it in the long run, the pressure to win or improve can become so great that it can have negative impacts both on and off the field. It may seem obvious that too much pressure can cause people to be stressed, overly anxious and agitated and that these feelings can be transferred from one area of our lives to another. It is good to be motivated and a certain level of pressure can often enhance this, yet not everyone is able to experience the benefits of pressure. Studies have shown that academic pressure can cause negative feelings towards education and also that some students have been found to do worse in exams due to the pressure surrounding another aspect of their life, for example sport or social. As with most things in life, moderation is the key and finding the right balance that works for you will be the secret to your success. Remember too, playing sport can have some drawbacks, including injuries and being time-consuming.

Research has shown that exercise increases blood flow to the brain and helps the body build more connections between nerves, leading to increased concentration, enhanced memory, stimulated creativity and better developed problem-solving skills.  As the brains of young adults are still growing and developing, anything we can do to aid this process will surely in turn aid our academic progress.  Not only does sport enable increased levels of concentration, but it is also used as an effective tool for relaxation, which helps students reduce their anxiety and maintain a balance in their life. It is well known that increased exercise pumps more oxygen through your blood and makes your entire system more active – essentially sport gives you more energy to accomplish everything you need to achieve in a busy day at school.

So, in conclusion, besides being fun, sociable and a great way to unwind, participation in your favourite form of physical activity just might help you tackle your tricky Maths prep or complete an essay with renewed creativity. Half an hour spent clearing your mind in the swimming pool, running up a sweat in the gym or soaking up some vitamin D with friends on the tennis court, might just make the difference in the exam hall this summer – good luck to everyone who still has exams.

Amelia (Head of Sport)

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