Parents, take note! Regular, structured extracurricular sports may help children develop the discipline they need to succeed in the classroom, a new study has found.
“We worked with information provided by parents and teachers to compare kindergarteners’ activities with their classroom engagement as they grew up,” said Linda Pagani from the University of Montreal.
“By time they reached the fourth grade, kids who played structured sports were identifiably better at following instructions and remaining focused in the classroom,” she said.
“There is something specific to the sporting environment – perhaps the unique sense of belonging to a team to a special group with a common goal – that appears to help kids understand the importance of respecting the rules and honouring responsibilities,” Pagani said.
Pagani and her colleagues Genevieve Piche and Caroline Fitzpatrick reviewed the data on 2,694 children who were born in Quebec between 1997 and 1998.
“Our goal was to answer two questions – firstly, does participation in extracurricular activities in kindergarten predict fourth grade self-discipline, and secondly, do kindergarten self-discipline characteristics predict fourth-grade participation in sports?” Pagani said.
These characteristics encompass things such as classroom engagement, physical aggression, impulsivity and emotional distress, researchers said.
At kindergarten, when most children in the study were six, teachers filled in questionnaires about their student behaviour and parents were interviewed by phone or in person about their home life. The exercise was repeated four years later.
Researchers then analysed the data by eliminating pre-existing influences such as child’s physical fitness and cognitive abilities, mother’s education, and how well the family unit functioned (asking families to rate, for example, how well they communicate) which could have influenced the results.
“Across the board, we found that children who had better behaviour in the kindergarten class were more likely to be involved in sport by age ten,” Pagani said.
“Nonetheless, we found that those children who were specifically involved in team sports at kindergarten scored higher in self-regulation by time they reached fourth-grade,” she said.
The researchers believe that sporting activities and attention skills go hand in hand and can be addressed simultaneously in school planning.