By Dr. Michael Oberschneider, Ashburn Psychological & Psychiatric Services
The benefits of soccer are tremendous. Beyond the game’s fun, soccer teaches sportsmanship and teamwork, strengthens muscles, improves coordination and cardiovascular health, develops leadership skills, instills discipline, and increases confidence and self-esteem. Soccer is as much a mental game as it is a physical game, with research showing a strong relationship between physical exercise and academic achievement.
For example, a longitudinal study involving 5,000 children and adolescents revealed a strong correlation between exercise and test score success in Science, English, and Math. Interestingly, this study found that physically active girls benefited most in science, and children between the ages of 11 and 16 who exercise regularly garnered the greatest educational benefits. Another study compared student-athletes with sedentary students; athletic students were 20% more likely to earn top grades in Math, Science, and English.
A metanalysis of 50 studies on the topic of physical activity and academic success, undertaken by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found a total of 251 associations between physical activity and academic performance; cognitive skills and attitudes, academic behavior and academic achievement were some of the main represented measures.
Study after study has shown that strenuous exercise increases blood flow to the brain, improving alertness and intellectual functioning; improvements in thinking, decision-making, learning, and processing information lead to better academics and grades.
And it’s not too late for moms and dads who want to get smarter and more active on the soccer field, with research showing that physical exercise also correlates with mental sharpness for adults. For example, one study looking at older participants used MRI scans with sedentary people who then exercised strenuously to demonstrate increased volume in the areas of the brain that are associated with cognitive functioning and, more specifically, memory and learning (i.e., the frontal and temporal lobes and hippocampus) after increasing exercise.
Okay, okay, so maybe playing soccer alone won’t result in straight A’s for your son or daughter, but the relationship between physical activity and academic achievement is undeniable. Also, as the old saying goes, “Correlation does not imply causation,” so do smart kids play sports, or do sports make kids smart? It’s probably a bit of both, but again, the research is clear that physical activity increases mental acuity and improves learning and grades across the most important academic subjects.
Lastly, research has also shown that coding activates the brain’s learning centers; It can improve problem-solving and memory skills, among other cognitive skills. Revolution is fortunate to have the Coder School as a sponsor, and their after-chool program at the Sportsplex is something parents may want to consider as an adjunct to improve learning.
Here’s to having fun, playing strong on the soccer field, and getting good grades in the classroom!