With its power to offer myriad health benefits, sport has always played a seminal role in the lives of youngsters.
The regular health benefits of sport cannot be overstated because it’s a known fact that some physical activity is a must for a healthy lifestyle. However, the paybacks of playing a sport from a young age are legion. Sport promotes health and wellness, improves self-esteem, teaches leadership, team skills and perseverance. Youngsters who are active, will often discover just how beneficial physical activity and participation in sport can be in managing stress, worry, or depression. In today’s fast-paced and highly competitive world, this is of tremendous importance.
The role of sport is pivotal in the lives of young people in general, but participation in sport holds a special significance, especially for girls and women. In a country like India, it is not uncommon for girls and women to be denied equal opportunities at several levels because of factors like poor education, early marriages and a general lack of freedom to make decisions. In such a setting, sport assumes a noteworthy role because each day presents a new opportunity. Sport teaches girls to acquire resilience and develop coping skills; it teaches them to accept winning and losing; it helps them meet new people, who share their interests; and, most importantly, it teaches them to accept and appreciate their bodies. In the long-term, playing a sport decreases girls’ risk of health-related issues, including breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
It is also true that sport helps improve focus, especially in academics. Many young sportspersons will tell you that their dedication to sport has helped them in so many ways to improve their learning abilities and sharpen their concentration.
One of the most important life skills a sportsperson learns is the importance of teamwork. Being a part of a team teaches you to work with and respect others since there are so many people involved — from fellow players to referees to coaches and even members of the rival team. This, in turn, guides you to develop an increased ability to solve problems — an important skill we all use throughout life.
It is also true that taking up sport can work wonders for self confidence, especially in the awkward teen years. Girls who play a sport learn to appreciate their bodies, take care of them and feel physically, mentally and emotionally stronger and more mature. It encourages them to embrace a healthy lifestyle — such as not smoking, staying away from drugs and alcohol, choosing to eat well and getting enough sleep. These habits, developed and encouraged in childhood and youth, become healthy choices for life.
Another aspect in which sport plays a momentous role is in breaking gender stereotypes. While it may traditionally be viewed as a male domain, the participation of girls breaks deep-rooted negative attitudes about the connection between sport and females. Sport is a powerful tool to empower girls and women to achieve their full potential in society by creating an enabling environment for gender equality.
Yet, despite so many benefits associated with sport, it is often dismal to see that many girls who may have played and enjoyed sport before, give it up during adolescence. Their reasons for quitting point to the wider societal limitations that they face even today. Without intervention, this issue will never be solved. We need well-designed programmes that can work wonders in bringing girls and women together on a regular basis, breaking social isolation and increasing integration with other girls and women. Such strong programmes can provide girls with access to mentors, strong female role models and the social support of a team or group of peers. It can also give them access to public spaces, especially in societies in which their mobility is restricted.
There are some organisations that are putting in efforts to bring about a positive change in this direction. Mumbai-based NGO, Salaam Bombay Foundation, is one such body. Through its interschool cricket tournament, Little Masters Challenge (LMC), it is encouraging girls to take up sport. This year, LMC will have 13 all-girls teams playing in the tournament for the first time. That is a great step. Salaam Bombay Foundation is also a recipient of the International Olympic Committee’s Sport and Active Society Commission Grant for promoting sport among young girls who come from difficult backgrounds.
There is still a long way to go before we will see full equality in the world of sport for girls and boys, but it is important to take steps towards achieving it. It is our collective responsibility to demonstrate to girls from all sections of society that it is socially acceptable to participate in sport. Sport is one of the most effective ways to give girls the skills and confidence to break down barriers and achieve their dreams.
Jemimah Rodrigues is an Indian cricketer and the Jagmohan Dalmiya awardee for best domestic junior women’s cricketer by the BCCI
The views expressed are personal
First Published: Jan 30, 2019 09:07 IST