The excitement generated by recent Middle School soccer victories highlights the importance of sports and school activities. The physical benefits of sports are widely known. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention includes weight management, reduced risk of disease, strengthening of bones and muscles, improvement of daily life skills and increased chances of living longer among the benefits of physical activity. In addition, CDC highlights important mental health benefits associated with regular physical activity: “Benefits include improved thinking or cognition for children 6 to 13 years of age and reduced short-term feelings of anxiety for adults. Regular physical activity can help keep your thinking, learning and judgement skills sharp as you age. It can also reduce your risk of depression and anxiety and help you sleep better.” In addition to the physical benefits, there are numerous other reasons that sports and student engagement are important.
As Middle School Division Head Mark Engstrom has said, “The truth about adolescence is that it’s hard. It’s just hard.” Being a part of a team, an ensemble or a group may help to ease the challenges of this time of transformation. Engstrom reflects on the positive impacts of team participation in his own life. “I was lucky enough in seventh grade to play for three different basketball teams and it changed my life in multiple ways,” he says. “I learned about the benefit of hard work, sacrificing for others, and the responsibility that comes with representing something larger than one’s self.”
Middle School Counselor Alicia Kelly says there is a connection between student involvement in school activities and student happiness and academic success. “I often see that our students perform better academically when they are engaged in a team sport,” she says. “This team commitment seems to keep them centered, with less time to procrastinate. The team sports also offer students the opportunity to form stronger connections and bonds with each other.” At a time when peer relationships are a priority, forming healthy connections are important for a student’s development.
Middle School introduces a range of new and varied opportunities for students to connect with others through sports, activities and clubs. Kelly says it’s the ideal time for students to explore. “You don’t know what your passion is until you try it,” she says. Knowing the importance of student engagement, faculty and administrators were happy to re-introduce Middle School clubs ranging from Peer Leaders to MATHCOUNTS earlier this school year. “Trying new activities, taking a risk, working on a new skill, and working with others are all traits that are beneficial for the rest of a child’s life,” says Engstrom.
Participating in school events also provides students the opportunity to connect through a shared representation of their school. For many young athletes, Middle School is the first time they put on a school jersey. Soccer coach and math teacher James Moroney says it is meaningful to put on that jersey and join your classmates as a team. “It gets the kids invested in the school,” he says. Moroney also points to the importance of family involvement. “What’s nice about Episcopal is it’s a community-based school.” At a school like Episcopal, which serves students in PreK-3 through 12th grade, sports, clubs and activities often provide the perfect backdrop for students and families to come together in support of one another.
While Middle School can be challenging, it is also a time of discovery and excitement as students broaden their experiences. This time of transition can help them build confidence, create valuable peer relationships, develop healthy lifestyle choices and become increasingly more independent. School activities can play a positive role in the overall student experience and pave the way for students to develop into the next generation of leaders.