How sport can help young people become better citizens

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Most Australians have followed health advice to wear masks and have COVID-19 vaccinations. Actions like these that benefit others are known in psychology as prosocial behaviors. In one COVID contextprosocial behaviors reduce the spread of the virus and keep health facilities functioning.

The probability of prosocial behavior in an individual is touched by their values. In particular, their social and civic values ​​influence their concern for the welfare of others.

We have recently undertaken research on the possible links between sport and the promotion of reflection on social issues and the common good. Working with trainee health and physical education teachers, we explored opportunities for shared learning between two areas of the Australian curriculum, Health and physical educationand Citizenship and Citizenship Education. Fair play, ethical debates and dilemmas, community engagement, identity and inclusivity are areas where sport and civic values ​​intersect.

Civic values ​​help keep people happy and safe in a functioning society. In democracies like Australiathese values ​​include freedom, equality, responsibility, accountability, respect, tolerance and inclusion.

When young people learn these values, it helps create a cohesive society. This has become increasingly important in light of COVID misinformation and conspiracy theories, and various threats to democracy around the world in recent years.

What does sport have to do with civic values?

Adolescence is a important moment to develop civic values. Personal experiences, relationships and social contexts all influence this development. These settings can include home, school, and extracurricular activities such as sports.

Sport occupies an important place in the lives of many young people. This provides opportunities for:

  • participation
  • breaking down cultural barriers
  • build a community identity
  • make friends, develop networks and reduce social isolation.

Sport requires us to work with others to achieve team goals. In this way, it can help children develop attributes such as selflessness and empathy.

In a study, for example, young people who practice organized sports are more accepting of migrants. Those who have not been in contact with migrant children through sport have more negative attitudes.

Research has shown that children who play sports are more likely to accept others and feel empathy for them. Shutterstock

Research has noted that parents describe the sport as a “school of life”. It teaches their children tolerance, teamwork, a sense of duty, the value of hard work, and socialization skills.

Developing character through sport and understanding values ​​such as fair play and respect can benefit young people in their wider lives.

More generally, by promoting prosocial behavior, sport can make a significant contribution to the common good.

For example, a 2021 review of 13 international studies have examined the effects of sports programs on crime prevention and recidivism. He found that participants in these programs significantly reduced their aggression and antisocial behavior. Their self-esteem and mental well-being improved dramatically. The result was a decrease in criminal behavior.

the basketball designer, James Naismith, believed that sport teaches players values ​​and moral attributes. He developed basketball not just as a game that indoor soccer players could play during the winter, but as a context for young people to learn teamwork, cooperation, fair play, sportsmanship and selflessness. He believed that team sports taught the skills essential to the functioning of a community.

All is not rosy

Unfortunately, in elite sports, the spirit of play, greed, cheating and the mentality of winning at all costs can sometimes be elevated above positive virtues such as courage, cooperation and sportsmanship. . In our study, many student teachers referred to news stories containing negative messages about cheating, doping and racism.

Yet our data also highlighted sports contexts as positive catalysts for prosocial thinking and behaviors. Participants noted examples such as:

“equal pay for men and women (e.g. surfing)”


“Changing attitudes towards mental health issues in sport”


“athletes taking the knee in support of the Black Lives Matters movement”


“sport as a breath of fresh air in the context of COVID-19 restrictions”


“great sporting moments have arisen with the integration of disabled or disadvantaged people”.

The sport has recently fallen victim to the COVID-19 pandemic. The events have been canceled and the games played in empty stadiums. But sport has also been a shining light for people struggling with lockdown.

This was notably the case for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) described the event as a beacon of hope after much of normal life had come to a halt. Other commentators have similarly noted Tokyo”makes sports a shining light in the dark” and describes the Games as “such a welcome distraction, which really highlighted just how much sport can make people smile”.

So how do we maximize the benefits?

Teaching students about civics and sports as part of the school curriculum is not the only way to foster prosocial behavior. We can reap its wider benefits for a healthier society by encouraging young people to play sports in school and in the community. Ways to achieve this include:

  • governments, schools and community groups promote benefits of physical activity such as better health, increased energy, and improved mood and sleep

  • increase opportunities to be physically active in school programs, including activities they can enjoy for years after school like bushwalking and biking

  • educate students about clubs and community facilities by inviting club staff or volunteers to speak to students and conduct hands-on sessions

  • allowing girls to wear sports uniforms that make them more comfortable and confident, like clothes that are stretchy, dark in color and hides sweat

  • help parents get involved in their children’s physical activity by offering family activities and providing them with bags of basic play equipment and suggested activities

  • deletion barriers to participation such as the cost of club fees and equipment and the overemphasis on competition. This can be done by providing vouchers and promote other reasons people play sport, such as personal achievement and satisfaction, and social interaction.

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