Can sport benefit your academic performance?

Our Head of Tennis and former Wimbledon and Davis Cup star, Josh Goodall considers the benefits of sport on academic performance and answers the question, “What do you really learn from sport?

30 January 2020

Coming from a tennis coach who has a background playing the sport since the age of four, this may come across a little biased. However, I have found that sport (in my case tennis) benefits my life in so many different ways, many of which aren’t immediately obvious. There are many attributes you can learn from sport that are directly transferable to other parts of your life including academic performance. Going through some of them, I will give you a taste of what I mean. With all of these points, I believe in them because I’ve experienced them for myself.

1) Aspiration & self-discipline

From a young age I had to make choices. Would I eat pizza with my friends on a Friday night or would I get an early night’s sleep and have a healthy meal before a weekend’s competition? I learned from a young age that small immediate sacrifices were more often than not rewarded in the long term.

A very rare few can honestly say they enjoy training hard in the gym at 6am but having discipline with yourself in moments like this creates a strong aspirational mind. Strong aspirations lead to clearer decision-making. When coupled with a well-nurtured self-discipline this can be extremely beneficial towards academic study.

2) Resilience & compassion

Throughout my career, from junior to professional level, I got used to putting my neck on the line. Week in week out, I would either win or I would lose. I can assure you that I lost a lot more tennis tournaments than I won! However, with each setback you learn to reflect on mistakes and come back stronger ready for the next challenge.

You will not get everything right the first time but this is part of the learning process, and it means you avoid becoming complacent. You certainly don’t want complacency before walking into an exam. When you do succeed or get the exam results you aimed for, it’s very important you give yourself a pat on the back and to reflect on all the hard work you put in to achieve those results; take time to show yourself compassion. It’s creating resilience coupled with compassionate self-reflection that means you can take yourself to the next level.

3) Wellbeing & collaboration

It goes without saying that playing sport or exercising will make you healthier but there is more to it than just that. By taking part in a sport you are giving your brain a chance to release any stress or tension. It’s an opportunity for you in that forty minutes or hour to forget about everything else that is going on. At the same time, you’re giving your body an opportunity to have a workout. The importance of wellbeing cannot be underestimated.

Tennis was an individual sport for me growing up, however, most of my best friends in life have come from being my opponents and opposition in tournaments. I think that says a lot. I surrounded myself with people that actually pushed me to be better. Not to mention that there are team events in tennis and I found some of these the most enjoyable. The comradery was always very fulfilling but it was not only the friendships which I built that were valuable. Learning to work as part of a team, towards the same goal, and dealing with different dynamics and setbacks, makes reaching a goal together possibly even more satisfying than doing it on your own.

What you really learn from sport

The benefits of sport on academic performance are clear and my experience is that sport nurtures characteristics and qualities that have lifelong significance. The benefits of regular exercise are widely celebrated but it would be foolish to think that the value of sport ends there. The positive influence of sport reaches far beyond the court.

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