Numerous benefits can be associated with participation in activities specific to Physical Education and Sports (PES) at school. Physical education can help children develop respect for their bodies, understand the role of physical activity in general health, and it can contribute to the combined evolution of mind and body. Additionally, it can influence self-esteem and self-confidence in a positive way, and it can strengthen social and cognitive development as well.
A report by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France (1994) entitled “Sport and Physical Activity as a Socialization Environment: Scientific Review” suggests that PES “provides opportunities to meet and communicate with other people, to take different social roles, to learn particular social skills (such as tolerance and respect for others), and to adjust to team/collective objectives (such as cooperation and cohesion), and that it provides experience of emotions that are not available in the rest of life”.
Findings from various researches suggest that the benefits of PES on children’s development can be classified into five main domains: physical, cognitive, affective, lifestyle and social.
For many children, the schools’ PES programs are the only environment for being physically active. Through these programs, qualified and accountable teachers introduce physical activities, lifestyle skills, and knowledge in a structured way to all children, within a safe environment. The PES programs help children develop basic movement skills that form the foundation of most sporting and physical activities.
Regular participation in physical activities can be associated with a better quality of life, reduced risk of diseases, and psychological and emotional benefits.
An old Latin phrase “Mens sana in corpore sano”, translated as “a healthy mind in a healthy body” is often used to claim that a healthy body leads to a healthy mind, and that physical activity can help intellectual development in children. Recent studies also suggest the existence of a relationship between cognitive functioning and regular physical activity. The results show improvements in intellectual performance of children when increasing the number of PES classes per week. The available research evidence suggests that increasing the amount of time dedicated to PES does not interfere with pupils’ progress in other subjects and in many cases is associated with improved scholastic achievements.
Regular physical activity, through well-planned and conducted PES classes, can have a positive effect on the psychological wellbeing of children. They can also help reduce stress, anxiety and depression, while influencing self-esteem in a positive way.
Regular physical activity, such as PES, is part of a healthy lifestyle. Healthy behaviors learned in childhood are often carried on to adulthood. Unfortunately, this is also true for the opposite. Studies have shown that inactivity in childhood often tracks to adulthood. The exclusion of children from PES at school can be associated with the sedentary lifestyle adopted by the individual later on in the adulthood.
The PES classes’ environment is considered an appealing context because both naturally occurring and contrived social interactions frequently emerge and because the public nature of participation usually makes both socially appropriate and inappropriate behaviors evident.
The various games and activities specific to PES classes are the perfect settings for social interactions. These interactions make obvious both appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. Studies have shown that correctly structured and presented activities can contribute to the development of positive social behavior of children, including improvements in moral reasoning, fair-play and personal responsibility.