A continuous program of sports helps boys improve their self-control and reduce overall feelings of aggression, according to a new study from Israel.
The study looked at 649 children in grades 3-6 (both male and female) from low socio-economic backgrounds over the course of a 24-week after-school program. Half the participants did not receive sports instruction; the other half took part in a variety of sports for a total of five hours per week. Three times a week, the sports-playing group engaged in group sports like basketball and participated in martial arts the other two days a week.
After the conclusion of the program, the researcher issued questionnaires and evaluations to the students, and compared the responses against those from the same questionnaires issued at the beginning of the study. She found that the sports-playing group exhibited signs of improvement in self-observation, problem-solving skills, and delayed gratification (all relating to improved self-control), which led to a decrease in aggressive behaviors.
Notably, only the children who experienced the higher levels of self-control decreased their aggression.
The boys in the study exhibited a much larger response than the girls. Statistically, the females didn’t change much at all, which was attributed to a general lower level of aggression in that gender.
Keren Shahar, a doctoral student at Tel Aviv University’s Bob Shapell School of Social Work, led the study and recently presented her findings at Tel Aviv University’s Renata Adler Memorial Research Center for Child Welfare and Protection Conference, according to United Press International.
In an interview with Tel Aviv University, Shahar said that parents and coaches should “find something that motivates” students, as they’ll be much less likely to act out with aggression if they have a sense of purpose.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.