Here is a personal confession: I am a sports nut. As a child growing up in Rhode Island in the 60’s and 70’s, I had limited access to sports in the media. There were only one or two NFL games on Sundays and a few games a week of my beloved Red Sox on the poorly-transmitted UHF Channel 38. Granted, I could devour the baseball box scores and standings in The Providence Journal, and if I were at an airport or train station I could find a copy of the incredible Boston Globe sports section. These day, though, I simply check out ESPN Boston — about 10 times a day — and watch about a hundred sports programs on cable, monitor my fantasy basketball and football teams online, and listen to podcasts about my favorite sports teams and activities.
As a psychologist, I am continuously amazed and encouraged to see my patients become interested and involved in sports through digitized sporting opportunities. These include the hundreds of sports video games that are available, the thousands of hours a week of sporting events shown on cable television, the proliferation of sports fantasy games on the Internet, and the incredible array of sports-based videos on YouTube highlighting traditional and nontraditional sports.
Would you like your child to participate in sports and other physical activities? Video games, digital media and sports are a great combination for increasing participation. Research on children indicates that they tend to become more physically active, play more sports, and get outdoors more after playing sports video games, and getting children with ADHD to become active in sports also has many benefits. Firstly, it is a great outlet for their high levels of energy. Secondly, studies show that kids with ADHD who participate in sports become less likely to engage in risky or dangerous behavior (Kremarik, 2000) and can also help improve peer relations (Bagwell et al, 2001). Beyond that, vigorous physical exertion increase the production of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factors), proteins in the brain that can help enhance memory and focus. For more on the benefits of ADHD and sports, check out this article by Jay P. Granat, Ph.D,
My interest in sports today, which I share on a daily basis with my family and similarly-interested patients, enriches my life and relationships. It is not confined to sitting passively in a chair watching television, but extends to reading books about statistical analysis of baseball, engaging in fierce discussions with my “friends” who are Yankee fans, and closely observing instructional tennis videos so I can get better at a sport that I hope will carry me through my 60’s and beyond.
Digital media, video games, and sports are a natural combination for kids growing up in the digital world. They can watch a series of YouTube videos that show them step-by-step how to improve the height of their ollie when skateboarding, join a fantasy football or baseball league where they can hone their powers of prediction and mathematics, or learn about techniques for free diving or fishing that can facilitate their love of nature. They can also plot out plays in Madden 25, or practice their golf swing while playing Tiger Woods.
If your child wants to master a play or technique in baseball, basketball or football, or learn a new snowboarding, surfing, or skateboarding trick, go beyond video game play and have him learn from experts while watching popular YouTube videos of his favorite sport. Even better, take video of him practicing and watch it back (we highly recommend Coach’s Eye app for recording and examining sports video). If you want your child to learn about a sport unfamiliar to you, watch one of the many niche sports channels on TV, or explore the thousands of websites devoted to sports information. The variety of digital sports opportunities with games, media, and apps is both overwhelming and exciting.
Obviously, exploring and expanding one’s interests through digital play is not simply about sports. The burgeoning digital world provides immediate access to many experiences and learning opportunities. Some parents and educators understandably choose to restrict children from these digital experiences for fear that they are passive and sedentary in nature, However, when used appropriately, they can be a chance to develop and nurture interests and learn things beyond their homes or communities. Anecdotally, I have had hundreds of conversations with children who have developed an interest not only in sports, but also in cooking, world history, nature, business, and travel based upon watching educational television or searching the Internet. The vast majority of children want more than a digital experience, and it is our role as parents, educators, and healthcare providers to facilitate their transition from the screen to the real world.