When it comes to sport, America’s first love might be its age-long tradition of American football, but coming in at a close second is basketball. Created in the USA in 1891, Dr. James Naismith is known as the founding-father of the well loved American game. Born in 1861 in Ontario, Canada, as a young boy, Naismith played a simple game known as duck-on-a-rock. The game involved attempting to knock a “duck” off the top of a large rock by tossing another rock at it. It was only later on, whilst serving at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts, that Naismith fine-tuned his childhood game when he was faced with the challenge of finding a sport that was suitable for play inside during the winter for the students.
Using a relatively small, indoor space, a soccer ball and two peach baskets to serve as goals, Naismith played the first ever game of basketball, oblivious to how America would embrace and adopt this sport which now boasts a following of 26 million Americans who participate in the sport on a regular basis. The game’s popularity is also on the increase in the UK too, with an estimated 218, 000 people who enjoy ‘shooting hoops’. Whether you choose to shoot hoops by yourself or choose to play competitively, basketball is an incredible way to get fit and stay in shape. In fact, former US president Barack Obama enjoys a daily game of basketball as part of his own fitness regime. And, when you do more research into the health benefits of playing basketball, it’s no wonder that this sport gets the seal of approval from the former president.
The Positive Effects of Basketball
So what are the health benefits associated with basketball? Firstly, as a sport that involves a significant amount of running, jumping and quick, lateral movements, basketball is a great fat burner, burning approximately 600 calories across an hour-long game. Because of this, basketball is considered to be a natural confidence enhancer too. Players report how the weight loss that can be achieved through the sport, as well as shooting hoops and winning a game which also works wonders on boosting confidence levels in adults and children alike. As well as burning fat, the aerobic nature of basketball means that it also promotes cardiovascular health: building endurance and reducing the risks of heart disease or a stroke are an added bonus to the game’s fat-burning properties. The physical demands of the sport are also important for building and improving bone health.
The stronger your bones are, the less likely they are to break or become brittle. The weight-bearing physical aspects of basketball mean that the activity causes new bone tissue to form whilst muscles build at the same time as they work alongside the bones during the physical activity, therefore building more lean muscle. Basketball as a sport highlights to us what we already know- the effects of playing the sport on bone, muscle and cardiovascular health means that your body will only thank you as it reaps the benefits of being put through the paces of this game.
Improving Mental Health
Not only does basketball physically benefit participants, the sport is renowned for its psychological benefits in the way it can promote and support emotional and psychological wellbeing. First, basketball has its own rules to follow and breaking them can result in penalties both for you and your team. As with any sport, following the rules and playing fairly develops an individual’s concentration and promotes self-discipline in that competitors learn to understand the balance between being competitive and playing a fair, clean game that is focused on winning through skill and strategy. It teaches all of us (not just the kids) an important lesson about learning to compete with fairness and spirit whilst reminding us that sometimes in life, you both win and lose.
An individual’s mental development is also enhanced when regularly playing basketball. Research into the mental aspects of the sport has found that players soon develop the ability to quickly process what’s happening on the court and make effective decisions about their next course of action. Throw into this the fast-paced nature of the game and players will find that they must constantly train themselves to remain observant: watching other teammates closely; second guessing what action they (or you) might take next and paying close to attention to what you yourself need to do as well as your other teammates. Again, not only is this a benefit on the basketball court itself, but outside of the game, players will begin utilising their enhanced mental development in both the workplace and the classroom.
Additionally, basketball has been hailed as a stress reliever. As with other sports, basketball gives players the opportunity to socialise, meaning that they are less susceptible to depression and tend to have a stronger immune system. During a game, players release endorphins which are known for their ‘buoyant effect’ whilst tension levels decrease. Bearing in mind also the need to remain observant whilst playing basketball, this means that the sport offers participants moments of ‘Diversion’. By participating in the sport, players become focused on the game and forget about stress points, meaning that this adrenaline-fuelled game can actually put your mind into something similar to a meditative state. Once the game is over too, the stresses and worries that were concerning you pre-game won’t seem quite as bad either. Basketball, it would seem, is a good option for us all to click the ‘reset’ switch and enjoy an hour out of the stresses and strains of daily life.
Encouraging Children to Play Basketball
When it comes to children and young people, basketball is a perfect choice and offers younger generations even more benefits.
As with adults, basketball provides children with complete exercise. The running, passing, shooting and dribbling the ball are beneficial in the way they develop cardiovascular fitness, improve coordination and help combat childhood obesity. It’s important for schools to promote physical activity and ensure that children are getting plenty of exercise. The continuous and varied movements associated with basketball is also a good option for youngsters who feel that sport is dull, meaning that not only does basketball offer children a range of different skills to utilise in a game, it can keep them entertained for hours!
Particularly where children are concerned, basketball helps youngsters to build up muscles which are a crucial part of a healthy musculoskeletal system. Basketball also improves physical growth in children too. Whilst genes determine our height, certain sports such as basketball aids growth, due to the whole body movement and the act of jumping that the sport relies on. The large amount of jumping often required in basketball increases the fluid flow in the growth plates so more IGF-1 (a hormone that helps to build muscle) goes into height increase.
Developing Skills through Sport
As children gradually build their motor skills and coordination, the demands of basketball means that these skills will increase along with the child’s accuracy and precision. Dribbling the ball is a good tool to develop a child’s coordination, whilst the act of shooting requires a great deal of practise, concentration and accuracy. In fact, experts have argued that these mental skills used during a game of basketball make for more academic school pupils, with several studies revealing a direct correlation between physical activity and academic performance. A University of Kansas study looking at the performance of students in grades 9 to 12 showed that more than 97% of student athletes graduated high school, 10% higher than those students who had never participated in sports. There have been similar findings in the UK too where the consensus is generally that participating in sports such as basketball enhances a child’s academic performance. Research published in 2013 in The International Journal of the History of Sport found that participating in both sport and academia provides motivation for training and preparation, whilst stimulating students both intellectually and relieving stress. This link between academic achievement and participating in sports such as basketball could be down to the increased cognitive ability that comes from playing sports. Physical activity naturally increases blood flow to the brain and activates endorphins, which can impact positively on your mood and work performance, meaning that children who participate in a game of basketball may be more willing and capable of tackling that next big problem thrown at them- whether this be on the basketball court or when they are back in the classroom.
If the link between basketball and academic achievement isn’t enough of a selling point alone, it should again be noted that in children, basketball does also begin to teach self-discipline as children learn to follow rules and face consequences should the rules of the game be broke. Basketball teaches them strategy, instils the value of team work and helps children to make new friends by being part of a team. It was also noted in a study at Cardiff Metropolitan University’s School of Sport that these social benefits of basketball to children is particularly beneficial for children with a special educational need (SEN). The purpose of the research was to explore the extent to which an extra-curricular activity (in the form of a basketball club) could aid the social capabilities of children with special educational needs (SEN). The study confirmed the massive benefits (ranging from levels of obedience to increased interaction with peers) the children with SEN gained from the social environment that basketball creates.
Without any doubt, basketball is not only a sport that creates an incredible bond between the team players, but it holds many health benefits to both young and old. In the words of all basketball fans, ‘Basketball isn’t just a sport, it’s a lifestyle.’