Using sports books to talk to children about self work, teamwork and staying well

Published on: 07 April 2024

At BookTrust, we know the lifelong benefits of reading. We asked Nansubuga Isdahl to explain why reading books about sport with children can reap so many awards.

I started running competitively in school-sponsored Field Days in the fifth or sixth grade (Year 6 or 7). We didn’t have a proper track team yet, but I quickly discovered that I loved the freedom of running and the camaraderie that comes with being part of a team.

As time went on and I committed to running competitively, I eventually learned that participating in sports offer even more than that. Sports can also provide children with important life skills; lessons in teamwork and partnership; as well as a host of psychological benefits that support their overall well-being. These are some of the things that inspired me to write my debut middle-grade novel, Girl on the Fly.

Coping with the highs and the lows

In Girl on the Fly, my protagonist Kamaris Kessy learns that running track isn’t all fun and games and shiny gold medals. Sports competitions can be fun, but it turns out they can also be high-pressure situations where tempers and passions run high. With the right supports in place, however, this dynamic can lend itself to an incredible amount of personal development. The reader has the opportunity to follow along with Kam as she builds several life skills, including:

  • Empathy
  • Communication
  • Compromise
  • Conflict resolution
  • Trust
  • Patience
  • Grit

Being on the track team also helps Kam learn another important skill: how to deal with the inevitable highs and lows of life. Books about sports have a unique opportunity to help engage kids around the idea of what it means to win and to lose, and how to do both gracefully.

Part of the beauty of connecting with these lessons on the page is that this allows children space to think about them in other contexts as well – so not just sports, but school work, other extra-curriculars, personal passions and family.

The power of teamwork

Girl on the Fly is as much a book about Kam’s love of track as it is about the power of teamwork. Throughout the book, Kam and her teammates really get into the thick of it! They support one another, troubleshoot problems together, try to find solutions, and endlessly strategise about race day.

For this reason, I think books about sports can provide athletes and non-athletes alike incredibly rich entry points into the deeper contours of teamwork, refracting these important lessons back through the prisms of fellowship, having fun and taking positive risks.

Sports for your overall well-being

Finally, I believe books about sports can deliver very important messages to children about the importance of staying well, in general. As a lifelong runner, I wanted to show, through Kamaria, that running, while physical, is also a gateway to cultivating positive mental health. The literature agrees. Numerous studies have shown that running reduces anxiety and stress, elevates mood, increases feelings of calm and improves memory – all of which stand to serve children in our very busy, increasingly anxious and information-saturated world.

The right books about sports can help children explore a range of issues relevant for their lives – from how to cope with winning and losing and emotional self-regulation to how to be a good team member and a supportive friend.

If there is one thing that I have learned since my track days, it is that teamwork is lifework. Whether we win or we lose, I believe working together with others and developing healthy connections are among the most important skills we can ever learn.

I hope Girl on the Fly gives children, teachers, parents and readers everywhere a fun and fresh way to consider the powerful benefits of staying deeply connected to ourselves and others in all aspects of life.

Girl on the Fly by Nansubuga Isdahl is out now. 

Topics: Sport, Features

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