School sports improve student performance [Archives:2007/1103/Health]

November 19 2007

School sports and activities make students more energized, self-confident, more attentive in class and even increase their desire to go to school, according to students and teachers at Yemeni schools. Robert Draper reports.

Yemeni students often face crowded classrooms and lack of educational resources, on top of which many are malnourished and tired, but school sports and activities have helped change the learning environment for many.

Sports are good for girls

At Kawkaban School for girls , in Sana'a city, whose students play basketball, soccer, tennis and badminton, athletes are the best learners. “Athletes participate more in classroom activities because sports activate the mind,” observes guidance counselor Nawal Al-Masili, a 12-year education veteran.

Such students also are more sociable and outgoing when working with other students. As Kawkaban School supervisor Jamila Ali says, “Athletes work better in group activities; all of the other students follow them.”

She continues, “Athletes are more self-confident than non-athletes. They're not shy about giving their opinion!”

Additionally, it is a team mentality, which is that everyone can achieve together, that athletes bring to public school classrooms in Yemen. Because they are used to competition, they go after the goal, not just on the soccer field or the tennis court, but also in the classroom.

Such team mentality “helps [the girl athletes] to study and get high marks in school,” as well as participate more in class, according to Kawkaban Principal Lutfiya Hamza.

Sports and learning have merged to form a mutually supportive relationship for both boys and girls. “Sports are very good for girls because those who play sports like to learn,” says Ali Ahmed Rajeh, manager of general relations at the Education Office in Sana'a.

“An athletic person is better than a non-athletic person because they are more active and energetic in class,” says 15-year-old Khulood Al-Hamdani, an 11th-grade science student at Kawkaban School. A basketball player herself, she remarks, “It's an interesting sport. I like working together as a group.”

Fellow Kawkaban 11th-grader Sara Al-Thamari, 16, believes sports gives her more energy to answer questions in class, while at the same time enabling her to maintain a healthy body and mind. She particularly likes swimming and billiards because, as she says, “it's better than sitting at home.”

In addition to physical sports, some enjoy activities of the mind. Another 11th-grader, 15-year-old Rodaina Al-Sanawi, has been playing chess for five years. When asked if chess makes her smarter, she simply replies, “Yes, of course.” She also believes it improves her mind. “I can concentrate more and my mind expands.”

Not just for girls

However, girls aren't the only ones doing school sports.

Leadership, self-confidence and assertiveness are traits respected worldwide. Al-Kuwait County School coach Abdullah Mohammed Saleh notes that martial arts such as Judo and karate “improve self-confidence and get students to come to school,” so the boys can learn to read and write. Hoping to begin martial arts within six months, Saleh already has recruited students from various Sana'a schools.

When boys play sports, he says, “They are very happy and they imagine themselves as heroes.” Feeling like a hero emboldens anyone and gives them confidence in their own abilities. Sports like Judo, karate, tennis, basketball, soccer, etc., also “encourage students to come to school,” he adds.

Al-Kuwait soccer player Hamza Omar Yoursi, 18, affirms this, saying, “I come to school for the sports.”

His friend, 11th-grader Husam Jamil, enjoys playing basketball and chess because such activities “give me more energy and the desire to study more in subjects like geography and biology.”

Because he says sports encourage him to attend school, he wants to go on to university, taking his desire for sports to that level. However, in order to do this, he knows he must study his daily lessons and sports encourages him to do that.

Types of school sports played

Sports differ among schools in Sana'a, with some playing basketball while others play soccer. Because most girls' schools don't have inter-school sports teams, they only compete against other students within their own school.

Also, because it isn't mandatory and not all students want to do sports, only a handful of students participate in a particular sport, notes Ahmed Hamoud Al-Haj, general director of school activities at the ministry of education

Not surprisingly, school sports in Yemen are similar to those in the United States, with most offering soccer, basketball and tennis; however, baseball and American football are absent in Yemen.

Soccer matches are scheduled between different public school districts, with each school putting their best players on their team. At the end of the school year, the districts then compete for the soccer championship. Al-Haj noted that the soccer team in Sana'a governorate won the championship in both 2006 and 2007.

Public schools aren't the only ones offering sports, as Sam Yemen International School, the American School and many other private schools also offer such activities. However, teams mostly are confined to the individual schools, with players comprised of those from different grades and different rankings within the school.

Currently, there are no records indicating whether students in the top percentile are avid athletes or not.

Cultural views and restraints

As much as school sports and activities have helped improve the lives and grades of many Yemeni students, negative cultural attitudes and problems remain regarding both boys and girls playing sports.

Yemen still suffers from long-held opinions about females playing sports. It's viewed as a negative thing for a girl or a teenager to jump up and down, run around and be aggressive on a field or a court because in Yemen, women are expected to be shy and not show their bodies in ways that display the female form.

According to Coach Saleh, another issue is that some parents believe school studies are more important than sports.

Additionally, athletes sometimes receive injuries and there's no one to care for them. Injuries cost money, and with the average Yemeni working man making only $100 a month, such sports injuries only compound the problems of poverty.

Some athletes also lag behind in their studies. Hussein Abdullah Al-Bashani, a Qur'anic teacher at Al-Kuwait County School, believes that students only care about sports and they dismiss their studies. “Students have a desire for sports, but no desire to study,” he asserts.

Currently, there are no rules punishing athletes making poor school grades. Al-Bashani believes that those students who don't pass their classes should not be permitted to play sports.