Team sports and activities at a young age does more for your character than you think

By Pryce Jamison
May 13, 2021

Is looking at the story of your life something you do just to applaud your own evolution, or to applaud the way you’ve grown in situations to help others? Is it a two-way street where you look at what you’ve received and given, in which the giving spirit could only come after receiving some type of welcome? It’s the questions like those that can make an individual look back on the times in their life where family-like bonds were built in team sports and activities, that also built one’s confidence and leadership when eventually leaving a mark on the ones around us.

Three young athletes in particular that have strived in their own respective fields can tie into this concept without even focusing on their actual performance during the activities, but instead on how it changed them forever. Starting with the one that felt out of touch with his peers and felt unmotivated to do so ever since he could remember, picking up that lacrosse stick in the fourth grade was one of the best things he says he has ever done. Rob Pensabene, from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, wasn’t always the outgoing dude that is now a part of Cabrini’s flourishing lacrosse program. 

“Even though I had little self-esteem throughout elementary and middle school, the more years of me playing lacrosse on various teams have not only given me some of my closest friends till this day, but it also gave me a sense that the meaning of life is bigger than just myself,”  the sophomore exercise science and health major said. A lot of times when coaches talk to their players, or when a parent explains why they put their child on a sports team, it always falls into the lines of giving them more self-confidence and a sense of adversity for other areas of life, and there are studies that surely play hand in hand with that idea.

Pensabene taking the field for the Lacrosse team that continues to impress. Photo from Rob Pensabene.

According to a study conducted by Harvard’s School of Public Health where a sample of adults with children on sports teams was surveyed, more than eight out of every 10 parents, 81 percent, has seen a change and believes it has indeed helped their child learn about discipline or dedication. More than seven out of every 10 parents, 78 percent, said it has helped them learn how to get along with other people and 73 percent said it has had a positive impact on their mental health.

“There have been multiple occasions where I thought about quitting lacrosse over dumb reasons, but a teammate that I never expected to give me advice, always came out of the blue to pick me up,” Pensabene said. “Not only did it instill perseverance in me and made the bonds stronger, but it rubbed off on me at times as I am now one that loves to uplift the ones around me, which is different than the old me who wasn’t even happy with myself.”

No matter the study, it always seems apparent that the majority of parents and the kids themselves feel like they get a boost of confidence when able to excel in a team environment from a young age. Sam Shapley, from Oreland, Pennsylvania, is another athlete in this situation that described himself as an outcast before flourishing on football and lacrosse teams. “I was shy, didn’t talk much, didn’t have a lot of friends at all,” the Springfield Township High School graduate said. “But in the latter half of my high school years I knew how much my teammates had my back on and off the field, and that dominance on the field just sort of positively carried over into my social life.”

Another study that was conducted by the Lancet Psychiatry, consisted of 1.2 million participants from 2011 to 2015 in which they compared the number of days of bad self-reported mental health between individuals who exercised and those who did not while keeping track of which activity they engaged in. They made team sports their own category and then made certain individual activities such as cycling, running, gym exercise, etc., into their own categories. The results found that the ones that were a part of team sports had the fewest amount of poor mental health days at 22.3 percent fewer bad days. All the individual activities didn’t even crack the 22 percent mark which showed the advantage behind being active while with a team.

Shapley in captain mode. Photo from Springfield photography.

Shapley went from feeling like he had no voice for the majority of his childhood to being voted the captain of his football team in his senior year which was a completely new experience for him. “In football, everyone has to do their job in order for mostly all plays to be successful,” the offensive tackle said. “So not only does it give everyone a sense of responsibility to pick up the man next to you, but if you find yourself as a captain, it forces you to be a leader that has to remind your team of essential facts like that.” Leadership is also a topic that’s hard to look past when addressing stories like these, which makes our next person a lot more than just a participating athlete.

With the clock running down on the 2021-2022 school year, looking at the editor-in-chief of Loquitur media this past year, Maria Lattanze, there’s more to her than meets the eye which is why her jam-packed life fits her right into this concept. People wouldn’t assume that someone in that type of leadership role was once an outcast with few people in her circle and lacked self-confidence. However, starting karate in middle school changed her life and gave her an environment where she didn’t have to be afraid to be critiqued because it was being done by ones she could call family.

“I could be having the worst day possible where my anxiety is going through the roof from everything from school, me being a classroom coach for the video editing course and even my editor in chief duties,” the junior digital communication major said. “Going to work as a karate instructor will always instantly build my mood back up as I get true joy out of reminiscing about everything I learned and instilling those values into the kids I teach. This always works out for me in the end, because even if I’m doing something totally different like editing stories, I use some of my values from karate to do so even if I don’t realize it.”

Amanda Schmidt, freshman business and innovation major at Drexel can relate to Maria’s story in a way as her expertise has been instilled into her since birth that puts her ahead of the game at such a young age. With both of her parents being karate giants, Schmidt can remember participating in it as long as she can remember, in which she vigorously learned and trained in the art and discipline of the martial art form that resulted in her getting her first-degree black belt at the age of 16, and becoming an instructor around that time too. 

“It really starts with teaching them about mindfulness, discipline, and being okay with failing until reaching near perfection, that can truly be carried over to any sport or activity,” Schmidt said. “I’ve seen it for years, whether it was me vigorously training with the ones I call my family to reach my first black belt, or me being in the teaching position, there is something special about putting a kid in the middle of the room with all the eyes on them and telling them to rise to the occasion. It only boosts one’s adversity, confidence, character, and trust towards the team around you that only critiques you to make you better.”

In karate, a black belt is a sense of expertise, and it is basically impossible to achieve on your own. Creative Commons photo from

She currently resides with a second-degree black belt at the age of 18 and owns a business with her father, who is a sixth-degree black belt in Wyndmoor, PA. At Springfield Martial Arts Academy, she is teaching people of all ages the many things she has learned that can instill self-confidence and work ethic into anybody.

A lack of sports and physical activity has not only been linked to increasing physical health issues, but psychological ailments too such as low self-esteem, and poor mental health including anxiety and depression which tend to surface in adolescence and worsen throughout one’s life,” professor at Southern New Hampshire University and alumna of the United States Sports Academy, Dr. Nandini Mathur Collins, said.

“Even when talking about this topic, it shouldn’t just be stressed that the meaning of the team environments is to grow your confidence, because you’re supposed to genuinely have fun in the process through things like problem-solving with other teammates and adjusting with different strategies when the lights are shining on you,” the prodigy Schmidt continued with. “It’s through the fun, hard work, and having to rely on each other that instills these things into you that build your character, that you carry with you through the rest of your life without even noticing it at times.”

Pryce Jamison

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