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Shyness, Sports participation

The Positive Impact of Sports for Shy Children

February 4, 2019, Author: Tamra Cater

I was always shy as a child, and I still am as an adult. However, there was one thing that truly helped my shyness and self-esteem, and it was participating in sports. For example, I participated in gymnastics and swimming. This helped increase my overall self-esteem, my social anxiety, my perceptions of my appearance, and overall well-being. I also created a lot of friendships and a social network that I honestly don’t think I have ever recreated again.

Interestingly, a study by Leanne Findley and Robert Coplan suggests that sports can be of great benefit to those who are shy. First of all, shyness can be defined as social anxiety, along with behavioral responses of withdrawal and inhibition. Those who are shy also have conflict between approach and avoidance, in that they do want to approach social situations, but they are also anxious and fearful of those situations. Thus, shy children may not have a lot of social interactions.

Effects of Shyness on Well-Being

Shyness is associated with peer relation difficulties, as well as internalizing difficulties such as anxiety and loneliness. It may also affect overall self-esteem, lower athletic competence, and result in greater dissatisfaction with one’s peer group. There hasn’t be a lot of studies that have investigated the effects of sports on improving the well-being of shy children. Thus, the study by Findley and Coplan can help shed some light on it in regards to children who are in middle childhood.

Conclusions of the Study

Shy children who participated in sports did report higher general self-esteem than shy children that did not participate in sports. This outcome may be because shy children that participate in sports feel valuable or competent in their social network, which in turn, increases their self-esteem. In addition, Findley and Coplan did find that the social anxiety of children who participated in sports actually decreased over a 1-year period.

Building Social Skills

There are many opportunities for children in sports to engage in peer interaction, which offers practice in social skills.  They learn to communicate with other members of the group or team and how to work together towards a common goal. Participating in sports may also provide shy children with a sense of belongingness, as well as a topic that they can discuss with their peers.

Building Mastery Experiences

Sports may also provide shy children with many mastery experiences that can help increase self-esteem (such as mastering a skill such as a swim stroke or a back flip in gymnastics). As mentioned in one of my previous posts, teaching skills to children helps increase self-esteem.

Thus, sports can be a buffer of the negative effects of shyness and can also serve as an intervention strategy for shy children. It could be a huge benefit to shy children if they are encouraged to come out and play a sport.

Considerations for Putting Children in Sports

1.Are they ready?

Consider their emotional and physical maturity. Shy children also may be more fearful than other children in terms of entering new social situations, so the fear may need to be addressed first.

2.Consider their interests

Ask your child what they may be interested in trying. They may change sports a few times, and that’s ok. I was in gymnastics and soccer first, and then I decided I enjoyed swimming more.

3.When they are in sports, ask your child questions about how they are doing. Examples:

-Did they have fun at practice?

-Are they making friends?

-What do they like most about the coach and teammates?

-What are they learning?

Participating in sports was definitely a game changer for me. I made friends and built a high level of confidencec in myself. However, your child might be different in the sense that other activities are more beneficial. They may have other interests that can also help reduce their shyness such as participating in art or music classes. It may take a few times to figure out what is working, but it will happen!


Findlay, L. C., & Coplan, R. J. (2008). Come out and Play: Shyness in Childhood and the Benefits of Organized Sports Participation. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 40, 153-161.

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comments (2)

  • avatar image
    I definitely agree with this on a personal level. I was incredibly shy as a child and played volleyball in middle and high school. Developing a community of people I maybe wouldn't be friends with helped my shyness. It gave me a confidence boost during a very challenging time in growing up. The questions you included to ask your child to see how they are doing are great!


    February 16, 2019 Reply
    • avatar image
      I'm glad that sports was so helpful for you. It was kind of the same for me- I was going through a challenging time as well, and sports really helped me get through it. Thank you!

      Tamra Cater

      February 16, 2019 Reply