Keeping the Ball in your Court: the Benefits of Children’s Sports Books

May 15, 2023

“You play football with your head, and your legs are just there to help you.”


Nelson Mandela once said, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand.”


It could be fair to assume that reading and sport are at odds: one involves sitting still and reflecting in quietness and solitude, the other, movement, body, team, and often, an abundance of noise. But sports books can be a great way to experience the thrills and sensation of the sporting experience through reading, acting as a gateway for sporty kids to pick up a book and get reading.



“Sport has the power to change the world"


In an interview for the Guardian, footballer Danny Scott talks of the biases against reading that he encountered in sport: “A long time ago, I remember being on an Under 18s football team bus travelling from Edinburgh to London and getting a book out of my bag to read on the long journey – my teammates started laughing at me so hard that I decided to put it back in my bag. Even my coach shook his head and said, “Danny, what are you doing mate?”


He continues, “It’s a shame. The stereotypes of school sometimes suggest that people can’t be both bookish and sporty but, for me, that’s the wrong message for potential athletes. I think that reading can only aid athletic performance - especially at the very top where the pressure is so intense. [...] Once concentration is demonstrated, today’s aspiring footballer must also display intuition, creativity and decision-making. Three qualities that surely make reading fiction, and non-fiction, an absolute necessity for anyone with serious soccer ambitions.” So not only can sport help children to get into reading, but reading can mutually aid sports practice. As footballer Johan Cruyff, said, “You play football with your head, and your legs are just there to help you.”



There are key figures trying to abolish the disharmony between sport and reading and encourage young athletes and sports fanatics to read. One such person is the people’s hero Marcus Rashford, who created the Marcus Rashford Book Club in collaboration with Macmillan Children’s Books as well as penning six children’s books so far. Shortlisted this year for The Children’s Sports Book Prize sponsored by The JP Marland Charitable Trust, in association with the National Literacy Trust, is his latest book, You Can Do It.


Marcus said: “I only started reading at 17, and it completely changed my outlook and mentality. I just wish I was offered the opportunity to really engage with reading more as a child, but books were never a thing we could budget for as a family when we needed to put food on the table. [...] There were times where the escapism of reading could have really helped me. I want this escapism for all children. Not just those that can afford it. We know there are over 380,000 children across the UK today that have never owned a book, children that are in vulnerable environments.”



"There are over 380,000 children across the UK today that have never owned a book, children that are in vulnerable environments.”


The National Literacy Trust is another champion of children’s reading, with lots of resources and materials encouraging sporty children to engage with books. It’s a joy to be partnering with them this year to celebrate and bolster the cause of children’s sports books. Tim Judge, from the Trust, commented, “We are delighted to be partnering with the British Sports Book Awards on the Children’s Sports Book of the Year again this year. Encouraging children and young people to read through something they love, like sport, is really important and can make the difference between a child being a reader or not. At the National Literacy Trust, we have many programmes and resources that build on the excitement and passion about sport to support children and young people’s literacy and capture their imagination. We see first-hand how important these books can be for the millions of children that read them.”



Beyond children reading about sport, one of our shortlistees is himself a child writing about sport. Nominated for his book Strong and Tough, Rico Hinson-King is our youngest ever shortlistee, at just 12 years old! Rico is a Junior Premier League footballer with a knack for words, who wrote his story so that other children going through similar circumstances can feel less alone. His moving and powerful words are paired with warm, friendly illustrations by the award-winning Nick Sharratt, who famously illustrated many of Jacqueline Wilson's books including the Tracy Beaker series.


Rico commented, “I couldn’t believe it when I was told I had been shortlisted for the Sports Book Awards, in association with the Sunday Times. It was the most amazing feeling and I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. I hope it encourages other children to follow their dreams and never to give up hope. I’m especially happy to be shortlisted for this award because sports, in particular Football, literally saved my life when I was a child in care. It was my escape and I really hope other children follow their dreams and never give up, even when it’s tough.” His is an inspirational story and a book we are proud to advocate.


"Sports, in particular Football, literally saved my life when I was a child in care"


At the Sports Book Awards in association with the Sunday Times, we will continue to platform children’s sports books and those authors helping to change children’s lives for the better, both on and off the pitch.