Children who play team sports are less likely to have mental health problems, the study shows

A football helmet lies on the ground while members of the Floral Park High School football team are in the background and training for the 2015 season, on the morning of August 19, 2015 (Photo by Thomas A. Ferrara / Newsday via Getty Images)

A new study examining the link between a child’s participation in organized sports and their mental health found that those who participate in team sports are less likely to have mental health problems.

According to a study published in PLOS One, the researchers used data from more than 11,000 children in the United States between the ages of 9 and 13.

Parents and guardians provided self-reports of their child’s mental health problems using a “behavioral checklist.” In addition, they were provided with a long list of activities (sports, music, hobbies) and asked to indicate their child’s lifelong participation in each of them.

Researchers found that participation in team sports compared to non-sports participation was associated with 10% lower scores for anxiety / depression, 19% lower scores for withdrawal / depression, 17% lower scores for social problems, 17% lower scores for mental problems and 12% lower scores for attention problems.

Conversely, participation in individual sports compared to non-sports participation is associated with 16% higher scores for anxiety / depression, 14% higher scores for withdrawal / depression, 12% higher scores for social problems and 14% higher scores for attention problems.

“Some children and adolescents who compete in individual sports may experience significant stress related to self-performance, which can contribute to mental health problems,” the study authors said.

In addition, athletes who played both team and individual sports did not have different mental health profiles than children and adolescents who did not play sports.

“The results show that participation in team sports is associated with fewer mental health problems, while individual sports participation is associated with greater mental health problems,” the study authors continued. “The results show that [the] sport can be an important factor in the relationship between sports participation and mental health. “

In general, there were fewer mental health problems among women than among men and those who identified as black and Asian than those who identified as white.

“The results of this study, together with the results of previous research, suggest that participation in organized team sports can be a useful environment through which to promote the mental health of children and adolescents,” the authors added. “Efforts to provide children and adolescents with affordable opportunities to join organized team sports leagues / clubs outside of school may require additional attention, especially for families with socio-economic challenges.

A potential limitation noted by researchers is the use of parents’ self-reports, noting that parents who enroll their children in individual sports may tend to overestimate problematic aspects of their children’s emotional and behavioral behavior. Alternatively, they also said it is plausible that parents who register their children in team sports are more likely to view their children interacting positively with peers and thus tend to underestimate any potential mental health problems.

Researchers said further research would be needed to determine the extent to which and under what circumstances participation in a particular sport could be problematic for adolescents.

The authors also said that future research could be done to examine the link between sports participation and mental health among minority youth (such as LGBTQ adolescents), who may be at increased risk of mental health problems.

These findings complement previous research that suggests that participation in team sports may be a means of supporting the mental health of children and adolescents. But other studies have also linked youth sports participation to adverse outcomes such as anxiety and burnout.

CONNECTED: Focusing on 1 sport can have both positive and negative results in teens, the study found

In a recent study published last month in the Orthopedic Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers surveyed 975 high school athletes and found two dimensions of competitiveness – the pleasure of competition, which is associated with inherent sports motivation and good sportsmanship, along with controversial competitiveness. which is related to external sports motivation and poor sportsmanship.

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