Team sports can be better for a child’s mental health

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Researchers say team sports such as baseball may be more beneficial to children’s mental health. Shoji Fujita / Getty Images
  • Researchers report that team sports are more beneficial to children’s mental health than individual sports.
  • In fact, they say that participating in individual sports can lead to bigger mental health problems than not playing sports at all.
  • However, other experts say that all youth sports have both positive and negative sides.
  • They note that children with attention problems and other problems sometimes thrive in individual activities.

A new study from children in the United States concludes that participation in team sports is better for children’s mental health than individual sports.

In addition, researchers report that participating in an individual sport such as tennis or wrestling is actually associated with greater mental health problems than not exercising at all.

Their findings contradict some previous research stating that participation in every youth sport helps to protect children from mental health problems.

Matt Hoffman, Ph.D., an assistant professor of kinesiology at Fullerton State University of California, and his colleagues presented their research in the latest issue of the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Hoffman’s team analyzed data on participation in sports and mental health of 11,235 children aged 9 to 13.

Parents and guardians reported on several aspects of their children’s mental health. Researchers then looked for associations between data on mental health and children’s participation in sports. Other factors were taken into account, such as household income and total physical activity.

The researchers said the analysis showed that children playing team sports had fewer signs of anxiety, depression, social problems, withdrawal and difficulty with attention.

However, contrary to researchers’ expectations, the study also found that children who play only individual sports tend to have greater mental health problems than those who do not play sports.

They noted that female athletes who play both team and individual sports are less likely to behave in violation of the rules than those who do not play at all.

The authors acknowledge that more detailed research is needed.

“There are many components of team sports that are good for children,” Dr. Julian Lagoy, a psychiatrist at Mindpath Health in San Jose, California, told Healthline.

“One benefit for kids from team sports is how to deal with other people, but it’s also about learning how to be a leader and be part of something bigger than yourself,” she said. “Being in a team holds a person accountable to everyone else in the team, even as children.

However, Lagoy said the dynamics could go both ways.

“In some ways, it’s easier to lose when you’re on a team because you’re not to blame,” Lagoy said. “It can happen that if you make a mistake that costs your whole team to win, the pressure can be much worse. However, when you lose or win in a team, you will share it with others, which can make the losses more bearable and the victories much more enjoyable. ”

Gillian Amodio, a social worker and founder of Moms for Mental Health, told Healthline that she has seen both team and individual sports benefit children.

“Sport in general provides an opportunity to learn how to solve problems, build confidence, build strength and lead a healthy lifestyle,” said Amodio. “While team sports offer opportunities to learn how to work collectively and collaborate with teammates, that doesn’t necessarily make them better or worse than individual sports.”

“Individual sports such as horseback riding, skating, swimming or martial arts still have aspects of cooperation,” Amodio said. “It also comes down to interests and preferences. Being good at something is not the same as loving it. One major factor in participating in any type of physical activity that should never be overlooked is the pleasure factor of all this. Sports should be fun. This should be something that the participant sees as a positive aspect of his life. “

“The pressure comes in many forms,” ​​she added. “The pressure of the team or the pressure to perform well for the team is really no different than the pressure to perform for one’s own sense of satisfaction. We are all motivated by and for different things and this again comes down to personal preferences and personality traits. “

Stacey Haynes, a therapist at Little Hands Family Services in Turnersville, New Jersey, agrees that the benefits may depend on the individual child.

“As a therapist for children with autism and children with anxiety, individual sports are the best,” Haynes told Healthline. Neurodiversity children often struggle in team sports because of their own perceptions of the game, their teammates, social pressures, and so on.

“Therapists will actually recommend individual sports such as track, tennis, swimming and karate for young people who have differences in neurological development that interfere with their ability to play sports,” he said. β€œ(For example) children who have a low tolerance for frustration with teammates (and) young people who are anxious to present themselves to others or to disappoint their team. Even sensory problems in team sports can make it difficult for young people to participate. strong crowds, teammates shout. “

“Not all sports are created equal, nor are our children,” she said.

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