Benefits of Youth Sports

People often question the value of youth sports. They overlook the many benefits of participation in youth, high school, and college athletics. These benefits have been documented and include everything from lower drug use and higher grades to better health and long-term economic success.

This is a collection of posts from this site that deal with the Benefits of Youth Sports.


Sports help kids’ mental health

In a recently published article entitled Bidirectional Associations between Sport Involvement and Mental Health in Adolescence, researchers from the University of Wollongong, Australia found a direct connection between a child’s involvement in team sports and positive mental health. The entire study is worth reading (note: it is behind a paywall). This is one of their important conclusions:

However, there is consensus that sport can facilitate the development of psychological well-being (17). A recent systematic review found that participation in organized sport during childhood and adolescence is associated with higher levels of self-esteem, greater social skills, and fewer depressive symptoms (14). In addition, sport participation is associated with psychological health in childhood (5), and children who drop out of organized sport show fewer psychological strengths and greater psychological difficulties than those who maintain sport involvement (35). Moreover, noninvolvement in sport puts children at a 10%–20% increased risk of mental health problems (35). Importantly, the findings of both a systematic review by Eime et al. (14) and the original findings of Vella et al. (35) suggest that the psychosocial benefits of organized sport are independent of those that can be attributed to general physical activity.

This is more evidence that youth sports can have a powerful impact on kids. Continue reading

How Sports Advance Women at Every Level

On October 14, 2015, Ernst and Young partnered with espnW and released a report titled, Where will you find your next leader? EY & espnW explore how sport advances women at every level. This great resource explores a variety of topics. Some of the report’s conclusions include:


The report is a great resource. So is the E&Y page releasing it.


The Participation Gap

I had never considered that there could be a link between a parent’s level of education and a child’s participation in sports. I should have. It makes sense. Closing the Gap in Access to Summer Camp and Extracurricular Activities finds that there is a connection and that we need to figure out how to deal with it. And it’s not just sports. It’s summer camps, trips to the zoo, after-school extracurriculars, and other enrichment programs.

This graphic illustrates the problem in sports. There is a 50% increase in the participation of children 6 to 11 years old in sports if the parent has an advanced degree v. some amount of college education.

And the numbers are similar for clubs and various kinds of lessons. (Like piano lessons.)

Continue reading

More Proof High School Sports Help Girls

In this 2009 paper, Beyond the Classroom: Using Title IX to Measure the Return to High School Sports, author Betsey Stevenson finds that increase participation by girls in high school sports leads to increases in girls going to college as well as increases in female participation in the workforce.

Here’s the official Abstract:

Between 1972 and 1978 U.S. high schools rapidly increased their female athletic participation rates—to approximately the same level as their male athletic participation rates—in order to comply with Title IX, a policy change that provides a unique quasiexperiment in female athletic participation. This paper examines the causal implications of this expansion in female sports participation by using variation in the level of boys’ athletic participation across states before Title IX to instrument for the change in girls’ athletic participation. Analysis of differences in outcomes across states in changes between pre- and post-cohorts reveals that a 10-percentage point rise in state-level female sports participation generates a 1 percentage point increase in female college attendance and a 1 to 2 percentage point rise in female labor force participation. Furthermore, greater opportunities to play sports leads to greater female participation in previously male-dominated occupations, particularly in high-skill occupations.

Here’s the full paper online.


Purdue University Study Finds Benefits for Parents of Youth Athletes

While I have personally lived this, I had never really thought about this, but it makes sense: kids being active in youth sports has an impact on parents.

This Purdue study found a positive impact for parents of youth athletes. Some benefits include social friendships, improved spousal communication, and more. This links to the press release from Purdue as I have not found the full article yet.

Her Life Depends On It

Women’s Sports Foundation did an initial report about the impact of sports in 2004. They updated it with a 142 page report, Her Life Depends on It II,  in December 2009. This reports is a review of existing research on the links between sports and physical activity and the health and well-being of American girls and women.

There is a TON of material in this report. In addition to outlining the general conclusions here, I will also look at the source data as much as possible and post it as well.

General conclusions:

  • Research affirms, even more definitively than five years ago, that engagement in moderate and consistent levels of physical activity and sport for girls and women is essential to good health and well-being.
  • Although more research needs to be done, early studies examining the connections between physical activity and academic achievement show there is a positive relationship between the two in girls and women.
  • Females from lower economic backgrounds and females of color engage less in physical activity, have less access to sport and physical fitness programs, and suffer negative health consequences as a result.
  • Emerging research in prevention and training practices show that gender-conscious approaches to physical training and conditioning for female athletes help to reduce the likelihood of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries and concussions.

Student Athletes Academically Outperform Non Athletes by Wide Margins

A “massive” statewide study done in North Carolina in 2001 revealed “significant differences” in the academic performance of athletes and non athletes. The study looked at 125,000 high school students at 131 schools. The seven criteria looked at included: GPA, attendance rate, two different end-of-course testing components, discipline referrals, dropout rates and graduation rates. Athletes did better in every aspect.

  • GPA: The mean for athletes was 2.98. For non athletes is was 2.17.
  • Algebra End of Course Testing: The mean for athletes was 66.1 v. non athletes at 57.9.
  • English End of Course Testing: The mean for athletes was 61.4 v. non athletes at 50.8.
  • Attendance: Athletes missed and average of 6.3 days in a 180 day school year v. 11.9 for non athletes.
  • Discipline Referrals: Of discipline referrals made by the schools, 33.3% were athletes v. 41.8% that were non athletes.
  • Dropout Rate: The mean dropout percentage for athletes was 0.6% v. 10.32% for non athletes.
  • Graduation Rate: The mean graduation rate for athletes was 99.4% v. non athletes at 93.51%

Here’s an article about the study.

The Case for High School Activities

The National Federation of State High School Associations put out a short eight page publication, The Case for High School Activities, on the overall benefits of high school activities. This is not limited to sports. This short document pulls research from a variety of places and highlights some key findings.

  • participation in extracurricular activities in high school appears to be one of the few interventions that benefit low-status, disadvantaged students – those less well served by traditional educational programs – as much or more than their more advantaged peers.
  • students who took part in more vigorous sports like soccer or football or skateboarding, did approximately 10 percent better in math, science, English and social studies classes.
  • 18 to 25 year-olds who participate in sports activities while in high school were more likely than nonparticipants to be engaged in volunteering, voting, feeling comfortable speaking in public settings, and watching news (especially sport news).
  • an average of 78.3 percent of Alberta’s top corporate CEOs and members of the Legislative Assembly had participated in interschool sports. Nearly 80 percent indicated that being involved in school sports significantly, extensively or moderately complemented their career development and/or academic pursuits. This same study pointed out that a normal participation rate for students in high school sports is around 30 to 35 percent.

Study on Sports and Teen Pregnancy

In yet another example of why we can not look at things in a vacuum, this study on Sports and Teen Pregnancy Study from The Women’s Sports Foundation looks at the impact of sports on teen pregnancy.

Here are their major conclusions:

  1. Female athletes are less likely to get pregnant. Nationwide, female athletes are less than half as likely to get pregnant as female non-athletes.
  2. Female athletes are more likely to be virgins.
  3. Female athletes have their first intercourse later in adolescence.
  4. Female athletes have sex less often.
  5. Female athletes have fewer sex partners.
  6. Mixed results for male athletes. One study shows male athletes becoming sexually active earlier than male non-athletes. A national study found similar results for African-American male athletes v. non athletes.
  7. Both male and female athletes are more likely to use contraceptives.

From the report: “Our results strongly suggest that, for girls, sports may be used as a developmental strategy in programs intended to reduce teen pregnancy.”

“We contend that sports are a cultural resource that builds girls’ confidence, sense of physical empowerment, and social recognition within the school and community. Girls may be using the self-reliance and social status gained through athletic participation to resist social pressures to exchange sex for approval or popularity.”