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.

But there’s another conclusion that should make everyone in leadership positions in youth sports pause and consider how to make a difference.

Second, the design, delivery, and marketing of youth sport programs should be made attractive and accessible to children and adolescents with poor psychosocial health. 

This is something we all need to remember. Youth sports can help everyone. But not every program is easy for a child with issues to participate in. There are wonderful programs to provide opportunities to children with physical disabilities. But what are we doing to help kids with poor psychological health? How can we create programs that help get them involved and keep them involved? I don’t have an answer. But it’s something we need to start thinking about.

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