JUN 04, 2022 3:15 PM PDT

Team Sport Participation Beneficial for Youth Mental Health

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Participation in team sports during adolescence and childhood is linked to fewer mental health difficulties. The corresponding study was published in PLOS One

While many studies have suggested that youth participation in organized sport may benefit mental health, some have linked sports participation to worse mental health. Detailed research into this topic could help researchers, teachers and parents understand which approaches to sport are most beneficial for youth. 

For the present study, the researchers analyzed data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study on sports habits and mental health from 11, 325 children aged 9 to 13 years old. The children were categorized according to their participation in team sport, individual sport, team, and individual sport together or no sport. 

In the end, they found that participation in team sports, such as basketball or football, compared to those who played no sport, was linked to less anxiety, depression, withdrawal, social problems, thought problems, attention problems, and rule-breaking behavior. These findings, noted the researchers, add to a growing body of evidence that playing team sports is linked to positive effects on mental health among children and adults. 

However, the researchers also found that participation in individual sports, such as roller skating, gymnastics, or tennis, compared to no sport, was linked to higher scores for depression, anxiety, withdrawal, social problems, and attention problems. While existing literature states that individual sports may not offer the same mental and psychosocial benefits as team sports, little to no prior research has found that individual sports may be problematic for mental health.

The researchers noted that a reason for less mental health among those in individual sports might result from performance expectations, as well as attribution of failure to internal factors and a lack of ‘sharing the blame’ with team members.

The researchers conclude that further research is needed to clarify the link between individual sports participation and worse mental health outcomes. They also note that longitudinal observations are needed to identify causal relationships between sports participation and mental health. 


Sources: PLOS One, Neuroscience News


About the Author
Annie Lennon is a writer whose work also appears in Medical News Today, Psych Central, Psychology Today, and other outlets. When she's not writing, she is COO of Xeurix, an HR startup that assesses jobfit from gamified workplace simulations.
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