Team Sports Can Boost Children’s Mental Health, Study Says

Here’s how being part of a sports team can help your kids, both mentally and physically.

By: Amanda Mushro
Baseball team cheering on field


Baseball team cheering on field

Photo by: Ariel Skelley

Ariel Skelley

While kids are dropping out of youth sports at an alarming rate across the country, now may be the perfect time to encourage your child to try a new sport and join a team. From the soccer pitch to the baseball field, kids who are part of a team sport are not only getting exercise that is good for their physical health, but a new study suggests it’s also good for their mental health.

According to the study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, kids who participate in team sports reported a stronger sense of optimism, feelings of belonging and more satisfaction with life—which are all positive mental health indicators.

Turns out, you don’t even need to be the star player or be on a winning team for these mental health benefits—you just need to participate. So, while many kids are hanging up their cleats or letting their sports equipment gather dust, they may be giving up an outlet that helps promote a boost to their mental health.

For the study, researchers surveyed 10,000 fourth graders about their mental health, their after-school activities and their relationships with others. Then, when the students were in seventh grade, the researchers surveyed the students again. Each child was placed into one of four groups: kids who participated in sports, kids who participated in non-sports activities, kids who participated in sports and non-sports activities and kids who didn’t participate in anything.

The results: the kids who participated in team sports had less anxiety and depressive symptoms than those who did not.

“What we found was, over time, the kids who did nothing in Grade 4 but by Grade 7 they had shifted to activities [had] benefits for mental health, specifically those kids who had shifted to activities that involve team sports,” Eva Oberle, the study’s lead author said in an interview with CBC news.

Oberle continued to say that the kids who played team sports showed a stronger sense of optimism and more satisfaction with life in addition to having the lower levels of negative mental health indicators.

So why does Oberle think being a team player is a boost to children’s mental health? She says it has to do with the sense of belonging that a team sport can give a child.

"You are all in this together," Oberle said. "There's some nurturing each other, supporting each other, and you celebrate together when you win. So, there's a lot of togetherness and connectedness that is fostered through team sport."

However, with the rising costs to play team sports, many families are choosing to opt out of those activities. Oberle hopes this study will help communities and parents ensure that team sports are available to all children—regardless of their family’s income.

For parents wanting to get their kids involved in a new team sport but are not sure they can make the commitment, try looking for rec leagues through neighborhoods and communities, which tend to cost less to participate in. Or, look for used equipment to cut down on the cost of new gear each season and, finally, find other families to carpool with as a way to take the burden off just one parent getting kids to and from games.

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