Participating in sports from a young age is essential for developing teamwork and motor skills, improving self-esteem, and reinforcing healthy habits. New research from California State University, Fullerton brought this further, explaining how different types of sports can impact youth mental health.
The national study included 11,235 participants aged nine to 13, analyzing the types of sports each individual was involved in and their mental health. “As mental health trends continue to change, it’s important to get up-to-date information about the link between organized sport participation and mental health,” said Matt Hoffmann, who led the research. “In this study, we analyzed one of the most comprehensive datasets on U.S. youth sport participation and mental health to date.”
The results found that the individuals with fewer mental health difficulties – including anxiety, depression, withdrawal, social problems, and attention problems- were those who are involved in team sports.
Due to the pandemic, youth were not able to participate in organized group sports. The research points to this as one of the factors contributing to decreased mental wellbeing. “So, I think these results tell us that it’s important to get our youth re-engaged in organized sports, particularly team sports, as the pandemic calms down,” states Hoffmann.
Surprisingly, the team also found that youth who exclusively participate in individual sports – such as wrestling or tennis – could face greater mental health difficulties than those who play no sport at all. Hoffmann predicts this is due to the individual pressure and stress involved in these activities, with no teammates to share any failures and blame with.
The team urges people not to jump to any conclusions about the possible role of individual sports on youth mental health, with more research needed to figure out exactly what is going on here. However, the research strongly suggests that young individual athletes must receive support and guidance from parents, guardians, and coaches to ensure their mental health is not negatively impacted.
“Adults need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of poor mental health in kids and look for ways to help. While feelings of sadness after a poor performance and some anxiety here and there is a normal part of youth sport, regular signs of possible mental health problems can be cause for concern,” Hoffmann said. “Enhancing awareness and mental health literacy among all involved in youth sport, including kids themselves, is a good starting point.”