Monday, June 6, 2022

Team, But Not Individual, Sports Associated With Improved Mental Well-Being in Youth

Children who participate in team sports have lower levels of depression, anxiety, social problems, and attention problems compared with children who do not participate in team sports, according to a report in PLoS One. Children who participated only in individual sports had more mental and behavioral difficulties compared with those who did not participate in sports, however.

“The results of this study, coupled with previous research findings, suggest that participation in organized team sport may be a useful medium through which to promote child and adolescent mental health,” wrote Matt Hoffman, Ph.D., of California State University, Fullerton, and colleagues. “Efforts to provide children and adolescents with affordable options to join organized team sport leagues/clubs outside of school may require further attention, particularly for families with socioeconomic challenges.”

Hoffman and colleagues analyzed data from the National Institute of Health’s ongoing Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, which includes comprehensive data on a broadly representative sample of 11,235 children and adolescents aged 9 to 13 years across the United States. For this study, the researchers divided participants into four groups based on their participation in organized sports either inside or outside of school: Youth who participated in team sports such as volleyball or soccer, youth who participated in individual sports such as tennis or wrestling, youth who participated in both types of sports, and youth who did not participate in organized sports. They then compared the rates of various emotional and behavioral problems among these groups as identified in the parental-rated Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL).

Compared with not participating in sports, participating in team sports was associated with 10% lower scores for anxious behavior, 19% lower scores for withdrawn/depressed behavior, 17% lower scores for social problems, and 12% lower scores for attention problems. Conversely, participating in individual sports was associated with 16% higher scores for anxious/depressed scores, 14% higher scores for withdrawn/depressed behavior, 12% higher scores for social problems, and 14% higher scores for attention problems compared with not participating in sports.

“It is conceivable that children and adolescents competing individually would be keenly aware of the performance expectations (real or perceived) placed on them by their parents/guardians, family, or peers, which could result in pressure to perform well,” Hoffman and colleagues wrote. “Individual sport athletes are also prone to attribute their failures to internal factors, presumably because they do not have teammates with whom they can share the blame for perceived poor performances.” Hoffman and colleagues noted that other studies have shown positive mental benefits for individual sports, so these results require more investigation.

Youth who participated in both team and individual sports had roughly the same scores on the CBCL as those who did not participate in sports. This suggests that the benefits of being on a team and the drawbacks of participating in individual sports cancel each other out, the authors wrote.

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Specific Exercise Characteristics Linked to Better Mental Health.”

(Image: iStock/monkeybusinessimages)

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