A study published in PLOS ONE has confirmed a link between mental health and team sport participation among children. The researchers conducted the research because there are conflicting data concerning mental health and team sports. Some studies have suggested that kids who participate in team sports are less likely to suffer mental illness, while others have reported the opposite findings.
To explore the question further, Matt Hoffmann of California State University and his colleagues asked parents and guardians to fill out a form called the Child Behavior Checklist. The researchers compared this data to the children’s sports habits. The sample included 11,235 kids between the ages of 9 and 13. The study also accounted for household income and overall physical activity.
Based on their analysis, the researchers determined that children and adolescents who played exclusively team sports, like basketball or soccer, had fewer mental health difficulties than those who did not participate in any organized sports.
The study also had an unexpected finding concerning participation in individual sports. The researchers expected children who played no sports to have more mental health difficulties than those who played individual sports, such as tennis or wrestling. However, this was not the case.
“To our surprise, youth who participated in only individual sports, such as gymnastics or tennis, had more mental health difficulties compared to those who did not participate in organized sports,” explained the study authors.
There was also a difference found in female children. The researchers discovered that females who participated in team and individual sports were less likely to display rule breaking behavior than those who participated in no sports.
While the study does not identify a causal relationship between team sports and mental health, it does build upon a growing collection of research that suggests there is a positive association. The experts hope that further research will help explain the links they have observed.