The idea that sports are good for a person’s health has been commonly held for centuries; however, many think that the benefits of this specific kind of activity are purely physical. Research in the last several years points to a different conclusion. Beyond physical benefits, there are also mental, psychological, social, and emotional benefits. In addition, many important life skills are taught through sports. It is crucial for developing children to play sports—specifically, team sports—so that they might benefit from these positive impacts.
Team sports provide children with many physical benefits. One of them is the prevention of life-threatening diseases. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “You should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise each week, which helps avoid such chronic diseases as diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease” (qtd. in “Six”). This recommendation totals just 20 minutes a day of moderate exercise or just over 10 minutes a day of vigorous exercise. A small amount of exercise can pay off in a big way. For children, the fulfillment of these weekly standards is especially important because they teach healthy habits that will prevail throughout their life. Helga Van Herle, MD, a cardiologist and associate professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine, emphasizes the benefit of team sports by stating it is “a fun way to get in your exercise for cardiovascular health because you get to do it in a group as opposed to doing it alone” (qtd. in “Six”). The aspect of togetherness found in team sports often motivates people to exercise because being together is more enjoyable, and a person can be held accountable when there is a workout partner. Research also shows that exercise enhances the power of an athlete’s brain due to its positive impact on the brain at the cellular level (Olszewski). If the brain is made more efficient through exercise and sports, people should be exercising more. There are positive long term physical effects that are a result of sports in adolescence. Linda Olszewski says, “An unfit adolescent is more likely to have a greater amount of body fat, higher chances of cardiovascular and other metabolic diseases, and less healthy bones than those who exercise regularly” (Olszewski). The long term impact of sports on the body circles back to the need for establishing healthy habits at a young age. In fact, optimal health is often measured through bone density and muscle mass (“Six”); exercise is known to have positive impacts on both of these criteria (“Six”). While the physical benefits are plentiful, there are perhaps other resulting factors that are more beneficial, such as the mental impacts of team sports.
Studies have shown that there are several mental and psychological health benefits gained from playing team sports as a child. A study conducted by the University of British Columbia examined over 10,000 students in grade four and then again in grade seven and found the positive impact of afterschool activities on children’s mental well being and encouraged the students to continue to participate in the activities (Azpiri). Any activity outside of school has shown to improve mental health, but this particular study found something even more powerful. The article states that “according to lead author Eva Oberle of UBC’s School of Population and Public Health, researchers found that kids who participated in team sports experienced greater mental health benefits than those who participated in individual activities, like music lessons or solo sports, or did not take part in extracurricular activities at all” (Azpiri). Team sports also have effects on self-esteem and depression levels. Team sport participants show greater levels of self-esteem and claim to experience fewer symptoms of depression likely as a result of the healthy social environment created by team sports (“Six”). The higher levels of self-esteem and less depressive episodes are especially evident when athletes are compared to non-athletes. Olszewski says, “specifically, athletes experienced lower levels of depression and anxiety than their non-athlete counterparts” (Olszewski). This could be because sports are often considered stress relievers. Not only can team sports improve self-esteem, but they can also be used as a coping mechanism. A study by JAMA Pediatrics found that children who experienced events that traumatized them had better mental health as adults if they played team sports (Klass). Participation in team sports as a child leads to a healthier mind as an adult. Team sports are even beginning to be recommended as a treatment for traumatic experiences. In an article published on the New York Times website, Dr. Easterlin, a pediatrician and health services research fellow, says, “when patients screen positive [for traumatic experiences], pediatricians could consider recommending team sports” (qtd. in Klass). The article also reports that the effects of team sports were greater than for kids who were physically active on their own (Klass). Easterlin also claims that “something about the team environment provides psychosocial support” (qtd. in Klass). Mental health awareness is a popular topic of discussion in today’s society. Given that sports have a positive impact on mental health, the need for team sports during adolescence should be stressed.
There are also social and emotional benefits that children gain from participation in team sports. Children that participate in team sports tend to have more developed social skills and are more emotionally intelligent. Team sports have produced greater social benefits when compared to individual sports (Olszewski). Researchers believe this is because of the social interaction on a team, and some even speculate that team sports are crucial in adolescents’ social development (Olszewski). Being on a team, feeling many emotions, and interacting with other children who are the same age and have different personalities has created this effect. Linda Olszewski says, “Interestingly researchers have found that children who participate in team sports are more socially advanced than their non-sports participating peers” (Olszewski). Good social skills are an asset throughout life. If playing sports develops that asset, children must take advantage of the opportunity. Additionally, a sense of belonging is felt when on a team (“Six”). This feeling of belonging promotes an athlete’s self-identity and increases a person’s level of happiness (“Six”). A universal struggle is the need to fit in and feel wanted, and team sports create an outlet where children can find friends with similar interests outside of school. The common interest of sports leads teammates to form friendships (Rodriguez). Teammates are compelled to become friends or at least acquaintances because of frequent interaction during practices and games. Not only will developing children benefit from the social interaction of team sports, but they will also be enhancing their emotional side. An article published by the George Lucas Educational Foundation references author Jill Pruden’s book, Coaching Girls Basketball Successfully, where she says her “players are expected to express their concerns, hopes, and disappointments to their coaches and their teammates” (qtd. in Maslen). Pruden also “encourages her players to seek feedback from coaches as well as their classroom teachers…fostering communication skills that will help them succeed in their academic endeavors” (qtd. in Maslen). In sports, children learn how to deal with winning and losing, and thus success and failure. These experiences increase their ability to deal with their emotions properly and in a healthy manner later in life. Dr. Diamond, a professor and program director for injury prevention for children at Vanderbilt University, says, “These benefits we talk about—learning how to fail and get back up, teamwork, being part of something larger—only happen when the emotional foundation is strong” (qtd. in Klass). The emotional foundation of young children is developed when playing team sports. Specifically, fundamental emotions, concepts, hopefulness, and confidence are affected by playing sports. Andy Driska, a Michigan State University researcher, conducted a study where he and his colleagues observed the emotions and attitudes expressed by 89 teens during a two-week-long wrestling camp (qtd. in Neighmond). Players’ confidence and hopeful feelings increased over the two weeks (qtd. in Neighmond). The increase of positive feelings exhibits the beneficial impact sports have on the emotional psyche. As a whole, the social and emotional well-being of children will be made better by playing sports.
A major positive of playing team sports is the life lessons and life skills acquired through the experience. One example is learning the lesson of accountability; when mistakes are made on the playing field, athletes learn to take responsibility for their actions (Rodriguez). This also applies in life because if mistakes are made, they must be acknowledged to succeed in the future (Rodriguez). Janssen Sports Leadership Center says, “working with teammates teaches athletes important life skills such as to respect one another, act in unselfish ways, make good decisions on behalf of the team, and not cut corners” (qtd. in Maslen). Most people learn these lessons at some point in life, but learning these lessons earlier can increase the success of these children because they have learned the crucial lessons earlier than their peers who do not play sports. Time management is another life skill that is honed by student-athletes. Paige Maslen, the author of an article published by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, says, “the time commitment required by athletes can be comparable to that of a full-time job” (Maslen). Time management is a huge asset in both school and an athlete’s future career. Forbes magazine published an article about the benefits of team sports on a person’s health and cited that a “study in the journal Nature found a clear distinction between athletic performance and the ability to track multiple objects at the same time” (qtd. in “Six”). The article also says that “the same skills you need to play a team sport are the same kind needed to drive a car or monitor complex dynamic activities” (“Six”). Skills learned while playing sports can have more than one benefit. This is a prime example of that principle. An article published by the Army and Navy Academy examines patience, persistence, and practice, asserting that these crucial lessons learned while playing team sports also apply in life outside of sports (Rodriguez). Having life skills such as these make a person more desirable to potential employers. The George Lucas Educational Foundation also says that “team sports are said to bolster the five C’s: competence, confidence, connection, character, and caring” (Maslen). These aspects can aid a person in experiences in life that have nothing to do with sports. Children can benefit in many areas of life due to the life skills and important lessons taught in team sports settings.
Another factor to consider is the impact of team sports in school, and also in an athlete’s career later in life. The George Lucas Educational Foundation reported that exercise creates a temporary state of relaxation that produces several effects that aid an athlete in school; these benefits include better concentration and memory, increased creativity, enhanced mood, and an increase in productivity in problem-solving (Maslen). Studies such as these have shown improvement in a student’s schoolwork because of involvement in team sports. Maslen writes “ a University of Kansas study looking at the performance of students grades 9 to 12 showed that more than 97% of student athletes graduated high school, 10% higher than those students who had never participated in sports” (qtd. in Maslen). When looking at student-athletes later in life, it appears as if they turned out more successful, career-wise, than their non-athlete counterparts. The Army and Navy Academy writes in an article about the benefits of team sports that “research into careers and the people who achieve greater success in their chosen occupation have found that 95% of individuals at the level of executive vice president in 75 Fortune 500 companies played sports during their school years” (Rodriguez). The Army and Navy Academy adds that “the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth found that 32 year-old-men who played sports in school were paid wages 31% higher than those who hadn’t played sports” (qtd. in Rodriguez). It is evident that team sports have a lasting effect on the success of athletes both in school and in the workforce. They are taught to work hard when playing sports and that drive translates into schoolwork and work on the job.
Some argue that team sports and sports, in general, are a bad idea. The Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine claims that many bad things stem from young children playing sports, including injury and mental stress (“What”); however, if the sport is taught correctly and players follow proper rules and guidelines, these issues can be avoided. The article also states that “young athletes may suffer from burnout, social isolation, attrition, and psychosocial problems” (“What”). While these may be real issues faced by some young athletes, there are preventative measures that can be taken. It is equally as important for parents to be aware of the issues their child may face playing team sports. Parents must monitor their child’s performance in the sport and address the problems should they arise. While a few issues may occur, the numerous benefits outweigh the small possible risks.
Team sports offer developing children numerous benefits. These benefits affect the growth—physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally—of children during the crucial developmental stages of adolescence. Though there may be some risks associated with children partaking in sports, the positive impacts outnumber the negative impacts.
- Azpiri, Jon. “Study of B.C. Students Finds Link between Playing Team Sports, Better Mental Health.” Global News, Global News, 27 Aug. 2019, globalnews.ca/news/5816806/study-bc-students-team-sports-mental-health/. Accessed 16 Oct. 2019.
- Klass, Perri. “Team Sports May Help Children Deal With Trauma.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 9 July 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/07/08/well/family/team-sports-may-help-children-deal-with-trauma.html?searchResultPosition=1. Accessed 16 Oct. 2019.
- Maslen, Paige. “The Social and Academic Benefits of Team Sports.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, 29 Dec. 2015, www.edutopia.org/discussion/social-and-academic-benefits-team-sports. Accessed 8 Oct. 2019.
- Neighmond, Patti. “Benefits Of Sports To A Child’s Mind And Heart All Part Of The Game.” NPR, NPR, 1 July 2015, www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/07/01/418899249/benefits-of-sports-to-a-childs-mind-and-heart-all-part-of-the-game. Accessed 16 Sept. 2019.
- Olszewski, Linda Escobar. “Four Reasons Why Team Sports Are a Win-Win for Teens.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 25 July 2017, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/drifting-adulthood/201707/four-reasons-why-team-sports-are-win-win-teens. Accessed 16 Sept. 2019.
- Rodriguez, Rachel. “Beyond Physical Fitness: Benefits Of Playing Team Sports.” Army and Navy Academy, Army and Navy Academy, 21 May 2019, armyandnavyacademy.org/blog/beyond-physical-fitness-the-benefits-of-playing-team-sports/. Accessed 16 Sept. 2019.
- “Six Reasons Why Team Sports Are Good For Your Health.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 21 Mar. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2018/03/21/six-reasons-why-team-sports-are-good-for-your-health/#7dfaacde6e25. Accessed 16 Sept. 2019.
- “What Are the Negative Effects of Sports on Children?” Reference, IAC Publishing, www.reference.com/family/negative-effects-sports-children-8bfd2b89c51e86e7. Accessed 27 Oct. 2019.