Study results show that compared to children not participating in organized sports, kids who participate only in individual sports experience worse mental health outcomes than those who do not play any sports.
Using the Child Behavior Checklist, researchers examined parents’ and guardians’ self-reported mental health difficulties.
Several studies have found that organized sports can prevent mental health complications, but others have seen negative results.
The study aimed to assess the association between organized sports participation and mental health difficulties among children and adolescents in the U.S.
Compared to nonsports participants, those who participated in team sports were less likely to exhibit signs of anxiety, depression, withdrawal, and social or attention problems, as expected from their hypothesis.
Women who had participated in both team and individual sports displayed less rule-breaking behaviors than nonsports participants.
Playing sports exclusively as a team, like basketball or a soccer, caused fewer mental health difficulties in children and adolescents.
The researchers added, “The findings complement previous research suggesting that team sport participation may be a vehicle to support the child and adolescent mental health.”
The study design prohibits causal inferences between participation in organized sports and mental health difficulties.
The study added, “However, we found that youth who participated in only individual sports, such as gymnastics or tennis, were more likely to have mental problems.”
It does not imply participation in team sports improves mental health, or that mental health scores can indicate whether a child will be more or less likely to participate in various sports.
The researchers concluded, “Additional research is needed to determine the extent and circumstances of participation in individual sport may be problematic for younger cohorts.”