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Psychological Effects of Sports on Children and Youth

By Lindsay Boyers

According to ESPN.com, approximately 21.5 million American children between the ages of six and 17 are involved in a team sport. Kids may get involved in sports for fun or to develop specific athletic skills. They may get involved because their parents decide it’s time to put down the remote and pick up that bat. Regardless of the reasons for getting involved, sports provide valuable exercise and reduce the risk of chronic diseases; in addition, engaging in organized sports can have profound positive psychological effects on kids.

Self-Esteem Boost

A 2006 report published in “Adolescence" presents data showing that participation in sports increased both emotional and behavioral well-being in adolescents. Increased well-being can lead to higher self-esteem and confidence, which results in better overall performance. Children involved in sports tend to do better academically (as reflected by higher grades), and they report higher levels of social contentment. In addition, they are less likely to engage in risky and destructive behavior patterns.

Working Together

Organized sports require children to work together to achieve a common goal. Through this process, children develop social and leadership skills and learn the value of teamwork. Children involved in sports generally have stronger peer relationships and a better understanding of peers from different backgrounds. With this higher level of social support also comes a higher level of resilience.

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Respect Your Elders

Sports give children and youth an opportunity to interact with adults in valuable and positive ways, fostering closer relationships with adults. This effect is especially great when children do not have the benefit of positive adult relationships at home; for children who do, participating in sports can lead to more of a sense of attachment with family and more frequent interactions with parents.

It's Not All Rainbows

While most psychological effects of sports on children and youth are positive, there can be drawbacks. If the pressure to win is overemphasized or the expectations of parents or coaches become too great, kids may experience psychological stress. Stress can cause a decrease in the enjoyment of engaging in sports, and it can also cause anxiety, headaches, stomach aches, fatigue, disruptions in sleep, muscle pains and depression. To diminish the risk of these negative effects, the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance recommends minimizing the emphasis on winning and instead focusing on developing specific skill sets.

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