Behavioral Consult

Encourage participation in team sports


Participation in sports, competitive team sports in particular, is very good for the physical well-being and emotional development of children and adolescents. Specifically, there is growing evidence that sports promote healthy development socially and emotionally, protecting against drug use, poor body image, and against psychiatric illness in youth.

Girls playing soccer ©photoaged/FOTOLIA

Sustaining academic productivity and team sports is demanding. By the middle of autumn, the amount of homework can begin to wear on teenagers, and the burden of getting them to practices and games can wear on parents. It can be very tempting for youth and their parents to drop team sports in high school, and turn their time and effort more completely to the serious work of school. But advocating for your patients and their parents to protect the time for team sports participation will pay dividends in the health and well-being of your patients and may even support rather than detract from academic performance.

The benefits of regular exercise for physical health are well established. Most teenagers do not get the recommended 60 minutes daily of moderate to vigorous physical activity. Participating in a team sport enforces this level of activity, in ways that parents typically don’t have to enforce. This level of physical activity typically promotes healthy eating and a healthy weight. Daily exercise promotes adequate, restful sleep, one of the most critical (and usually compromised) components of adolescent health. These exercise habits are easier to maintain into adulthood – when they protect against cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases – if they have been established early.

Dr. Susan D. Swick, physician in chief at Ohana, Center for Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health, Community Hospital of the Monterey (Calif.) Peninsula.

Dr. Susan D. Swick

Beyond physical health, participation in team sports has been shown to promote good mental health and protect against psychiatric illnesses. High school athletes have lower rates of anxiety and depression than those of their peers. They generally are less likely to use drugs and more likely to have a healthy body image than are their nonathlete peers. It is worth noting that the mental health benefits of team sports are even more robust than the benefits of solitary exercise in teenagers,1 possibly because of the social connections to peers and adults that grow out of them.

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