If you’re wondering “Are team sports important for children’s mental health?” The quick answer is, generally team sports can be great for kids. At the same time, there are possible risks in sports that parents should be aware of. If your child plays a team sport, you want to ensure a good sense of balance, so they’re gaining the positive effects without some of the ones that are maybe less so.
This article will discuss some of the pros and cons to help you decide whether or not to let your children play team sports.
Mental Health Concerns in Children
Children have suffered a great deal during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to mental health professionals. Issues include social isolation, routine changes, stress, fear, uncertainty, losing a loved one, financial instability, and children have lost links to community resources and worsening disorder and mental health challenges.
Children may be feeling depression, anger, anxiety, hopelessness, or be in a mental health crisis. Your child could be experiencing various mental health symptoms, like general psychological distress or a behavioral disorder.
In older children, signs of a possible mental health issue or mental health struggles include:
- Mood changes, such as rage or irritability
- Frequent conflicts with other people
- Changes in behavior like disengaging in personal relationships
- Loss of interest in things once enjoyed
- Sleep problems, including sleeping too much or having a hard time sleeping
- Appetite or weight changes
- Concentration or memory problems
- Declines in academic performance
- Appearance changes, such as less personal hygiene
If your child is showing possible red flags, you should consult your pediatrician or a mental health care provider. There may be a family services provider you can connect through to their school or a community organization.
There are things you can do at home. For example, try to stay positive, even if you are also feeling anxious. Try not to make it evident that you’re feeling stress in front of your children.
You should do things to take care of your emotional well-being to be more relaxed in your interactions with your kids. You can do self-care activities together as a family, such as watching a movie, stretching, or doing yoga. Another thing you might consider if you feel like your child is struggling with anything is to consider involvement in a team sport.
General Benefits of Sports for Kids
When children participate in team or individual sports, there are many benefits for them overall, including their emotional health.
Some of the general benefits of kids playing sports include:
- Regular physical activity is good for healthy development in kids. When kids are active and get exercise, it helps prevent chronic illnesses and promotes good physical health. It can promote proper bone, muscle, and joint development, control weight, and reduce the risk of obesity. A study from 2014 published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found afterschool physical activity programs had a significant impact on reducing obesity and overweight rates among children.
- Kids who get regular physical activity have improvements in their academics, including standardized test scores. Participating in organized sports helps kids improve their cognitive skills and concentration, attention, and classroom behavior.
- High school athletes are more likely to attend college than students who don’t play a sport. They may become college athletes who often tend to do better academically than students who don’t play sports.
- Sports and athletic training programs can help improve self-esteem and leadership among young people, but the quality of their coaches has a significant role in these positive benefits.
- High school athletes are less likely to smoke cigarettes than non-athletes and are less likely to experience a substance abuse behavioral disorder and mental disorder.
- Sports can be a good way for young people to develop critical thinking skills. They have to think about the strengths and weaknesses of their teammates and opponents and come up with tactics. They’re solving problems and learning to be agile in how they feel without even realizing it.
- Being on a team shows kids that life isn’t always fair, and that’s okay. When things don’t go your way, you have to accept it and move on rather than complaining or dwelling on it.
- Your children can have role models in professional athletes. The Olympic Teams who recently competed in Japan are an excellent example of this. They showcased their athletic abilities, but Team USA athletes also spoke about the importance of taking care of yourself mentally as a competitor. Having positive figures to look up to can be great for kids in general, especially when they hear personal stories from those people they admire and know they can relate to them.
Mental Well-Being in Sports
Along with the benefits outlined above, there are benefits for mental health in sports, whether your child is on a team or is an individual athlete. These benefits include:
- When children are physically active, it reduces the stress hormone cortisol and releases endorphins. These chemicals naturally improve mental health conditions in kids, and they can help protect against depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders.
- There’s a sense of nurturing and community support for children and teens with team sports in general. They have peers and adults around them who can support them. Team rituals offer a sense of belonging, which is good for relieving stress and promoting self-esteem.
- Participating in team sports helps kids build face-to-face relationships rather than relying only on screens and social media. There’s bonding thanks to shared goals and interests.
- According to sports psychologists, team sport participation can instill a sense of confidence and show kids that when they work hard and dedicate their time to something, it can help them be successful.
- Sports aren’t all about winning, and some ups and downs come with winning and losing, which can help kids learn resilience.
- Young athletes and female athletes, in particular, can benefit their body image when they participate in sports. They learn that their bodies are muscular and can see what they can do.
- Kids and young people often learn how to stay in control of their emotions by playing sports. For example, sports can be frustrating, but kids learn to channel their feelings in positive, productive ways.
- If you’re active in your child’s team activities and additional training, it can foster a good relationship between the two of you. You can show that you’re a support system for your child, win or lose.
Are There Downsides for Children Playing Sports?
While there are so many great benefits, there are possible downsides to kids participating in sports to be aware of. We can avoid most of these downsides by ensuring your child participates on a team with positive coaching.
For example, one of the adverse risks is when the competition element becomes toxic. That can then contribute to bullying or more stress and frustration for kids. A good team will be one where your kid alleviates their stress through practicing and playing. It shouldn’t burden them with more pressure.
Along with avoiding teams where a coach is overly competitive, you should be mindful of your behaviors. Don’t focus on whether or not your child’s team is winning. Teach them to be good sports and show positive behaviors on and off the field. Remember, a child isn’t expected to perform like elite athletes or professional athletes. The main priority is that they enjoy what they’re doing long-term.
Suppose your child is struggling in any way emotionally. In that case, regardless of whether or not they’re participating in sports, we encourage you to connect through mental health counseling or a marriage and family therapist. There are mental health resources and private practices readily available.
If you see red flags, taking action sooner rather than later can be an excellent way to help your child get into a better place. A licensed professional at The Mental Health Center of San Diego can help your child navigate how team sports are important for Children’s Mental Health. Mental Health counselors work to understand the particular problems that manifest in children and create the best treatment plans for them over a while—Call (858) 258-9883 to talk to a care coordinator and learn more.