Youth Sports: Active Kids Do Better Part 3

Thank you for joining us for our final installment of why active kids do better! We are closing our three-part series with the psychosocial benefits of youth sports participation. Did you know different sports have different social and psychological benefits? Or that high school athletes are less likely to smoke cigarettes? Or, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation, high school girls who play sports are less likely to be involved in unintended pregnancy and are more likely to graduate than girls who do not play sports? Let’s explore more.


We are aware of the mental health benefits young people experience due to participation in youth sports. We outlined some of them this spring in “6 Mental Health Benefits of Youth Sports,” so today, we want to present the statistics behind these benefits, like these:


  • According to a 2004 study by the Women’s Sports Foundation, among students who exercised six to seven days a week, 25.1% felt sad for two weeks or more in the previous 12 months, compared to 35.7% of students who reported exercising zero to one day per week.


  • The Journal of American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry reported in 2015, of students who exercised six to seven days per week, 15% reported suicidal ideation, and 6.4% reported a suicide attempt in the past year, compared to 24.6% and 10.3% of students who exercised zero to one day, respectively.


  • A 2019 study found that children who reported to have not exercised at all were twice as likely to have mental health problems, particularly related to anxiety and depression, compared with those who met the 60 minutes per day recommendation.


  • A 2020 study published in The New York Times suggested that the more physical activity teenagers participated in, the less likely they were to report depression as 18-year-olds.


In 2018, the Aspen Institute and the University of Texas partnered on a psychosocial survey that showed that team sports fared better than individual sports as it relates to how “psychological and social aspects of sports play an important role in youth having a healthy and positive sports experience.” Nearly 1,300 survey responses were tallied, with the majority coming from North Carolina and Michigan, while the remainder were strewn across the United States.

The study evaluated:

  • Personal and social skills
  • Cognitive skills
  • Goal setting skills
  • Initiative skills
  • Health skills
  • and negative experiences for high school athletes based on their primary sport.


The evidence suggests that more traditional team sports, like football and basketball, may be structured – or, inferred by student athletes – in a manner that generates experiences associated with well-being.


“Football and softball rated highest in the psychosocial survey in their respective gender among the 10 most popular high school boys’ sports and 10 most popular high school girls’ sports,” while individual sports such as tennis, track and field, and cross country ranked at the bottom in generating these same experiences.


What’s the bottom line? Youth sports are crucial to the healthy, psychosocial and physical development of our kids. Evidence of these benefits can be seen in every aspect of a student-athlete’s life and well into adulthood. If you’d like more information on the Aspen Institute’s Project Play, visit their website. If you’d like more information about what we do to support youth sports in Arizona, visit our FAQs page and connect with us!

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