There are many different factors like social media that can influence a child’s mental health that older generations did not have to face. But an old-school remedy could be the antidote since the time-honored tradition of playing sports has been shown by researchers in Australia to have long-term mental health benefits for those who participate.
And while the study showed positives for all sports participants, a greater benefit was seen in those who played team sports such as soccer or volleyball as opposed to individual sports like golf and tennis. Scientists from the University of Queensland studied the subject and published their findings in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Queensland School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Associate Professor Asad Khan looked at data from a longitudinal study with more than 4,200 children over an eight-year period.
"Consistent participation in sports from childhood is associated with better mental well-being among adolescents," Khan said. "Our research looked at the benefits of team sports such as football, cricket, or netball, and individual sports like karate, tennis, or gymnastics.
"We found there was a positive impact on mental health regardless of the type of sport, however children who played in a team experienced greater benefit. This could be due to the social aspects involved such as being surrounded by supportive peers, opportunities to form friendships, and working towards a collaborative goal."
Khan found positive outcomes for boys and girls but he believes more needs to be done to encourage sports participation in younger ages, especially in girls. Research showed a majority of young boys play a team sport but less than half that amount of girls do likewise.
"At ages six and seven, around 59% of boys participated in team sports, compared to only 26% of girls," Khan said. "We found that boys who played team sports experienced fewer psychosocial difficulties and better health-related quality-of-life, while the benefits of team sport participation was lower among girls.
"Some possible reasons to explain girls' lower level of team sports involvement could include lack of self-belief and confidence in sporting ability, or the common stereotype of team sports being a male-dominant activity.” Khan added, "It could also be due to a lack of opportunity for girls to participate in team sports, or a lack of diversity of sports offered in schools and co-curricular programs."
While Khan acknowledged more needs to be done to understand why girls are less likely to participate in team sports, he is hoping his research will be used to develop strategies designed to increase participation in sports by all children.