Recently, the US Department of Health and Human Services released the first National Youth Sports Strategy which hopes to increase access to participation in sports and investigate potential benefits for later mental and physical health outcomes. While teens may struggle to be physically active in their free time, teens who join organized sports teams are more likely to stick with a healthier lifestyle. This campaign suggests that participating in youth sports may buffer against later mental health issues. 

Decline in Physical Activity

Inactivity among young people is slowly increasing, with 27.3% of teens reporting zero daily physical activity. As children today are more likely to turn to personal devices during their leisure time, they are less likely to choose to play outside or work out for fun. The number of 6- to 12-year-olds regularly playing team sports has fallen to 38%―down from 45% a decade ago. By the time they are 13, 70% drop out of team sports because they claim that it is no longer fun.

This loss of interest in sports teams parallels the rise of depression among this age group. Between 2005 and 2017, there was a 52% increase in 12- to 17-year-olds experiencing symptoms of major depression. One reason for this parallel may be that teens who are depressed are less likely to have the energy or enthusiasm to participate in sports teams. Another may be that teens who don’t play sports are more likely to lack the social support and purpose other players find through the activity.

Long-Term Benefits of Participating in Sports

“We know that when youth are engaged in sports, their life outcomes are more positive and bright. They have increased graduation rates, higher wages, greater self-confidence and are better at working with others,” described the US Department of Health and Human Services in their summary of the new strategy. “Based on this information, it is surprising that sports participation is on the decline.”

The benefits of youth sports last well into adolescence and adulthood, even if the child does not continue to play the same sport. According to a recent study, people who experienced traumatic events as children had better mental health outcomes as adults if they participated in team sports. Team sports may have similar health benefits as going to the gym, but the social nature of these activities helps young adults build emotional resilience and a sense of community.

Compared to teens who spend more time online, teens who participate in sports are more likely to have:

  • Higher levels of perceived competence, confidence, and self-esteem
  • Improved life skills, such as goal setting, time management, and worth ethic
  • More opportunities to develop social and interpersonal skills, such as teamwork, leadership, and relationship building
  • Improved cognitive skills, such as concentration, memory, and communication
  • A greater sense of purpose associated with a lower risk of depression

Recreation Therapy 

Many community programs are taking the initiative to connect young people to physical activities that they enjoy. Boys are more likely to be encouraged to participate in sports, while girls are encouraged to socialize or be creative. It is especially empowering for young girls to explore different adventure activities, as physical activity for girls is often tied to body image rather than emotional strength. 

Girls who struggle with self-esteem and social skills may benefit from recreation therapy, which encourages them to be more physically active and to develop healthier coping skills.

Asheville Academy Can Help

Asheville Academy for Girls is a therapeutic boarding school for girls ages 10-14. Our students commonly struggle with anxiety, depression, ADHD, learning differences, technology addiction, and attachment issues. We are a relationship-based program that focuses on building meaningful face-to-face connections through teamwork, group therapy, recreational therapy, and small classrooms. We aim to help students that have dealt with low self-esteem and social rejection change the narratives they’ve internalized about their self-worth and potential for success.

For more information about recreation therapy, call 800-264-8709. We can help your family today!

Cat brings more than thirty years of experience making an impact in the lives of adolescents. Cat has developed multiple programs helping children, teens, and young adults in a variety of settings and with a diverse range of diagnoses. She has dedicated her career to behavioral health and is honored to be part of the passionate team at Asheville Academy for Girls. She recognizes how delicate this age is and is proud of the role she and her team play in helping girls grow and prosper.