- Researchers are reporting that team sports are more beneficial to children’s mental health than individual sports.
- In fact, they say that participating in an individual sport can lead to greater mental health difficulties than not playing sports at all.
- However, other experts say there are benefits and drawbacks to all youth sports.
- They note that children with attention difficulties and other problems sometimes thrive on individual activities.
Furthermore, the researchers report that participating in an individual sport such as tennis or wrestling is actually associated with greater mental health difficulties than not playing sports at all.
Their findings are contrary to some
Matt Hoffmann, Ph.D., assistant professor of kinesiology at California State University Fullerton, and his colleagues presented their research in the latest edition of the open access journal PLOS ONE.
Hoffmann’s team analyzed data on sports involvement and mental health from 11,235 children between the ages of 9 and 13.
Parents and guardians reported on various aspects of their children’s mental health. The researchers then looked for associations between mental health data and children’s involvement in sports. Other factors were considered, such as family income and overall physical activity.
The researchers said the analysis showed that children who played team sports had fewer signs of anxiety, depression, social problems, withdrawal and attention difficulties.
However, contrary to the researchers’ expectations, the study also found that children who only played individual sports tended to have more mental health difficulties than those who did not play any sports.
They noted that female athletes who played both team and individual sports were associated with a lower likelihood of behavior in violation of the rules than those who did not play at all.
The authors recognized that more detailed research is needed.
“There are many components of team sports that are useful for children,” Dr. Julian Lagoy, a psychiatrist at Mindpath Health in San Jose, California, told Healthline.
“A benefit for children to participate in team sport is like dealing with other people, but it’s also about learning to be a leader and to be part of something bigger than yourself,” he said. “Being on a team makes an individual responsible to all other team members, even as children.”
However, Lagoy said the dynamic can go both ways.
“In a way, it’s easier to lose when you’re on a team because you won’t have all the blame,” Lagoy explained. It can happen that if you make a mistake that costs your entire team a win, the pressure can end up being much worse. However, when you lose or win on a team, you will share it with others, which can make losing more bearable and winning much more enjoyable. “
Jillian Amodio, a social worker and founder of Moms for Mental Health, told Healthline that she has seen both children and team and individual sports benefit.
“Sports, in general, offer the opportunity to learn how to solve problems, build confidence, build strength and lead a healthy lifestyle,” said Amodio. “While team sports offer opportunities to learn to work collectively and collaborate with teammates, it doesn’t necessarily make them better or worse than individual sports.”
“Individual sports like horseback riding, skating, swimming or martial arts still have collaborative aspects,” noted Amodio. “It also depends on interests and preferences. Being good at something is not like loving it. An important factor in engaging in any type of physical activity that should never be overlooked is the fun factor of it all. A sport should be fun. It should be something that the participant sees as a positive aspect of their life ”.
“The pressure comes in many forms,” he added. “The pressure of a team or the pressure to do well for a team is really no different from the pressure to perform for one’s sense of satisfaction. We are all motivated by and for different things, and again it’s about personal preferences and personality traits. “
Stacy Haynes, a therapist at Little Hands Family Services in Turnersville, New Jersey, agrees that the benefits may depend on the individual child.
“As a therapist for autistic children and children with anxiety, individual sports are best,” Haynes told Healthline. “Neurodiverse children often struggle in team sports because of their perceptions of play, their teammates, social pressures, etc.”
“Therapists will actually recommend individual sports such as track and field, tennis, swimming and karate for young people who have neurodevelopmental differences that interfere with their ability to play sports,” he noted. “(For example) kids who have a low tolerance for frustration with teammates (and) youngsters who have the anxiety of performing in front of others or letting their team down. Sensory concerns in team sports can also make it difficult for young exes to participate. noisy crowds, screaming teammates ”.
“Not all sports are the same and neither are our children,” he noted.