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Research: Team sports improve kids' mental health

Many parents are already aware of the physical benefits of having their kids play sports. But, a recent study shows that team sports can help ward off depression too
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A high school basketball player holds the ball carefully outside the key as he's guarded. He's trying to decide who to pass to...

CLEVELAND – The physical benefits of participating in youth sports have been known for years.

Now, a recent study shows engaging in team sports can actually help kids ward off depression.

The study looked at data on 9,668 children.

Researchers found children who were exposed to adverse childhood experiences reported better mental health as adults, if they had participated in team sports as children.

“What they found were that team sports actually conferred protection in some kids that had adverse life-effects, long term for mood,” said Joe Austerman, D.O., of Cleveland Clinic Children’s, who did not take part in the study. “These children, when they were older, didn’t get as depressed as often as kids that were not engaged in group activities or sports.” 

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Dr. Austerman said team sports help kids learn important social skills and how to interact with their peers more effectively.

Through team sports, kids learn how to lead, and negotiate with other kids to reach a common goal.

If a child is struggling with emotional regulation or interacting with others, Dr. Austerman said the structured setting of team sports helps create a safe environment to learn important social skills.

And learning these skills in childhood can lead to more positive experiences in the future.

“Having your kids in structured social activities that they can learn appropriately and they can be safe, but activities that help build persistence, and resilience, are very positive influences later on in life,” he said. 

Dr. Austerman said this research shows us how physical and mental health are tied together when it comes to overall well-being.

Complete results of the study can be found in JAMA Pediatrics.


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