Youth Sports Participation Linked to Reduced Risk of Emotional Difficulties

If you sampled most adults, at least those over about 35 years old, they’ll tell you that playing organized sports is a good thing for kids. Elementary school-aged kids can get plenty of exercise, learn to get along with others, learn the value of competition and how to win and lose with dignity.

While youth sports, especially in America, has taken a lot of criticism in recent years, none of the values or benefits listed above are the problem. If we remove overbearing parents, overzealous coaches and a few other choice “adults” from the equation, kids still get the same benefits from youth sports as they always have.

Now, a new study has confirmed an important benefit to kids. According to a study out of Canada says that kids who participate in organized youth sports between the ages of 6 and 10 years of age are less likely to suffer from emotional difficulties when they turn 12. The study results were published in the journal Pediatric Research this month.

“The elementary school years are a critical time in child development,” said Frédéric N. Brière, an Université de Montréal professor of psycho-education who led the study.

“And every parent wants to raise a well-adjusted child.”

Brière believes that, in addition to providing opportunities for quality physical activity, organized youth sports offer other benefits. Children grow and develop mentally and emotionally from participation in sports. According to Brière, this is something most parents understand without needing to quantify it.

This “intuitive logic” was put to the test using a large representative population of typically developing Canadian kids.

“We followed a birth cohort over time to examine whether consistent participation in organized sport from ages 6 to 10 would minimize risks associated with emotional distress, anxiety, shyness, social withdrawal at age 12,” said Brière. “Our goal was to test this question as critically as possible by eliminating pre-existing child or family conditions that could offer an alternative explanation.”

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All the children in the cohort were born in 1997 or 1998 and were part of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development run by the Instiut de la Statistique du Quebec. Each child’s participation or non-participation in organized physical activity was reported by their mother for the period covering 6 to 10 years of age. When the children turned 12, teachers reported on each child’s levels of anxiety, shyness, social withdrawal and overall emotional distress at school. Brière and his team then examined all the data.

“The results revealed that children who participated consistently from ages 6 to 10 showed fewer instances of those factors at age 12 than their counterparts who did not engage in physical activity in a consistent way,” said Brière. “We found these benefits above and beyond pre-existing individual and family characteristics.”

His conclusion: “Getting kids actively involved in organized sport seems to promote global development. This involvement appears to be good on a socio-emotional level and not just because of physical benefits. Being less emotionally distressed at the juncture between elementary and high school is a priceless benefit for children, as they are about to enter a much larger universe with bigger academic challenges. This research supports current parental guidelines promoting children’s involvement in physical activity.”

Competing, cooperating, mutually supporting one another and learning to win and lose with dignity are all positives for kids as a result of youth sports. Learning that there is always another day to play and challenging their physical limits are great benefits, too.

Maybe we can get all the difficult adults out of the way and let the kids enjoy the benefits of playing, competing and being with their friends. Just a thought.

Keep the faith and keep after it!

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Journal Reference – Brière, F.N., Imbeault, A., Goldfield, G.S. et al. Consistent participation in organized physical activity predicts emotional adjustment in children. Pediatric Research (2019)

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