5 Mental Health Benefits of Youth Sports

By Michael Klinkner, Licensed Clinical Social Worker

As parents, we know organized sports are a great way for kids to stay active and decrease their risk for obesity. There are also distinct benefits to getting your kids involved in sports like increasing cardiovascular exercise, improving coordination and balance, cooperating with teammates and following instructions, just to name a few.

But did you know playing sports has significant mental health benefits, too?

Here are a few psychological benefits of playing youth sports:

  • Sports are a positive outlet for kids struggling with anxiety, depression and other behavioral problems. When kids swim, run, shoot hoops or dance, they’re naturally stimulating chemicals in their bodies like endorphins, which help improve mood. Being active also reduces the stress hormone cortisol. Win-win.
  • Sports help kids with the ability to receive constructive criticism and get better at difficult tasks. Research suggests that children who engage in athletics become adults who are better equipped to handle critique and stress. Playing sports can help build internal resources that will benefit kids well into adulthood.
  • Sports can help a child develop a good work ethic. Sports require sustained effort and commitment. Your child can learn the more effort they dedicate to a sport, the better they become at the activity. Perseverance is a lesson that will serve them very well their whole lives.
  • Joining a sports team of any kind helps kids cultivate relationships and participate in social activities. Participating in properly structured programs can provide a safe and nurturing environment for children and teens and instill a sense of community.
  • Combining sports, school and social obligations requires an ability to self-regulate and manage time. Getting to practice with everything they need, organizing their day to get their homework done and maintaining a social life can lead to very busy days. But this helps active kids and teens learn how to schedule, manage stress and avoid getting overwhelmed.

There are also some concerns about playing competitive youth sports that parents should keep in mind. While these things should not deter you from signing your child up for the next t-ball season, they are things you should address with your athlete, coach and co-parent.

Things to keep in mind when a child is playing a sport:

  • Self-esteem can mistakenly be tied to winning. It’s important to teach your child the outcome of the game or competition is not what’s important; it’s about the effort they put in and having a positive attitude – win or lose.
  • A great coach can do wonders for a child’s development but a terrible coach can do plenty of damage. Be sure to check with your child about their experiences with their coaches. If your child is having a rough season with a coach, use it as a teachable moment about the importance of advocating for themselves.
  • As parents, we need to avoid placing inappropriate pressure to perform on our children with the hopes they will get a college scholarship. Very few athletes receive scholarships to any level of college athletics. Help your child – and the influencers around them – keep in mind that they are not participating in sports with the sole intention of receiving a scholarship.

Remember, above all else, sports are supposed to be fun. When athletics stop bringing joy, they have the potential to hurt your child. Keep yourself and your child’s wellbeing in mind and work towards building memories that can last a long time.

Michael Klinkner is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Neurolinguistic Programming. He is also certified in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Klinkner provides individual, group and family therapy to children, adolescents and adults in Central Phoenix and Gilbert, Ariz. Klinkner focuses on treating a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, trauma and ADHD. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/michaelklinknercounseling/ or https://instagram.com/michael_klinknercounseling