May 31, 2023 • 6 min read
Ever since the pandemic, mental health has become an important and regular conversation in youth sports. Peel away every business decision we make as youth sports organizers, between a growth mindset, increasing registration numbers, and diversifying our programs, thereâ€™s one priority goal in mind. Itâ€™s the positive impact sports have on our youth.Â
Thatâ€™s why we must recognize the importance that youth sports play in building positive mental health habits for our athletes. Playing sports brings a wealth of benefits to our athletes, and not just physically.
Here are the top five mental health benefits of youth sports.Â
When parents and kids decide to join different extracurricular activities, they are immediately thrust into a new community. School is usually the first place that children begin to feel a sense of community, but thatâ€™s only deepened with these additional activities. Be it music, theater, academic groups, or sports.Â
And sports is one of the best. In 2022, the Aspen Institute released a study that indicated 56.1% of youth ages 6-17 participated in some form of sports.Â
These sports programs immediately involve our youth with properly structured programs and offer an ability to develop important relationships with other children in the community. When you factor in parents and coaches who care deeply about the emotional health of our athletes, itâ€™s just another layer of support.Â
Sports organizers should keep this in mind when building their programs. Take extra time to encourage team-building exercises or events that involve every team in your league, even if these events are not directly centered around the sport that they play.Â
In the same sense that our youth athletes develop additional communities of support, they also can use sports as an important learning tool. This new community gives our youth athletes and safe environment to foster long-lasting relationships with peers that share similar interests.Â
Instead of getting caught up with social media or stuck on their mobile devices, our youth athletes will develop important social skills like communication, problem-solving, and face-to-face interactions.Â
Legendary tennis professional Arthur Ashe once said, â€œYou are never really playing an opponent. You are playing yourself, your own highest standards, and when you reach your limits, that is real joy.â€
Ashe reveals an important lesson in sports. Much of the game is about challenging yourself and pushing yourself towards greater heights. What does that team our youth athletes?
It helps them develop increased self-esteem and confidence. There are so many distractions and pressures for todayâ€™s youth. With the pressures of school and social media, kids can get stuck doing a lot of comparing.Â
But when theyâ€™re on a sports field, developing their skills, and getting better every day, that does wonders for their confidence and belief in themselves.Â
Part of the process of building that confidence and belief stems from the habits required to develop these skills. Skill development is tied so closely to building good habits. Thatâ€™s a dedication to your sport, to the things that help you get better.Â
In simpler terms, the athletes who excel are the ones with a good work ethic. And thatâ€™s exactly what sports organizers are trying to instill in every one of their athletes.Â
Preach good coaching habits. Itâ€™s a great idea to continually develop the skills of our various coaching staffs. Provide them with programs and development in the way they run practices, games, etc. Set your coaches up for success and watch your athletes blossom.Â
Michael Klinkner, a licensed clinical social worker, wrote about this benefit in Raising Arizona Kids. â€œSports 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.â€
One easy way to describe the mental health benefits of youth sports is the development of various skills. The list of those skills is pretty lengthy, so weâ€™ll focus on two important ones.Â
In an article by Global Sport Matters, Karen Issokson-Silver, VP of research and education at the Womenâ€™s Sports Foundation describes this benefit. â€œThere are many sports programs that are intentionally teaching young people interpersonal skills that contribute to positive mental health, whether that’s problem-solving, or managing adversity, or even learning how to ask for help,â€ Issokson-Silver said. â€œWe’re seeing more programs creating environments that are safe spaces, allowing young people to bring their authentic selves into that space so that they can grow and thrive.â€
The field/pitch/rink/court is a safe environment for our athletes to work on these skills. Build adversity by learning how to lose like a winner, or come back from a tough defeat with an impressive performance. Find different and creative ways to continue developing your athletic skills or get through a tough in-game situation with teamwork and communication.Â
Want to learn more about the mental health benefits of youth sports? Head on over to our Coachesâ€™ Corner to find skills & drills for player development, or coaching strategies to improve effectiveness on and off the field with your team. You can also check out our Athletes and Mental Health on-demand webinar at this link.