Recently, we’ve seen a shift in thinking around competitive sports. Simone Biles, US Olympic athlete, withdrew from competition at the Tokyo Olympic Games to focus on her mental health. Tennis player Naomi Osaka pulled out from the French Open for similar reasons. And more and more elite athletes have been speaking out in support of caring for mental health, not just physical health, in the world of sports and beyond.
Even big companies like Coca-Cola are getting behind the positive shift to focus on behavioral health and mental health in sports too. The Powerade Pause is Power campaign highlights the importance of pressing pause and challenging that “win at all costs” mindset that so many of us are used to.
But the changes aren’t all happening on a national scale. There’s room for conversation around behavioral and mental health in youth sports too. Here are some things to keep in mind when you have kids in sports.
In a 2020 study looking at kids who played team sports, individual sports, both, or neither, researchers found some potential mental health benefits for kids in team sports.
The study found “10 percent lower anxiety and depression scores, 19 percent lower withdrawn and depressed scores, 17 percent lower social problems scores, 17 percent lower thought problems scores and 12 percent lower attention problems scores” in children who play team sports, as reported by the Smithsonian. That certainly points to the significant benefits of team sports like soccer, basketball, volleyball, and football. But that’s not the whole story.
Not all sports are created equal, and every kid is different. That same study found that children in individual sports didn’t see the same benefits. When it comes to individual sports, think of ones like tennis, wrestling, or even gymnastics, where players might be part of a team but compete and are evaluated alone. On average, they scored about the same as kids who didn’t do sports at all.
Some of that might be the benefits of sports. Of course, physical activity is important to mental, behavioral, and physical health. But with team sports, you have the support of a team around you. Individual sports are more likely to focus on things like body image, weight, and comparison, and it can be more challenging for kids to separate themselves from a bad score or a loss. And those can lead to behavioral health issues like disordered eating or anxiety. And, of course, even team sports can come with potential downsides. From difficult teammate interactions to trouble with coaches or the other team, all types of sports can have pros and cons.
So much of a kid’s relationship with sports starts off the field, at home, and with their family and friends. There are some things you can do to support their behavioral health proactively.
This starts with open communication. Does your child like the sport? Or are they participating because they’re trying to live up to expectations? That might come from you, a sibling, friends, or society. If they’re not enjoying themselves, it’s more likely to tie into behavioral health issues.
If you’re noticing unhealthy attitudes around sports in your child, start by talking to them. You might notice they complain about going to practice, or maybe they have overwhelming emotions after a loss that they don’t know how to process. Listen, and try to set aside your opinion on what they should do as much as possible. Leave room for continued conversation, and help create a supportive environment around sports that focuses on their well-being rather than on winning.
And when you’re not sure how to help them move forward, there are resources you can use. Services from CHPcan give your child tools to process their emotions and behavioral health disorders they might be wrestling with. Therapy sessions via Zoom and phone make it easy for them to work counseling around busy school and extracurricular schedules. And school-based services in some Bozeman schools open up even more avenues to help them. Get in touchwith a community clinic to learn more about the options available.