Positive Changes of Mental Health in Youth through Sport and Recreation

By: Lucy P.

 When sport and recreation activities come to the forefront of the mind, first thoughts predominantly revolve around the physical advantages and disadvantages. However, mental health is something that cannot be ignored, specifically in relation to youth. In today’s generation, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem has increased dramatically in youth and adolescents. Perhaps this is due to the impossible stereotypical demands created by society, and the pressures of social media influences? As discussed in class, mental health is often overlooked in sports, for example, physiotherapists, athletic therapists, chiropractors, etc., are popular resources, rarely are there psychiatrists offered. A statistic taken from class material states, the total number of 12-19 year olds in Canada at risk for developing depression is 3.2 million. With this being said, it is important to start recognising the solutions available to help youth of today overcome mental illness.

Fostering positive youth development in regards to mental health can be done through sports and recreation activities. A study by Hansen, Larson, and Dworkin states, youth in sports activities reported higher rates of self- knowledge, managing emotions, and physical skills experiences compared to youth in academic and leadership activities (Menestrel & Perkins, 2007). Unfortunately, the culture surrounding this generation lessens the focus of emotional and mental issues, however sports and recreational activities are proven to support positive effects, and is something that all youth can become a part of.

Both after-school recreational programs and organised sports can encourage positive mental health benefits, and these are opportunities that can be delivered to youth from a young age, in all social classes. As discussed in class, by improving mental health characteristics, such as, self-esteem, anxiety, depression and social skills, allows for building and developing life long skills that can be of use in everyday life. A study found participation in structured extracurricular activities was associated with higher life satisfaction among youth, and that the more structured activities youth participated in, the higher their life satisfaction (Fraser-Thomas, et al., 2005). This given, well-being and happiness has been a central component to a good life, which these findings furthermore prove sports and recreational activities help promote positive youth development.

I have participated in sports programs all my life, and there is no doubt that they have helped shape the person I am today. I was a very shy, quiet child, but sports allowed me to find myself in a comfortable setting. Still, to this day I learn and grow through sporting opportunities. In addition to this, I learned life skills such as social skills, self-esteem and dedication from a very young age. Continuously being surrounded by people who believe in you (e.g., peers, coaches) and a goal-setting environment, it becomes the norm to perpetuate self-belief as individuals. All of these positive outcomes for me came from regular activity, whether that was in an organized sport or an after-school recreation activity. From the journal Physical Activity and Mental Health, it was given, reinforcing events can enhance psychosocial rewards, for example, reduced feelings of depression and increased social support (Schomer & Drake, 2005). I don’t think anyone who has participated in sports and recreation can deny the positive developmental aspects they can bring. Furthermore, why not continue to promote these as a positive mechanism to battle mental health in youth and adolescents?

Moving forward, we must recognize that sports and recreation can be a building tool for youth and adolescents to help overcome mental health issues. The positive outcomes are fundamental to the development of a happy and healthy generation. At a conference on Sports-Based Youth Development, the most consistent message was, sports are an excellent medium to engage youth and foster positive youth development (Perkins & Noam, 2007). With such high statistics showing increased suicide, depression, anxiety and low self-esteem, sports and recreation implementations could help improve some mental states. Therefore, all youth should have the opportunity to participate in sports and recreation activities.


 Drake, S. B., Schomer. H. H. (2001). Physical activity and mental health. International

Federation of Sports Medicine, 2(3). P.6.

Fraser-Thomas, L. J., Cote, J., & Deakin, J. (2005). Youth sports programs: an avenue to

foster positive youth development. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 10(1), p.24.

Menestrel, L. S., Perkins, F. D. (2007). An overview of how sports, out-of-school time,

and youth well-being can and do intersect. New Directions for Youth

Development, 115(10), p.16.

Noam, G. G., Perkins, F. D. (2007) Characteristics of sports-based youth development

programs. New Direction for Youth Development, 115(10), p.76.

Shannon-McCallum, C. (October. 19/15). Mental Health in Sport. (Lecture 15). University

of New Brunswick, Fredericton, NB.

This entry was posted in Positive Youth Development and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Positive Changes of Mental Health in Youth through Sport and Recreation

  1. thomasmike17 says:

    I agree with Lucy, mental health cannot be ignored and is often an aspect over looked in sport and recreation programs. It is the responsibility of coaches, teachers and parents to notice behaviours that potentially show a child may be experiencing mental health issues and finding resources to help the child. Another reason mental health may be overlooked by parents is that some parents may see this as a reflection of their ability to raise their child, which is certainly not the case.

    Leaders in recreation or sports teams could make someone available for the children to reach out and speak with, not including a parent or an adult they see every day, and is qualified to work with scenarios that may arise, like a psychiatrist. Other resources that children have for support are outreach numbers like the kids help phone, but there is no personal relationship, which can bring about trust issues in youth. Having a person there for support and knowing that conversations are confidential may help the child open up about their feelings or mental health issues before they become extremely problematic.

    Various sports teams at UNB have a psychology professor come to practices and games to speak with the athletes about performance and how they can achieve more with the right train of thought. The professor does mental activities to instil a positive train of thought and is someone available for the athletes to reach out to for regarding any sporting or personal issues. I think this is a great resource available to us and if this same structure could be put into any youth program or sport it would positively affect our youth.
    Mike T.

  2. chealy7 says:

    Great post Lucy! This is a really intriguing topic with regards to recreation and sports.

    In today’s society, mental health is definitely something that cannot be ignored. I agree with your point that anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem has increased big time in youth. It is a very important topic to look at and discuss with young kids. It is important to start recognizing the solutions that are available to help youth over come mental illness. I believe that kids need to learn to ask for help whenever they feel pressure or uncomfortable. If you don’t open up and talk to someone, it’ll just get harder on you.

    As we learned in class, Canada’s youth suicide rate is the third highest in the industrialized world. A basketball player who committed suicide almost two years ago, the family started a fundraiser tournament for university elite athletes last summer for him. It is all focused on mental health and wanting to talk about it. This summer was their second tournament and they had a great guest speaker who suffers with depression but she has come a long way and was totally open to sharing her story. She is the co-founder of Student Athlete Mental Health Initiative. She taught us that it is okay to talk to someone and tell him or her your story. I agree with Mike, having a person to reach out to and talk about any personal issues will make people feel comfortable.

    Mental health, as it relates to children is about healthy social and emotional development as they learn to experience and express emotions. The recent rise of mental health challenges faced by Canada’s youth is matched by a decrease in physical activity participation levels. I agree that both after-school program and organized sports can encourage positive mental health benefits. Sports shape peoples lives as they learn social skills and how to interact with others, make new friends and build relationships. Being active in a positive setting with coaches and peers who believe in you will boost self-esteem levels.

  3. amurchi1 says:

    Great article Lucy!
    Many sports that I have been involved with have now put in place a sports psychologist along with their coaching staff. I am a huge believer in psychology and believe it can do wonders for you in and around sports and recreation. For an example when I was 15 I tried out for a team I so despretely wanted to be on. Before trials started for this team there was one “mock” trial where we could learn what a trial would look like when we actually competed. During this mock trial while nerves were high i finished in a terrible 13th position (only 10 make the team). After that trial I attended a sports psychologist and two months later I came 1st in the real trial. I owe my sports career to my psychologist and I would recommend it to everyone who would ask.

    In my example above I didn’t use sport in the positive context that we speak of in class, in my case my sport was the stress and anxiety in my life. Some children are unable to continue on in sport as they feel so much anxiety through competing, but as youth mentors and athletes we have the responsibility to help them overcome stress and keep fun in sport.

    Check out this article for sports parents to help kids with anxiety during sports it could be beneficial to both you or your young athletes.


  4. laurjohn says:

    Great post, Lucy! Mental health is often looked over in youth sport although it definitely shouldn’t be. I find that one of the ways to improve mental health in youth athletes is to incorporate the 40 developmental assets, particularly developing health relationships with other adults other than parents. Personally, this has helped me tremendously through my years in Taekwondo. I have developed numerous relationships with adults Taekwondo along with the parents of the youth I coach. Receiving first hand advice from coaches and older, more experienced athletes definitely improved my mental health when I was younger by instilling the thought that there is always room for improvement and I will never be perfect. Simple compliments from my coaches would make my self-esteem go through the roof- knowing all my practice and hard work was finally paying off. Even now as an athlete-coach, receiving compliments and thank-you’s from parents of children that I teach and coach makes me want to continue to do so. It also encourages me to do better and incorporate things I learn in university when I am coaching so I can in-turn improve the mental health and self-esteem of my athletes.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Great job on the research and post Lucy very interesting!

    It seems like society today is doing a good job recognizing mental health with all the initiatives and awareness groups addressed to the public. This being said, the connection between physical activity and mental health maybe isn’t as prevalent as it should be, especially at a young age. As a youth, it seemed as though I spent more time at organized sports than I did at my home. Running around and balancing all of my activities was hard at times but I wouldn’t trade my experiences for the world. My multi sport background gave me plenty of opportunity to see what was right and wrong in sport, how to talk to people off the field or court, how to deal with losing and winning in the correct manner, and how to be a competitor and teammate. All of these things I realize later in life are extremely important, and are lessons I can use for the rest of my life.

    With all of these lessons being taught to a kid like me, who isn’t always paying attention in class, (sorry Charlene) most kids should be able to learn something from doing some kind of organized sport. As I say this, the thought of forcing youth to participate in something that they do not want to do disturbs me deeply, so how does one provide children lessons from healthy activities like sports, without force or a contrived lesson through other avenues? Not sure to be completely honest. What we as recreation and sport providers need to understand is that every youth that we confront is different. Some kids take a while to realize they want to do certain things and others may change their mind during the middle of something; they’re kids, that’s what they do. All in all our jobs are to be as flexible and accommodating as possible while always having a positive attitude, because that will always be why kids enjoy sport, and thus, create positive mental health and youth development.

  6. danibhawk says:

    Great post Lucy! I agree 100 percent with you that sport and recreation helps aid in anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. I have brought this agreement up numerous times, and some have said, well think that sport and recreation has worsened my anxiety, or self-esteem, because I played soccer, or basketball. The reasoning they would give me would be because there were too many people, or it was too competitive. In regards to this topic, I think it is important for parents, coaches, youth, just all individuals to understand, that there are more than just sports like the known ones, such as soccer, basketball, and hockey out there. Things such as yoga, karate, and boxing, there are so many more options out there.

    Growing up, I now know that sport has shaped me into the person I am, but it has also been an outlet for stress. Even to this day, with exams, or lots of assignments, or if there is an issue in my life, just going to the gym, or shooting around a basketball, helps with my anxiety.

    When you look at internal assets, in regards to positive identity, personal power, sense of purpose, and positive view of personal future are listed. These values all contribute to anxiety, depression, and self-esteem. The four dimensions of development, cognitive, emotional, physical, and social, also contribute to anxiety, depression, and self-esteem. What I am getting at, is that it is important to understand youth development, so that you can help youth in various positive ways.
    -Danielle H

  7. james says:

    As a youth and recreation leader and an aspiring coach with a small amount of experience. I have always been very intrigued and focused on physical benefits, it was only when I personally had a struggle with depression I realized how useful of a tool physical activity and organized exercise such as organized sport are for assisting and combatting this grey shadow. I can personally say it was the most beneficial medication to help me through my gloomy days. With mental illness on the rise we absolutely need to focus on empowering youth and building up their self-esteem to avoid situation where they feel depressed or anxious. As we’ve learned in RSS 3223 fostering positive youth development in regards to mental health can be done through sports and recreation. I’m happy you used literature saying youth in sports activities reported higher rates of self- knowledge, managing emotions, and physical skills experiences compared to youth in academic and leadership activities. This is amazing for developing healthy positive youth. I believe if we can continue to educate and properly coach we can significantly decrease numerous cases of mental illness.
    – James Howie

Comments are closed.