By: Nicola S
Mental health has become a major issue among youth impacting their development. From class lectures, researchers have proclaimed that between 10-20% of youth are effected by mental illness such as anxiety, depression, bi-polar, and schizophrenia. This number continues to grow with the external pressures youth entail of social media, peers, school, sports, etc. The scariest part of mental disorders and youth is that only 1 in 5 children who need mental health services actually receives them. Mental health is not always obvious, especially among youth. They will hide it in order to feel “the same” as their peers, but this unfortunately can lead to one of the leading causes of death; suicide. Sport is known to help foster positive youth development, but what people don’t know is that it can also have negative correlations with regards to youth’s mental health when used incorrectly.
Positive impacts of sport on youth’s mental health:
There is evidence that suicide and sport have a strong enough connection among youth. Tatz (2012) explains the positive relationship between sport and Aboriginal youth. He proclaims, “Sport is a major element in contemporary Aboriginal life: it provides meaning, a sense of purpose and belonging; it is inclusive and embracing in a world where most Aboriginal youth feel alienated, disempowered, rejected and excluded” (p. 922). Youth who feel this sense of alienation or the feeling of being “different” often look to team sports to provide them with an identity and many other benefits. Youth may use sport to bond with peers, to pursue an interest, for the physical benefits, or even just for a distraction. In my own personal experience, growing up involved in numerous team sports and having different groups of friends from each team, I used sport as my happy place when I was feeling pressures from school. It was, and still is, a place to clear my head when necessary. Scully et al. (1998) defends my beliefs by stating, “The psychological explanations of why exercise enhances psychological well-being include the following: enhanced feelings of control, improved self-concept, self-esteem, self-efficacy and more positive social interactions.” It was hard growing up seeing other youth who didn’t find an interest in sport feeling bored on weekends when they didn’t have any games. Personally, I believe this boredom can lead to youth having too much time to think or engage in activities that may have a negative impact on their mental health as well as their development. When used properly, sport is a beneficial technique to reduce mental health issues regarding youth.
Negative impacts of sport on youth’s mental health:
Although there are many positive aspects with regards to youth and sport, there can be some negative outcomes if sport is used incorrectly with youth. Children and adolescents may face enormous risks from sports due to their incomplete physical and emotional developments. For example, McMullen (2014) states that, “Hard training and healthy eating can cross the line to exhaustion and eating disorders, encouraging players to do their best can slip into pushing players to the point of injury and harm, and attempts at team bonding can morph into bullying or hazing” (p.181). It is easy to see that these positive components of sport can lead to negative correlations for a youth’s fragile developing mental health. For example, throughout my teenage years I witnessed several cases of youth, girls in particular, with an “addiction” to working out. They were addicted to eating “healthy” and exercising constantly to the point where they were overly self-conscious and had self-esteem issues. In this case, these youth used exercise incorrectly which reflected negatively on their mental health. An activity done in class explains youth’s emotional development. It suggests that the emotional brain centers are developing earlier than other brain regions, which can result in erratic, dramatic or challenging behavior. Sport has its ups and downs and can leave youth feeling upset over an individual performance or a team loss for example. As these brain centers are in the process of developing, youth struggle with accepting these challenges and it can impact their self-confidence resulting in possible mental heath issues.
In summary, there is a challenge in balancing the positive and negative impact sport has on youth’s mental health so that maximum benefits can be produced. With supportive adults, peers, and interests, youth can form an identity through sport and resist the effects of mental illnesses.
McMullen, J., G., Addressing Abusive Conduct in Youth Sports. Marquette Sports Law Review. 25.1 (2014): 181-206.
Scully, D., Kremer, J., Meade, M.M., Graham, R., Dudgeon, K., Physical exercise and psychological well-being: A critical review. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 32 (1998), p. 111-120.
Tatz, C., Aborigines, sport and suicide. Sport in Society, 15 (7) (2012), p. 922-935