MONTREAL — Youth league or elementary school sports programs are surefire ways to help kids get in some daily exercise, but a new study finds a further benefit: children who play organised sports starting at a young age are less likely to deal with emotional issues or difficulties by the age of 12.
“The elementary school years are a critical time in child development,” says study leader Frédéric N. Brière, a Université de Montréal professor of psycho-education, in a release. “And every parent wants to raise a well-adjusted child.”
Besides providing exercise, Brière says that organised youth sports that include a coach or instructor can be very helpful from a mental perspective as well for kids.
To come to their findings, the research team studied and analysed a large, representative population sample of healthy Canadian children.
“We followed a birth cohort over time to examine whether consistent participation in organised sport from ages 6 to 10 would minimise risks associated with emotional distress, anxiety, shyness, social withdrawal at age 12,” he explains. “Our goal was to test this question as critically as possible by eliminating pre-existing child or family conditions that could offer an alternative explanation.”
All of the studied children had been born in either 1997 or 1998. Between the ages of six and 10, each child’s mother periodically reported whether or not their child was actively participating in a form of organised sports or physical activity. Then, at the age of 12, each child’s teachers reported on their emotional development (outward emotional distress, anxiety, shyness, and social isolation).
“The results revealed that children who participated consistently from ages 6 to 10 showed fewer instances of those factors at age 12 than their counterparts who did not engage in physical activity in a consistent way,” Brière comments. “We found these benefits above and beyond pre-existing individual and family characteristics.”
“Getting kids actively involved in organised sport seems to promote global development. This involvement appears to be good on a socio-emotional level and not just because of physical benefits,” Brière concludes. “Being less emotionally distressed at the juncture between elementary and high school is a priceless benefit for children, as they are about to enter a much larger universe with bigger academic challenges. This research supports current parental guidelines promoting children’s involvement in physical activity.”
There is a prevailing notion among many of today’s parents that various organised youth sports, like football, ultimately do more harm than good for the children involved due to the risk of injury. While those are certainly valid arguments that should absolutely be considered, this set of research offers a different take on the youth sports debate, indicating that organised sports for children can be a positive, given the right situation.
The study is published in the scientific journal Pediatric Research.