Kids Emotionally Benefit from Sports

Athletic coaches can help develop emotional and mental stability

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Nobody wants to be yelled at on the playing field.  Supportive and fun sports environments can have a real impact on the stability of a child. Learning emotional management skills and lower rates of depression are just part of the benefits.

Having fun while exercising has more than just physical perks.

Research points to ‘caring climates’ for sports activities to improve feelings of depression and ability to manage negative thoughts.

"Find your child a fun sport to join!"

Mary Fry PhD., Associate Professor of health, sport and exercise science at the University of Kansas, co-authored a recent study that looked at the emotional wellbeing of kids who played sports.

They looked at 395 kids aged 9-16 from a National Youth Sport Program athletic camp and evaluated how each kid felt about the nature of their environment as well as scaled their mental wellbeing.

Part of the survey asked the kids whether they thought they were in a ‘caring climate’ and how or if they could express positive emotions after experiencing positive events. As well as how they coped with negative events.

Kids who felt that they were in a ‘caring climate’ for sports were more likely to enjoy their time in the sport, put forth more effort and were less likely to quit. Fry expressed that kids from the ‘caring climate’ group were more capable of showing empathy and regulating their emotions.

The authors stated, “Though the aims of positive youth development programs often refer to promoting enhanced psychological well-being, little research has directly examined this link.

Results suggest that equipping adults with strategies to create a positive and caring climate can reap significant rewards for young people with regard to their overall physical and psychological development.”

With childhood obesity on the rise and 20 to 30 percent of adolescents dealing with depression, physical activities that also promote emotional and mental wellbeing are invaluable.

Learning and developing the skills necessary to feel real joy and deal with negative emotions is the foundation for a well-adjusted adulthood. ‘Caring climates’ can allow children to be themselves without fear of judgment.

According to Fry, “That’s a big deal for kids, when you’re in an environment where you can’t express your emotions, you tend to be more guarded. It just reinforces the important role teachers and coaches play.”

Jack Newman, CEO of the Austin Tennis Academy, adds, "The first goal of our program is teaching a love of the game. The second goal is to have fun learning skills.  After that we teach learning to compete."

"At the Austin Tennis Academy we train our coaches to use good learning theory research.  That research shows the following ratios to be most effective.  When giving feedback to students: 50 percent of the time - say nothing, 40 percent of the time - give specific positive feedback and only 10 percent of the time - give specific critical feedback, said Newman.

" In our experience, re-enforcing what someone is doing well gains results much faster than focusing on what someone is doing wrong," said Newman. 

This study was published in the journal Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology, 2012. No financial information was given and no conflicts of interest were found. 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 9, 2012
Last Updated:
May 10, 2012