Eight million teens played sports in high school last year, based on a survey by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). That was a record-breaking high. In fact, the number of high school athletes has been increasing for the last three decades.
With so many adolescents playing sports, it’s worthwhile to talk about the various benefits athletics bestows upon teens. Here’s a list of why getting involved in sports is good for you:
Sports Keep You Healthy
The exercise involved in most sports improves teens’ health, strength, emotional balance, and life years. Exercise releases cortisol, which reduces stress; and endorphins, our bodies’ natural feel-good chemicals. Sports participation is linked to reduced heart disease and diabetes, among other health benefits.
Playing Sports Can Improve Academic Performance
Participation in high school sports is linked to better grades and professional success in the workforce. If you’re an athlete, you tend to have a more positive attitude toward school, improved academic performance, and higher aspirations for college.
Sports Help Shape Identity
Like other extracurricular activities, playing sports affords you the unique positive benefits of identity formation. Sports are a great way for teens to form an identity outside their family. And since most sports take place after school hours, teens have a chance to forge their own path outside of their identity in the classroom. Teens take pride in the fact that they are athletes, which helps them establish their identity and differentiates them from peers.
Sport Provide Social Benefits
Sports participation also provides the benefit of peer membership. When you’re on a sports team, you belong to a group, an entity greater than yourself. You have a built-in social network, and you know that you can have the support of your teammates when you need it. Since social acceptance is so important during adolescence, having positive relationships with one’s teammates can do wonders for a teen’s wellbeing. In fact, being part of a sports team is a protective factor against depression. (Of course, all this is only true if you’re on good terms with your teammates. If you’re not, then obviously these benefits don’t apply.)
Sports Let You Learn From a Role Model
Additionally, belonging to a team also allows teens to form an attachment to a mentor. Sports coaches – while they’re coaching– are neither teachers nor parents. They help teens learn and grow in new and different ways, under a unique set of rules and norms, all while teaching them skills they don’t learn at home or in class. A good coach can inspire his or her student athletes to become better, more mature young adults. Coaches can instill a sense of responsibility, hard work, discipline, and sportsmanship in their athletes. They can also boost up a student’s self-esteem through praise and constructive feedback. In these ways, good coaches can become role models and mentors who inspire their athletes.
Sports Keep You Safe
Data from a wide-ranging meta-analysis showed that students who played varsity sports were less likely than their peers to drop out of school or smoke by their senior year of high school. In contrast, teens who don’t participate in any extracurriculars, like sports (which make up the largest category of after-school activities) are more likely to drop out of high school and get arrested. In fact, in cities where teens play more school sports, juvenile arrest rates are lower.
However, student athletes are significantly more likely to drink alcohol and engage in binge-drinking than peers who don’t play any sports. And male athletes are more likely to engage in sex and become teen parents.
Which brings us to another disclaimer: even within the sports community, not all sports are created equal. Basketball players have the highest ratings for mental health, among all athletes. Students who play lacrosse also tend to have high rates of mental wellbeing, but research shows them to be at risk for substance use.
So, as you can see, the situation isn’t so clear-cut when it comes to behavioral issues and mental health correlations. See our other articles in the series for more on why this is so!