FULLERTON, Calif. — Children who play team sports such as football and basketball are less likely to suffer mental health problems, according to a new study.

Conversely, researchers found that youngsters who only play individual sports – such as tennis, golf, or gymnastics – are at greater risk of mental health issues than kids who don’t play sports at all. The findings come from a major study of more than 11,200 American children between nine to 13 years-old.

Previous research has consistently suggested that participation in organized sports as a child might help protect against mental health problems. However, some studies have linked youth sports participation to worse mental well-being.

To find some answers to all of this, Dr. Matt Hoffmann of California State University and his colleagues analyzed data on the sports habits and mental health of 11,235 children. Parents and guardians reported on various aspects of the children’s mental health by filling out the Child Behavior Checklist.

The research team looked for any associations between the mental health data and the youngsters’ sports habits, while also accounting for other factors that might impact mental health, such as household income and overall physical activity.

In line with the researchers’ expectations, the analysis showed that children involved in team sports were less likely to have signs of anxiety, depression, withdrawal, social problems, or attention problems.

The research team also expected individual sports to display a connection to fewer mental health difficulties, to a lesser extent than team sports. Instead, the team found that children who only played individual sports tended to have greater mental health problems than those who did not play sports at all.

Girls playing sports less likely to be rule-breakers

The findings, published in the journal PLOS One, also showed that, among girls, participation in both team and individual sports contributed to a lower likelihood of rule-breaking behavior than not playing any sport.

“Overall, these findings add to a growing body of evidence that playing team sports is positively associated with mental health for children and adolescents,” Dr. Hoffmann says, according to a statement by SWNS.

“Children and adolescents who played exclusively team sports, like basketball or soccer, had fewer mental health difficulties than those who did not participate in any organized sports.”

“However, to our surprise, youths who participated in only individual sports, such as gymnastics or tennis, had more mental health difficulties compared to those who did not participate in organized sports,” the researcher concludes.

Dr. Hoffman suggests that further research could help clarify the link they observed between solo sports and worse mental health difficulties.

South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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