Money Smart Athlete Blog

Teenagers, mental health and sports

May 18, 2022 | Mental Health

By Iacovos Iacovides, The Sports Financial Literacy Academy

Last week we discussed the complex relationship between athletes and social media vis-à-vis mental health. Teenagers are particularly vulnerable since their upbringing and reality are now fused with social media. The damage has been of such extent that there are teenagers out there who want to have surgery in order to adjust their looks to Instagram filters; an absurd sort of surrealism. Despite the obvious correlation between social media and mental health problems, social networking platforms are but one of the factors driving the current mental health epidemic. The coronavirus pandemic didn’t help either.

The burgeoning medical literature reveals that among the primary factors behind mental health problems include: childhood abuse/ trauma, isolation and loneliness, long-term stress, long-term physical condition, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, bullying and so on. What is paradoxical is that the above can also manifest as symptoms of mental health problems.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diagnoses of anxiety and depression among US children aged 6-17 have increased from 5.4% in 2003 to 8.4% in 2011–2012. In addition, there has also been an increase of diagnoses of multiple mental health disorders among children. The CDC reveals that regarding children with depression about 74% of them also had anxiety and almost half had behavior problems (47.2%). In late 2021, UNICEF published its State of the World’s Children report and revealed that adolescent mental health is understudied and underfunded.

The good news is that sports are considered an effective way for dealing with mental health problems. The medical explanation is that, exercising makes your body release endorphins which are the brain chemicals that relieve stress and pain. Moreover, it positively affects serotonin which has been described as the chemical that regulates mental health.

It should also be mentioned that team sports are much more effective than individual sports in combating mental health issues, which is a rather reasonable conclusion. With team sports, young teenagers get to make new friends – their teammates – and engage with them while competing. This can in turn nurture friendships beyond sports. Aside from all the chemicals, team sports can boost self-worth, self-esteem and cultivate a sense of belongingness and thus alleviate some of the factors behind mental health issues such as social exclusion, isolation and loneliness.

Studies also suggest that teenagers with bad childhood experiences, such as abuse, are more likely to be healthier adults if they participate in sports during their teenage years. Therefore, sports are not only a preventative activity but also a remedial one. In fact, many physicians started prescribing physical activity as part of mental health treatment and as a way to prevent relapse.

Nonetheless, parents, guardians and coaches should not take the salutary effects of sports on mental health for granted. Firstly, all these benefits might disappear if a teenager becomes a professional, as we saw in last week’s article. Once fun turns into profession, sports might even become counterproductive for mental health. Also, parents and coaches should be careful not to push children too much which may turn their fun time into a chore. In short, encouraging your children to find their favorite sport(s) and participate in them is highly recommended, as it can save them or at least mitigate a host of mental problems in the future.

The Money Smart Athlete® Blog is established and run by the Sports Financial Literacy Academy® (SFLA).  Through its education programs, the SFLA has the vision to financially educate and empower athletes of all ages to become better people, not just better athletes.  For more information on our courses, our SFLA Approved Trainer Program®, and how they can benefit you and your clients, please get in touch with us at [email protected].