Middle school is an awkward stage of life. It’s a time when kids are changing a lot physically and emotionally and the transition can be bumpy. But a new study shows that taking part in a well-organized team sport can make part of that transitional phase a much healthier and happier time.
Middle schoolers (kids ages 10-14 years) have a better chance of avoiding risky behaviors like drinking and smoking if they participate in organized sports. That is the conclusion reached by a study team from Dartmouth University and available in the professional publication Academic Pediatrics.
Researchers surveyed 6,522 youth in 2003 about their participation or non-participation in organized athletics. The investigators asked if activities were coached or non-coached and how often the students took part in the activity each week. The youth surveyed were considered statistically representative of all similarly aged children across the country. The team also controlled for 20 other potential behavioral health risk factors.
The Academic Sports And Risky Behaviors Study Found The Following:
- 55.5 percent of the youth took part in a team sport where a coach was present.
- 55.4 percent took part in a sport without a coach.
- 85.8 percent said that they were also involved with another school club.
- 74.2 percent said they did not take part in another school club or group.
- Just under 50 percent reported taking part in a musical activity such as band or choir.
- Over half of youth who were involved in religious activities did so several times per week.
The survey data showed that participating in a coached team sport was the only strong deterrent to smoking compared to kids who either did not play sports or who were only minimally involved with athletics. Kids who took part in some sort of school club were less likely to drink compared to kids who were not involved with school clubs or who were minimally involved with them.
The Dartmouth study is not the first to investigate how being involved with extra-curricular activities affects young people. However, past studies have focused largely on how participation in such activity impacts school performance, marijuana use or adolescent development. This study is one of the first to look specifically at coached versus non-coached sports and to compare that against tobacco use.
The researchers suggest that during middle school, organized athletics are still geared toward maximum player involvement as opposed to high school sports which tend to emphasize winning. One way to extend the protective benefits of team play could be the development of more community teams with a coach who doesn’t place the same emphasis on winning. High schoolers who can continue to play team sports apart from high pressure might continue reaping the positive behavioral health benefits that come with coached team play.
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