Pediatric Associates of the NW Blogs

Team Sports: More Than Fun and Games

Richelle Neal, MD
November 04, 2019 08:00PM

As the weather turns colder and homework starts to pile on during the school year, some children and parents will start to contemplate stopping their team sport activity – particularly in adolescent years and if one is a female. Studies have repeatedly shown – DON’T stop. Over the past few years, from leading sporting figures and brands, we have seen an increase in marketing toward female athletes and adolescents in general to stay involved in team sports (anyone recall the Serena Williams’ Gatorade Women in Sweat commercial?); and for good reason. Once females reach puberty, sports participation tends to drop off drastically. There are multiple proposed factors on why this happens, with each individual being unique and different – but it still stands, sports participation declines as one enters adolescence and it is more profound among females than males.

I hope to stop that trend. Adolescence is the time I believe participation in team sports (or if sports are really not your thing, then another group activity) is needed more than ever in our changing and sometimes lonely world of social media. Beyond social interaction, most of us are well aware of the benefits of regular exercise on improved sleep quality as well as promoting a healthy lifestyle in general. Habits started in adolescence are easier to continue while transitioning into adulthood, which can help protect against cardiac diseases and inflammatory diseases. Sports are also a protective factor for psychiatric illnesses and adolescents participating in sports are less likely to use drugs.

Recent studies have shown that team sports in particular decrease depression and anxiety in adolescents – even more than individual sports. Team sports seem to facilitate higher self-esteem and lower scores of loneliness in teens. This is likely because in team sports, adolescents learn collaboration and more likely to have access to a more robust mentorship from a coach, trainer, team parent, or even an older team mate.

Lastly, circling back to mounting school work, while cutting out extracurricular activities like sports may seem like the easiest solution, sports have actually shown to help with time management, memory, and even creativity. Adolescents that participate in team sports are more likely to earn higher grades and to go on to a 4-year college.

Of course, your adolescent needs to enjoy playing the game and feel supported by their teammates, coaches, fellow parents, and trainers to reap the most benefits out of participating. If they do, please encourage them to continue playing their sport well into their adolescent years. The benefits will last a lifetime.

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s sports participation, please know PANW has services to support our young athletes. Our board-certified, pediatric sports science dietitian can help devise healthy meals and snacks needed not only for sports participation, but for age-appropriate developmental growth as well. We can also provide evidence-based fueling and hydration strategies to optimize performance and offer nutrition counseling for adolescents with certain medical conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular risk factors, iron deficiency, and gluten sensitivities. In the unfortunate event of a sports related injury, we’re ready to help assess and treat it so your child can be on the road to recovery. Our concussion clinic involves a comprehensive approach by a pediatrician and our neuropsychologist to ensure a safe return to school and sport.

Get out there and have fun! Game on!