5 mental health benefits of youth sports

By: Mollie Shauger | Tuesday, August 20, 2019 | Youth Programs

Teammates encourage one another. Credit: YUSA

Playing sports has numerous benefits to a child’s physical well-being, but did you also know that sports can impact their mind?

When kids run, shoot hoops or go for a swim, they’re naturally stimulating chemicals in their bodies. That physical activity releases endorphins, reduces the stress hormone cortisol, and stimulates norepinephrine, which improves mood. Beyond the chemical reactions that occur, that are other ways sports can be a positive outlet for kids struggling with anxiety, depression and other behavioral problems. Here are some ways that sports can benefit youth of all ages.

1. A community of support

According to the National Council of Youth Sports, properly structured programs can provide a safe, wholesome and nurturing environment for children and teens, and instill a sense of community where they feel supported by their peers and adults. Team rituals can also help kids deal with everyday stress, by providing a positive transition from the school day.

2. Socialization 

Children and teens bond with friends who share the same passions and interests. Sports requires face-to-face interaction, fostering relationships that aren’t made through screens and social media. Also, the positive social experiences that happen between teammates on and off the field can relieve social anxiety.

3. Confidence

Winning a game, scoring a goal in soccer or landing a difficult gymnastics routine, or even just making a team can boost a child’s confidence and self-esteem. The rewards they feel from their dedication and hard work can set them up for other successes in life.

4. Resilience

Through the wins and losses and other ups and downs of playing sports, children learn that mistakes are OK, and that not everything will turn out the way it’s expected. This teaches them how to bounce back from other difficulties in life. “Building resilience can be a key to maintaining mental health and can serve young players well for their entire lives,” according to the NCYS. 

5. Body image

Teens and young adults are often surrounded by conflicting messages about how their bodies should look. Sports can make a young athlete feel proud of their body and what it can do. Female athletes, in particular, have been shown to benefit from positive feelings about their bodies, regardless of whether they conform to society’s standards of female beauty, according to Psychology Today.


The YMCA offers a variety of youth sports programs for all ages and skill abilities that focus on teamwork and sportsmanship in a fun and supportive environment. To see what is available at your local branch, visit metroymcas.org. Because the Y is for all, financial assistance is available to eligible individuals and families who would like to participate in Y programs.


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