Mental Health and the Young Athlete

Introduction

Physical activity is beneficial for individuals regardless of age. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that children and young people aged 5-17 participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous each day.

Campbell et al (2018) reported that:

"sport participation represents leisure activities which promote social, mental and physical well-being" [1].

The WHO defined mental health (WHO, 2014):

"as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community"

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Benefits of Sporting Activities

Physiological Benefits

Sporting activities have many positive physiological effects:

  • Reduces the prevalence of obesity
  • Muscle strengthening[2]
  • Increased aerobic capacity[2]
  • Improved bone density[3]
  • Reducing the risk of diabetes
  • Reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease

Physiological benefits specifically for females

Particularly for women, sport participation has been shown to reduce the risk of:

Mental health benefits

Sports and exercise also has a great deal of mental health benefits for young people:

  • Improves self-esteem[5]
  • Social skills[5]
  • Discipline[5]
  • Has been show to improve general behaviour i.e. not participate in "risky activities"[5]
  • Eating disorders[4]

Negatives of young people in sport

The adolescent years are accompanied by many changes and stresses. Young people who participate in athletic endeavors may find participation in such activities an additional source of stress.

Sport or physical exercise, may have both a positive and negative psychological and emotional impact on their well-being. The young athlete is "still developing cognitively and physically and is actively learning from adult behaviors and values" [5].

  • Fear of failure[6]
  • Negative impact on academic studies due to being sport focused [6]
  • Parental pressures[7]
  • Not learning coping strategies[1]

The Impact of Sport on the Young Athlete

Young individuals should be encouraged to take part in sporting activities.

The sport should be one in which they show an interest as it has been shown that individuals are more likely to take part in an activity that they enjoy. Often the young athlete may be placed in an activity not because they have an interest but because their parent desires them to participate. The disinterest on the part of the athlete may lead to them not participating at an optimal level even if they have the aptitude for the sport. Parents, however, may be a source of stress for the young athlete.[7]

Research suggests that the prevalence of mental health disorders may be lower in the athletic population when compared to the general population of young people [8]. Taking part in such activity may aid in decreasing anxiety and depression in young individuals[9]. This is in contrast to a study done which found that athletes at college level suffered from psychological conditions at a slightly higher rate (2% more) than the general age matched population[10].

It was found that older athletes were better able to cope with adversity when compared to their younger counterparts[11].

It was also reported that many young athletes had not learned coping strategies to aid them in mitigating the effects of such a stressful environment this could result in negative physiological and psychological effects.[1] Which could include a disruption of metabolism and cognitive functioning, as well as cell production in the immune system which may influence the course of chronic diseases and disorders [1].

It was highlighted that personnel such as physicians, athletic trainers and sports physiotherapists involved in the care of young athletes should consider the overall emotional and cognitive well-being of the athlete [5]. It is noted that this is important not only for the present development of the young athlete but also future development. Mental skills training is not only beneficial for the emotional and psychological health of the athlete. It can also have a positive impact on the physical training, motor skill development and facilitation of rehabilitation of the athlete. [7]

Conclusion

Sport and exercise has been shown to have a general positive influence on young peoples' mental health. It has been shown that physically active children have improved mental health compared with children who have a more sedentary and screen based lifestyle.[12]

Sport can lead to improvements in mental as well as physical health which can also influence the individuals lifestyle in later years, therefore, sport and exercise in youth should be encouraged.

Resources

World Health Organisation - Physical activity and young people

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Campbell E, Irving R, Bailey J, Dilworth L, Abel W. W.“Overview of psychophysiological stress and the implications for junior athletes”. American Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 2018;6(3):72-8.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Morrow Jr JR, Tucker JS, Jackson AW, Martin SB, Greenleaf CA, Petrie TA. Meeting physical activity guidelines and health-related fitness in youth. American journal of preventive medicine. 2013 May 1;44(5):439-44.
  3. Tremblay MS, Warburton DE, Janssen I, Paterson DH, Latimer AE, Rhodes RE, Kho ME, Hicks A, LeBlanc AG, Zehr L, Murumets K. New Canadian physical activity guidelines. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism. 2011 Feb 15;36(1):36-46.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Staurowsky EJ, DeSousa MJ, Ducher G, et al. Her Life Depends On It II: Sport, Physical Activity, and the Health and Well-Being of American Girls and Women. East Meadow, NY: Women’s Sports Foundation; 2009.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Magee DJ, Manske RC, Zachazewski JE, Quillen WS. Athletic and Sport Issues in Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation . Missouri: Saunders; 2010. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Sagar SS, Lavallee D, Spray CM. Coping with the effects of fear of failure: A preliminary investigation of young elite athletes. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology. 2009 Mar;3(1):73-98.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Brukner P, Khan K. Brukner & Khan's Clinical Sports Medicine, 4th ed. Austrailia: McGraw Hill; 2011. 
  8. Gulliver A, Griffiths KM, Christensen H. Barriers and facilitators to mental health help-seeking for young elite athletes: a qualitative study. BMC psychiatry. 2012 Dec;12(1):157.
  9. Larun L, Nordheim LV, Ekeland E, Hagen KB, Heian F. Exercise in prevention and treatment of anxiety and depression among children and young people. Cochrane database of systematic reviews. 2006(3).
  10. Watson JC, Kissinger DB. Athletic participation and wellness: Implications for counseling college student‐athletes. Journal of College Counseling. 2007 Sep;10(2):153-62.[1]
  11. Bebetsos E, Antoniou P. Psychological skills of Greek badminton athletes. Perceptual and Motor Skills. 2003 Dec;97(3_suppl):1289-96.
  12. Biddle SJ, Asare M. Physical activity and mental health in children and adolescents: a review of reviews. British journal of sports medicine. 2011 Sep 1;45(11):886-95.