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Playing Sports During Teen Years Can Help Heal Effects of Childhood Trauma


Participating in team sports can reduce the risk of anxiety and depression for people with childhood trauma. Researchers analyzed data from 9,668 individuals who participated in the National Adolescent to Adult Health Longitudinal Study in a new study. From 1994-1995, participants were evaluated as adults in grades 7 to 12 and then 14 years later in 2008.

The aim of the study published in JAMA Pediatrics is to assess the impacts of participating in team sports on the mental health of adverse childhood experiences children.

Benefits Of Team Sports Among Young People

The researchers asked the participants during the study’s first wave if they would participate (or plan to participate) in any team sport. The researchers questioned whether the participants had been diagnosed with anxiety or depression during the second wave. If not, symptoms have been tested.

The study found that participation in team sports is associated with a significant decrease in the likelihood of anxiety and depression in adulthood among those with adverse childhood experiences. The impact for boys is clearer than girls, but Molly Easterlin, a pediatrician and the study’s first author, said the difference could be because girls ‘ sports were not as supported and funded as they are today at the time.

Due to the nature of the study, researchers were unable to determine exactly why adolescents with adverse experiences of childhood benefit from team sports. Easterlin, however, told NPR that the key might be to be part of a group.

“There may be something powerful about the team environment[ in sports] where you’re competing, being coached in some way, and interacting with your teammates towards a common goal,” she said.

Why Access To Sports Is Important

Amanda Paluch, a postdoctoral fellow at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University who was not involved in the study, commented that young people are less likely to have access to team sports in low-income families with adverse childhood experiences.

A report published in 2018 by the Aspen Institute revealed that in the last decade, children from families earning less than $50,000 a year have reduced sports participation.

The researchers hope that the findings will encourage policymakers to increase sport involvement, especially among children at risk of childhood trauma.