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How Sports Can Be A Mental Health Power-up For Your Teen Brain

Discover how engaging in sports can boost teen mental health and self-esteem. Explore the science behind the connection between physical activity and emotional wellness.

The connection between physical activity and improved mental health have been recognized for quite some time. An ancient thought holds up remarkably well in the present. The saying focuses on the importance of a “healthy mind in a healthy body.”

That’s why engaging in sports and exercise isn’t just about physical fitness; it’s also a secret weapon for your mental wellbeing. And guess what? Your mental strength can also level up your game!

There’s proof to back it up: Research shows that 12th-grade girls who played sports had higher self-esteem and self-confidence and fewer feelings of loneliness, self-doubt, hopelessness, and sadness. Students playing team sports in grades 8 through 12 said they also had less stress and better mental health as young adults, according to another study.

Five Ways Sports and Exercise Can Boost Your Mental Game

Whether you’re a sports enthusiast or simply aiming to stay active, there’s a scientifically proven mood-enhancing magic in sports and exercise. 

Let’s explore how it works:

🌟 Self-esteem: Playing sports makes you feel like a champion and is linked with better social skills and fewer gloomy days. 

🌟 Personal Power-Up: Sports help you score big at life skills, like keeping calm under pressure and exploring your personal potential. Playing a sport can also teach you resilience and determination to help in other areas of your life including your mental wellbeing.

🌟 Social benefits: Most sports can act like a built-in support system. You’ll learn skills at team-building and making new friends. You’ll also be forming positive relationships with coaches, and social skills like teamwork to help in other areas of life. Some of these people may become trusted adults or friends you can talk to about the hard times in life and navigating mental health issues.

🌟 Character-building: While many people focus on getting stronger physically from sports, it also helps to influence personal development.

🌟 Healthy Mind, Healthy You: Sports can act as a shield against bad vibes. You can get a break from the daily grind, move your body, refocus your mind, boost your self-image, keep emotional distress at bay, and protect yourself from risky behaviors, including substance abuse.

Okay, now we know why sports and exercise can give you that extra edge to help build your mental wellbeing.

The Impact Beyond the Field

We get it—sports aren’t for everyone. But don’t limit yourself. There are so many ways to enjoy moving your body and getting regular exercise is really important. Sports can help make that feel like less of a chore.  

If the sports at school don’t connect, look for other options and remember it doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s easy to incorporate exercise into your daily routine without expensive equipment. Walking, running, climbing stairs, and jumping rope are all good to get the heart pumping. If you’re interested in weightlifting, try improvising with water-filled bottles. For guided workouts, explore free stretching or yoga classes on YouTube. Or check out local organizations and non-profits that might offer free or low-cost fitness classes in your community.

Any of these are great choices!

Remember, just getting your heart rate up and staying active for at least 60 min a day is just as beneficial as playing on a sports team.

What’s awesome is that there are great organizations and community groups out there that blend sports with other interests, making participation more accessible. Using sports intentionally can also be a powerful tool for learning and enhancing other aspects of your life or community, such as getting involved in youth activism.

Here are some examples of how sports are making an impact beyond the playing field, from 4 of our Head In The Game grantees:

Rainbow Labs – emboldens Queer and Gender Nonconforming Youth to discover, curate, and experiment through community building programs and a series of after-school programming (both in-person and online) across California. 

Chicago Voyagers – offers adventures programs for Chicagoland teens to discover themselves and grow their potential. 

Run4Fun – empowering the mental health and wellness of young people for life through the healing power of running and play. 

Homegrown Lacrosse – a Twin-Cities nonprofit empowering youth through a wide variety of lacrosse programs. 

Disclaimer: This website offers general information and is not a substitute for professional advice. We are not clinicians or trained professionals; this information should not replace seeking help from a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare provider for personalized guidance.