Beyond Endorphins: The Mental Health Benefits of Youth Sports
Brought to you by AIG, a proud sponsor of NCYS
by Cristiane Chiacchio, AIG Americas Head of Accident & Health
The role of physical activity in combatting depression and anxiety is well documented, particularly when it comes to human physiology. Going out for a run can increase levels of serotonin, which regulates mental health. Physical activity releases naturally uplifting endorphins, reduces the stress hormone cortisol, and stimulates norepinephrine, which improves mood . When children and teens get their exercise through organized sports, the benefits can go beyond these chemical reactions. Here are three sometimes overlooked facets of youth sports programs that can go a long way in reducing anxiety and depression and promoting positive mental health.
They can create a sense of community. Organized youth sports programs are not just about running sprints or shooting hoops. Properly structured programs can provide a safe, wholesome and nurturing environment for children and teens, instilling a sense of community where they feel supported and are engaged with adults who care about their mental and physical wellbeing. Youth sports teams should create community-building rituals, which can be game changing for young people struggling with stress at school or at home. Something as simple as circling up for a team “check in” before a game or practice may ease the transition from the school day, and provide a way to leave behind the day’s stressors and shift to a new and positive focus.
They can foster authentic relationships and socialization. Organized sports may give children and teens an opportunity to socialize outside of their usual circles at school, in their neighborhood, and away from social media and screen time. As part of a team, young people may have opportunities to forge meaningful bonds and relationships that can be more fulfilling than those built via texting and social media. If a child is having social difficulties at school, the positive social experiences of a team can be especially valuable in relieving social anxiety and lifting spirits. As anyone who has been part of a team can attest: off-the-field experiences, such as socializing over pizza after the game, can be just as important and memorable as the match itself.
They can build resilience. Sports are like life. Athletic competitions and practices are full of ups and downs, wins and losses. They may also be a safe place where young people can make mistakes, experience the “failure” of a botched play or missed pitch, and persevere. In the process, they may build resilience, which is critical to bounce back from life’s disappointments and adversities. Building resilience can be a key to maintaining mental health and can serve young players well for their entire lives.
When children head out to the field for organized sports, they are not just promoting physical fitness and “letting off steam.” They are laying the groundwork for lifelong fitness habits, amassing experiences that can alleviate and help protect against anxiety and depression and keep both bodies and minds healthier.
That’s a win for everyone.
Cristiane Chiacchio is AIG Americas Head of Accident & Health. AIG’s Accident & Health Specialty Markets Division is a leading provider of customized Accident & Health solutions for youth sports teams and a proud sponsor of NCYS.
For information about the accident & health insurance solutions the AIG companies offer for amateur sports organizations, recreational organizations, and educational institutions, visit
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