What Are the Surprising Benefits of Youth Sports Programs?

Playing sports has long-lasting mental and physical benefits

Kids huddle before playing soccer.

Playing sports has long-lasting mental and physical benefits

Whether they’re playing soccer, volleyball, football or something else, kids who play sports can reap multiple physical and mental health and well-being rewards.

In fact, some of the benefits of youth sports last well into adulthood. Here’s an overview of five ways youth sports benefit kids:

1.  Improve physical health

Childhood obesity is at an all-time high, which puts kids at increased risk for serious health conditions, including type 2 diabetes. Hours spent sitting on the couch or bed with social media and video games contribute to the problem.

According to federal health guidelines, youth ages 6 to 17 need at least 60 minutes a day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. Playing sports is one way to do it.

Sports get kids up and moving, which benefits their cardiovascular health, burns calories, raises metabolism and improves strength and mobility. Plus, physically active teens tend to have more quality sleep, which is essential during the teenage years.


Playing youth sports also supports long-term exercise habits. Adolescents who play sports are eight times more likely to be physically active at age 24 than those who do not play.


One caveat: Teens who focus exclusively on a single sport may have an increased risk of injury. Encourage your child to play different sports throughout the year. Cross-training can help prevent injury as well as burnout. Also, be sure to schedule in “rest days and weeks” to give your athlete time to recover.

2.  Improve mental health

Exercise reduces levels of cortisol, the hormone associated with stress. It also releases endorphins, the “feel-good” hormones produced by the body, and increases serotonin, a chemical that plays an important role in mood. Plus, playing a sport and contributing to a team create a sense of accomplishment, which improves self-esteem and confidence.


“Participation in youth team sports has been linked with lower rates of depression and anxiety, along with a reduced risk of suicide and substance abuse,” says Soroosh Amanat, MD, a family medicine physician with interest in sports medicine at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Eastlake. “Plus, more time playing sports means less time on social media, which has been proven to have a negative effect on the well-being of kids and adolescents.”


Even a single session of physical activity can help reduce stress and anxiety, as well as create feelings of well-being for several hours after exercising. Over the long term, regular participation in youth sports has been found to be as effective as medication in improving mental health and happiness. In fact, one study of teens with depression found that the effects of exercise actually lasted longer than those of antidepressants.

Moreover, the psychological benefits of playing team sports as youths may spill over into adulthood. A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that students who play team sports in grades 8 through 12 have less stress and better mental health as young adults.

3. Promote social connections

Youth sports help build social skills by bringing kids with similar interests together, encouraging interaction and creating a community of shared interests and goals. Kids also learn about teamwork, healthy competition, good sportsmanship and empathy — valuable social skills that extend into other areas of their lives.

4.  Improve academic performance

Studies show participation in youth sports is linked with higher levels of academic achievement and creativity. It also helps improve educational qualities such as critical thinking and determination.

5.  Teach important life skills

Participation in sports helps young people learn about discipline and dedication as well as personal responsibility and self-control.

It helps in the development of like skills, such as goal setting, time management and leadership.

Plus, learning to bounce back from a loss or a poor performance teaches resilience and perseverance.

Is my child ready to play youth sports?

Parents of young children often find it challenging to decide when to introduce them to sports. Nevertheless, it's vital to ensure they're physically, emotionally, and socially prepared.

Selecting age-appropriate sports is essential for a positive initial experience.

Prioritizing fun over pressure is another valuable tip to cultivate a positive sports environment.

“One of the most important benefits of youth sports is that they are fun,” says Dr. Amanat. “Kids should never feel pressured to play a sport that they don’t enjoy. Let them decide which sports they want to try, be supportive and stay positive about it.”

Increasing youth sports participation

Variations in access to sports programs contribute to differing participation rates among youth across demographic groups.

The National Youth Sports Strategy, a federal health initiative, aims to address these disparities with the goal of improving access and participation in youth sports.

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