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Team Sports May Help Build Resilience After Trauma

  • August 29, 2019
  • Anxiety, Depression, Patients and Families

Traumatic and other negative experiences in childhood can have lasting effects, including increased chances of physical health issues and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

Every child reacts differently to trauma and children react differently at different ages. Children are often resilient and for many the emotional and physical reactions to trauma fade over time. Supportive family and community and positive experiences can help.

A group of people standing in front of a crowd Description automatically generatedA new study finds that among people who had adverse childhood experiences, participation in sports during adolescence is associated with better adult mental health. In the study of almost 10,000 individuals from a nationally representative sample, just under half (49%) had at least one adverse experience in childhood. About one in five (21%) had experienced two or more adverse childhood experiences.

The most common adverse childhood experience was having a single parent (27%). This was followed by parental incarceration (17%), parental alcohol misuse (14%), emotional neglect (11%), physical abuse (9%) and sexual abuse (5%). Black (65%) and Hispanic individuals (53%) were more likely to have experienced adverse childhood experiences compared to Whites (45%) and Asians/Pacific Islanders/Others (45%).

Among people with adverse childhood experiences, those who played sports in adolescence were less likely to ever have had a diagnosis of depression or anxiety or to have current depressive symptoms. The study also looked at whether the specific sport made a difference and found that outcomes did not change significantly for different sports.

A person holding a football ball Description automatically generatedThe researchers also considered whether other after-school activities had the same resiliency effects. They found that participation in other school-based activities (such as band, chorus, drama club) was not associated with lower odds of mental health issues later in life.

The study authors concluded: “Among individuals affected by [adverse childhood experiences], team sports participation in adolescence was associated with better adult mental health. Team sports may be an important and scalable resilience builder.”

If a child is struggling after a traumatic experience, help is available. Mental health professionals can help children and families cope after trauma and recover. Reach out to a doctor, school counselor, doctor or other health professional for a referral.

Learn more about children’s reactions to trauma and ways to help in the fact sheet Understanding Childhood Trauma.


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