High School Sports Participation May Improve Mental Health

Two female soccer players from opposing teams vie for the ballWe’ve all heard the stereotype of the dumb jock, but a new study suggests that high school sports may actually be good for students’ brains. About 55% of high school students are athletes, and between 23% and 40% of all high school students report feelings of stress, depression, or anxiety. Students may be able to reduce these feelings by participating in sports, and the study suggests that high school sports participation may even have long-term mental health benefits.

High School Sports and Mental Health

The study surveyed nearly 850 students attending 10 different Canadian schools. Students completed surveys about sports participation every year for their five years of secondary school. Then, three years after graduation, researchers asked students about symptoms of depression and stress levels. Students were also asked to rate their mental health on a scale of 1 to 5.

Students who had a history of high school sports participation did better on all three measures of mental health than students who did not play sports. They had lower rates of depression, less stress, and perceived their mental health to be better. Researchers aren’t sure why high school sports positively benefited mental health in the students. They speculate, though, that increased social activity, a connection to their schools, and the chance to bond with their peers may all help reduce the risk of mental health challenges. 

Other Benefits of High School Sports

The latest study isn’t the only one to show major mental health benefits for high school athletes. Previous research has shown that high school sports participation can confer the following mental health benefits:

  • A reduced risk of teen pregnancy.
  • A decreased likelihood of using drugs such as cocaine and marijuana.
  • Higher self-esteem, with student athletes about three times as likely as non-athletes to say they feel good about themselves.
  • Feeling socially accepted. Athletes have better social skills and are more likely to say their friends care about them.
  • Better grades and test scores.


  1. Jewett, Rachel; Sabiston, Catherine M.; Brunet, Jennifer; O’Loughlin, Erin K.; Scarapicchia, Tanya; O’Loughlin, Jennifer. (2014, June 11). School Sport Participation During Adolescence and Mental Health in Early Adulthood. Journal of Adolescent Health. DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2014.04.018
  2. National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. (2007, July 26). Not Just Another Single Issue: Teen Pregnancy and Athletic Involvement. Retrieved from http://www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_Not_Just_Another/
  3. Sports Promote Psychological and Emotional Health. (2013). DatalysCenter. Retrieved from http://datalyscenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Sports-Promote-Psychological-Emotional-Health.pdf
  4. Study shows high school athletes perform better in school, persist to graduation more than non-athletes. (2014, January 24). Retrieved from http://news.ku.edu/2014/01/15/study-shows-high-school-athletes-performed-better-school-persisted-graduation-more-non

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  • andrea l.

    July 8th, 2014 at 3:11 PM

    There will always be differing opinions on this but I am telling yout hat high school sports saved my kids’ lives.

    They were not star athletes by any stretch of the imagination but sports kept them engaged in school in the wway that academics alone never could. I don’t know that they would have graduated without this outlet, but as a result of the leadership roles that they were given out of the classroom, I formly believe that this helped them achieve while in the classroom.

    They were focused on something that was important to them and that carried over into all aspects of their lives. I am forever thankful that they got involved in sports at a very early age.

  • Scott

    July 9th, 2014 at 4:19 AM

    It gives kids a feeling of belonging and at this age that is all that many of them want. Friends who make them feel wanted and needed, and activities at which they can in some way excel.

  • Bruce

    July 9th, 2014 at 3:40 PM

    Sports in general are great for kids, and then there are things like undiagnosed concussions and poor sportsmanship that makes you look at them in a different light too.

    This isn’t right for all kids. There will be some who do really well in athletics and there will be those who can do without it. To me it doesn’t matter one way or another just as long as my children are happy and healthy in whatever they pursue.

    I will not keep them from doing something unless I think that it is a danger to them. That is one area where I think that sports sort of fail our kids in that they get caught up in winning and forget all of the other life lessons that they are supposed to be teaching too.

  • Nicole

    July 10th, 2014 at 11:29 AM

    But what about the time commitments and the time that sports takes away from academics? Wouldn’t that be detrimental to the student and future success?

  • Jenni

    July 11th, 2014 at 10:56 AM

    I am fully supportive of the positive role that sports can play in the minds of both youth and adults. There is nothing like just getting out and working through some stress and anxiety like a great team workout can give you. You are supported, you are part of a team and you feel like you play an integral role in working together with others to create something that is really special.

    This will make anyone, even those who feel the most lonely, feel good about themselves and something that they are building. Plus the memories that you will make along with all of the new friendships are solid, and they will undoubtedly last for years.

    Can you tell that this is something for which I strongly advocate and support? ;)

  • Lex

    July 15th, 2014 at 1:34 PM

    Another thing that I am not sure has been mentioned is that being involved in sports in general will help kids to take their health into their own hands and hopefully help us to stem this wave of childhood obesity which has become so prevalent over the past several years.
    It is hard to compete with phones and games and TV, but sports is the one thing that can generally help our children get up and get moving, and if it engages them enough then you should never have to worry about whether they are getting enough exercise.

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