Headline: Sign Your Girls Up For Team Sports this Fall!
Healthy and Happy: The Positive Role Team Sports Play on Adolescent Girls
By Lauren Cohen and Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services
Do you remember what middle school was like for you? If you’re like me, you probably try not to remember. Being a teenager is difficult. Between the physical changes, social changes, and mental changes, overwhelming is probably an understatement—and that’s not even including schoolwork! And then there are the girls. The pressure and social anxiety to “fit it” is exacerbated by the feeling that you need to wear the right clothes or carry the right backpack or have the right friends. As many times as we try to profess that all girls feel it (yes, even that “it” girl!), it is an isolating and lonely sensation. While we can’t eliminate the discomfort that comes along with being a teenage girl—we can work to improve it.
New research suggests that team sports may be the answer to helping adolescent girls live happier, healthy lives. While research is continuing to expand our knowledge as to why this is the case, the results show a varied and wide impact. In an essay published by the World Health Organization, the benefits of participation in team sports are classified into five categories; physical, mental, social, intellectual/ educational development and reproductive health.
Physical health is improved in two ways. First, it can reduce the risk for diseases that often affect children and adolescents including diabetes and high blood pressure. Secondly, it can reduce the risk for chronic diseases that often develop later in life including cancer, diabetes, and coronary heart disease. Physical activity also continues to prevent childhood obesity, which has a close relationship with adolescent depressive disorders.
The National Institute of Mental Health reports that roughly 11% of adolescents develop depressive disorders by age 18—and girls are twice as likely to have a depressive episode then boys. While that is a scary statistic, it is important to remember that there are many ways to combat and understand depressive disorders. Team sports are one of them. It has a positive effect on a young girl’s physiological well-being and can reduce levels of anxiety and depression. There are new studies that suggest physical activity as a treatment option – since it often acts as an anti-depressant and lowers stress levels.
An article published by the LA Times in April 2014 recently addressed a study suggesting that calling a girl “too fat” by people close to her are more likely to become obese by age 19. The link seems to be emotional—if girls feel bad about themselves, they turn to food for comfort.
With lower levels of stress and increased physical health, studies show an upward trend in academic and intellectual success. There is also a higher rate of interest in graduation from high school and college with a lower rate of dropouts and higher GPAs—particularly in math and science. Socially, these team players experience a sense of belonging, a community, and teammates who share a common interest and goal.
Limited research also suggests that inclusion in team sports gives young women a sense of pride, respect, and empowerment towards their bodies.
In many settings, adolescents may be encouraged to view their bodies as sexual and reproductive resources for men, rather than sources of strength for themselves. Early studies conducted in the US have found that adolescent girls who participate in sports tend to become sexually active later in life, have fewer partners, and, when sexually active, make greater use of contraception than non-sporting girls.
-Girls Participation in Physical Activities and Sports: Benefits, Patterns, Influences, and ways Forward; Bailey, Wellard, Dismore
With increased rates of adolescent pregnancy and poor sexual health & education, the hope that young women will display bodily empowerment and respect is certainly desirable and correlates with participation in team sports.
As we already know, physical activity already has such a wide range of positive impacts that reach from muscle toning to mind toning. When we add the element of team building and comradeship, it really might be the best mixture for adolescent girls. Even if practice is just once a week, sign up! The tools she gains and the resources she learns are the very skills that teach us to live a happy and healthy life.