Participating in Organized Sports: Helping Adolescents Avoid Risky Behaviors

organized sportsAccording to additional emerging research, adolescents who participate in organized sports are less likely to smoke and drink.[1] Dartmouth researchers discovered that adolescents who participate in these activities a few times per week are less likely to try risky health behaviors.1

 “How children spend their time matters, ” said lead author Anna M. Adiachi-Mejia, PhD. “In a nationally representative sample, we found that tweens who participate in sports with a coach were less likely to try smoking. Parents and guardians may think that tweens need less adult supervision when they are not in school. However, our research suggests that certain coached extracurricular activities can help prevent tween smoking and drinking.”1

For the study, researchers conducted a telephone survey of 6,522 United States adolescents in 2003 who were between the ages of 10 and 14.1 They looked to see if the influence of any kind of sport, versus sports with a coach, would be associated with the risk of smoking and drinking.1 The measures used included participation in team sports with a coach, other sports without a coach,  music, school clubs, and other clubs.1 Slightly more than half of the students reported participating in team sports with a coach (55.5 percent) and without a coach (55.4 percent) a few times a week.1

Many more had minimal to no participation in school clubs (74.2 percent), while most reported being involved in other clubs (85.8 percent).1 Fewer than half of the participants participated in music, choir, dance, or band lessons, but more than half were involved in religious activity.1

Overall, the study found that team sport participation with a coach was the only extracurricular activity that was associated with lower risk of trying smoking and drinking.1

Other studies have examined adolescent extracurricular activities, but have focused only on academic outcomes, development, or marijuana use.1

“Unlike those studies, we examined a younger age group, and we focused on the relationship between extracurricular activity and health risk behaviors,” said Adachi-Mejia. “Rather than asking about sports participation in the context of activity only, we framed our questions to ask about team sports participation with a coach and participation in other sports without a coach—none of the other studies have asked specifically about coaching.”1

Adachi-Mejia added, “We know that team sports participation offers cardiovascular and other benefits, including obesity prevention. This study shows that specific extracurricular activities may be associated with risk of youth smoking and drinking initiation.”1

While more research is needed to further understand the underlying reasons behind coached vs. non-coached activities, the study does offer yet another reason why youths should be involved in team sports.1

“Unfortunately, in the transition from the tween to the adolescent years, coached sports teams face pressure to shift from a philosophy of inclusion to a greater emphasis on winning,” said Adachi-Mejia. “This shift potentially shuts out tweens with fewer skills and/or lesser interest in facing pressures associated with increased competition. I’d like to encourage communities and schools to explore the possibility of offering noncompetitive, affordable team sports with a coach.”1

[1] Nauert, R. (2014). Organized Sports Helps Tweens Avoid Risky Health Behaviors. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 2, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/05/01/organized-sports-helps-tweens-avoid-risky-health-behaviors/69241.html

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