Mental health is one of the most prominent global burdens of disease among young people, while organized youth sport is one of the most popular activities for children and adolescents worldwide. Organized sport can be an engaging vehicle for the promotion of mental health, but participation also brings several meaningful risks and detriments for young people’s mental health. This paper contains a review of the evidence underpinning the relationships between sport participation and mental health during childhood and adolescence and also outlines the key areas of risk for mental health problems. Relevant theoretical frameworks are discussed, as are the key concepts underpinning 2 exemplar sport-based interventions to promote mental health and reduce the risk of mental health problems. Recommendations for best practice in organized youth sport are not available. However, relevant frameworks are outlined, from which administrators, coaches, and athletes can base the design and delivery of sport programs to be consistent with relevant theoretical and philosophical approaches such as the athlete-centered approach to youth sports.
Stewart A. Vella
Lauren A. Gardner, Christopher A. Magee, and Stewart A. Vella
Background: Dropout from organized youth sport has significant adverse health implications. Enjoyment and behavioral intentions have consistently been linked with participation and dropout; however, few studies have investigated these links using a prospective design. This study explored whether enjoyment and intentions to continue predicted dropout behavior at 1-year follow-up. Methods: Questionnaires were completed by 327 regular sport participants (mean age = 13.01 y at baseline). After 1 year, 247 individuals (75.5%) continued participating in their main sport and 26 individuals (8%) dropped out. A hierarchical logistic regression model estimated the probability of dropout. In step 1, the following covariates were included: age, sex, competition level, perceived competence, parental support, coach–athlete relationship, friendship quality, and peer acceptance. In step 2, enjoyment and intentions to continue were included. Results: Step 1 indicated that age, parental support, coach–athlete relationship quality, and peer acceptance were significantly associated with dropout. Step 2 explained further variance in dropout, with both enjoyment and intentions inversely associated with dropout. Peer acceptance was the only covariate to remain significantly associated with dropout in step 2. Conclusions: Findings support the use of enjoyment and behavioral intentions as indicators of sport participation/dropout behavior and may aid the development of interventions aimed at preventing future dropout.
Michael J. Panza, Scott Graupensperger, Jennifer P. Agans, Isabelle Doré, Stewart A. Vella, and Michael Blair Evans
Sport may protect against symptoms of mental disorders that are increasingly prevalent among adolescents. This systematic review explores the relationship between adolescent organized sport participation and self-reported symptoms of anxiety and depression. From 9,955 records screened, 29 unique articles were selected that included 61 effect sizes and 122,056 participants. Effects were clustered into four categories based on the operationalization of sport involvement: absence or presence of involvement, frequency of involvement, volume of involvement, and duration of participation. Results from the random-effects meta-analyses indicated that symptoms of anxiety and depression were significantly lower among sport-involved adolescents than in those not involved in sport, although this effect size was small in magnitude. Meta-regression was used to identify how age and sex explained heterogeneity in effects. Although these results do not signify a causal effect, they do support theorizing that sport participation during adolescence may be a protective environment against anxiety and depressive symptoms.
Sanne L.C. Veldman, Rachel A. Jones, Rebecca M. Stanley, Dylan P. Cliff, Stewart A. Vella, Steven J. Howard, Anne-Maree Parrish, and Anthony D. Okely
Background: The aim of this study was to examine the efficacy of an embedded after-school intervention, on promoting physical activity and academic achievement in primary-school-aged children. Methods: This 6-month, 2-arm cluster randomized controlled trial involved 4 after-school centers. Two centers were randomly assigned to the intervention, which involved training the center staff on and implementing structured physical activity (team sports and physical activity sessions for 75 min) and academic enrichment activities (45 min). The activities were implemented 3 afternoons per week for 2.5 hours. The control centers continued their usual after-school care practice. After-school physical activity (accelerometry) and executive functions (working memory, inhibition, and cognitive flexibility) were assessed pre- and postintervention. Results: A total of 60 children were assessed (7.7 [1.8] y; 50% girls) preintervention and postintervention (77% retention rate). Children in the intervention centers spent significantly more time in moderate to vigorous physical activity (adjusted difference = 2.4%; 95% confidence interval, 0.6 to 4.2; P = .026) and scored higher on cognitive flexibility (adjusted difference = 1.9 units; 95% confidence interval, 0.9 to 3.0; P = .009). About 92% of the intervention sessions were implemented. The participation rates varied between 51% and 94%. Conclusion: This after-school intervention was successful at increasing moderate to vigorous physical activity and enhancing cognitive flexibility in children. As the intervention was implemented by the center staff and local university students, further testing for effectiveness and scalability in a larger trial is required.
Erin K. Howie, Justin M. Guagliano, Karen Milton, Stewart A. Vella, Sjaan R. Gomersall, Tracy L. Kolbe-Alexander, Justin Richards, and Russell R. Pate
Background: Sport has been identified as one of the 7 best investments for increasing physical activity levels across the life span. Several questions remain on how to effectively utilize youth sport as a strategy for increasing physical activity and improving health in youth. The purpose of this paper is to identify the main research priorities in the areas of youth sport and physical activity for health. Methods: An international expert panel was convened, selected to cover a wide spectrum of topics related to youth sport. The group developed a draft set of potential research priorities, and relevant research was scoped. Through an iterative process, the group reached consensus on the top 10 research priorities. Results: The 10 research priorities were identified related to sport participation rates, physical activity from sport, the contribution of sport to health, and the overall return on investment from youth sport. For each research priority, the current evidence is summarized, key research gaps are noted, and immediate research needs are suggested. Conclusion: The identified research priorities are intended to guide researchers, policymakers, and practitioners to increase the evidence base on which to base the design, delivery, and policies of youth sport programs to deliver health benefits.