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.
Mental Health and Organized Youth Sport
Stewart A. Vella
Enjoyment and Behavioral Intention Predict Organized Youth Sport Participation and Dropout
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.
Validation of the Differentiated Transformational Leadership Inventory as a Measure of Coach Leadership in Youth Soccer
Stewart A. Vella, Lindsay G. Oades, and Trevor P. Crowe
This paper describes the validation of The Differentiated Transformational Leadership Inventory (DTLI) within a participation youth sports context. Three hundred and twenty-two athletes aged between 11 and 18 years completed the DTLI. Using a confirmatory factor analysis, the DTLI yielded an underlying factor structure that fell short of cut-off criteria for adjudging model fit. Subsequent theory-driven changes were made to the DTLI by removing the ‘high performance expectations’ subscale. Further data-driven changes were also made on the basis of high item-factor cross-loadings. The revised version of the DTLI was subjected to confirmatory factor analysis and proved to be a good fit for the obtained data. Consequently, a Differentiated Transformational Leadership Inventory for Youth Sport has been suggested for use within the participation youth sport context that contains 22 items, and retains six subscales.
Adolescent Sport Participation and Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
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.
Ten Research Priorities Related to Youth Sport, Physical Activity, and Health
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.
Results From Australia’s 2016 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth
Natasha K. Schranz, Timothy Olds, Roslyn Boyd, John Evans, Sjaan R. Gomersall, Louise Hardy, Kylie Hesketh, David R. Lubans, Nicola D. Ridgers, Leon Straker, Stewart Vella, Jenny Ziviani, and Grant R. Tomkinson
Two years on from the inaugural Active Healthy Kids Australia (AHKA) Physical Activity Report Card, there has been little to no change with the majority of Australian children still insufficiently active.
The 2016 AHKA Report Card was developed using the best available national- and state-based physical activity data, which were evaluated by the AHKA Research Working Group using predetermined weighting criteria and benchmarks to assign letter grades to the 12 Report Card indicators.
In comparison with 2014, Overall Physical Activity Levels was again assigned a D- with Organized Sport and Physical Activity Participation increasing to a B (was B-) and Active Transport declining to a C- (was C). The settings and sources of influence again performed well (A- to a C+), however Government Strategies and Investments saw a decline (C+ to a D). The traits associated with physical activity were also graded poorly (C- to a D).
Australian youth are insufficiently active and engage in high levels of screen-based sedentary behaviors. While a range of support structures exist, Australia lacks an overarching National Physical Activity Plan that would unify the country and encourage the cultural shift needed to face the inactivity crisis head on.
Results from Australia’s 2018 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth
Natasha Schranz, Vanessa Glennon, John Evans, Sjaan Gomersall, Louise Hardy, Kylie D. Hesketh, David Lubans, Nicola D. Ridgers, Leon Straker, Michalis Stylianou, Grant R. Tomkinson, Stewart Vella, Jenny Ziviani, and Tim Olds
Promoting Physical Activity and Executive Functions Among Children: A Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial of an After-School Program in Australia
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.
Results from Australia’s 2014 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth
Natasha Schranz, Tim Olds, Dylan Cliff, Melanie Davern, Lina Engelen, Billie Giles-Corti, Sjaan Gomersall, Louise Hardy, Kylie Hesketh, Andrew Hills, David Lubans, Doune Macdonald, Rona Macniven, Philip Morgan, Tony Okely, Anne-Maree Parish, Ron Plotnikoff, Trevor Shilton, Leon Straker, Anna Timperio, Stewart Trost, Stewart Vella, Jenny Ziviani, and Grant Tomkinson
Like many other countries, Australia is facing an inactivity epidemic. The purpose of the Australian 2014 Physical Activity Report Card initiative was to assess the behaviors, settings, and sources of influences and strategies and investments associated with the physical activity levels of Australian children and youth.
A Research Working Group (RWG) drawn from experts around Australia collaborated to determine key indicators, assess available datasets, and the metrics which should be used to inform grades for each indicator and factors to consider when weighting the data. The RWG then met to evaluate the synthesized data to assign a grade to each indicator.
Overall Physical Activity Levels were assigned a grade of D-. Other physical activity behaviors were also graded as less than average (D to D-), while Organized Sport and Physical Activity Participation was assigned a grade of B-. The nation performed better for settings and sources of influence and Government Strategies and Investments (A- to a C). Four incompletes were assigned due to a lack of representative quality data.
Evidence suggests that physical activity levels of Australian children remain very low, despite moderately supportive social, environmental and regulatory environments. There are clear gaps in the research which need to be filled and consistent data collection methods need to be put into place.