Stress Prevention Through Sports

Want to give your teen a mental health boost? School sports can help.

Quidditch players
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For stress prevention as your tween or teen heads into young adulthood, look to school sports. Research shows that when kids participate in sports in middle or high school, they experience less stress as young adults. They also have lower rates of depression and report better mental health overall.

In a study published in 2014, researchers tracked a group of over 800 Canadian students from grades 8 through 12, asking them each year if they participated in any school sports.

Then, the researchers checked in with the subjects three years after graduation to ask about their mental health (rates of stress and depression, and general self-perception of mental health). Those students who were involved in school sports had better scores on all three health assessments compared with those who did not play sports at all.

"The associations we have found show a long term impact, said Catherine Sabiston, PhD, of the University of Toronto, the lead author of the study. "School sport from ages 12 to 17 protects those youth from poor mental health four years later."

This research team deliberately focused on school sports because they can be more accessible than expensive, elite club programs. "There is surprisingly little known about school sport, so we can only speculate as to the unique effects," said Dr. Sabiston. "But we suspect it might be due to school sport providing adolescents with opportunities to bond with other students, feel connected to their school, interact with their peers and coaches, thus, really providing a social and active environment," she explained.

Help Your Teen Reap the Many Benefits of Sports

Sports and exercise offer your teen immediate benefits: reduced anxiety, improved mood, and an energy boost, among others. And she'll enjoy long-lasting positive effects too: less stress and depression (as found in the study), along with the confidence that comes from mastery and accomplishment of skills and achievement of goals.

Helping her participate and thrive in sports is truly valuable, so be as supportive as you can.

If your teen isn't participating in sports now, help her find a sport she enjoys. Her school may not offer a competitive or even intramural (club) program for her chosen sport. If that's the case, look outside the school for other sports programs or classes. But try to find one that offers the "social and active environment" Sabiston described.

Of course you'll want to help your child avoid some of the pitfalls of competitive sports, like anxiety, burnout, and injuries. But the benefits sports brings can often outweigh these risks, especially when your child (with your help) focuses on competing to excel, rather than competing to win.

Manage Stress Now (and Later)

If you or your teen is experiencing an unhealthy level of stress now, you don't need to wait years for the sports cure to take effect (although exercise is an excellent way to reduce stress). Find out how to create an effective, individualized plan for stress relief.


Jewett R, Sabiston CM, et al. School sport participation during adolescence and mental health in early adulthood. Journal of Adolescent Health Vol 55 No 5, November 2014.

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