The Impact of Sports in a Child’s Behavioral and Mental Health

The Impact of Sports in a Child’s Behavioral and Mental Health
Photo by Brittany Javor from the 2022 Special Olympics Colorado State Flag Football and Triathlon

More than 5 million athletes with intellectual disabilities participate in Special Olympics around the world. Special Olympics allows those with and without intellectual disabilities ages 8 and older to compete in different sports throughout the year.

In Colorado, Special Olympics hosts more than 400 events and competitions yearly, unlike the Olympics, which occur every 4 years.

From its humble beginnings as a summer camp, Special Olympics grew to serve athletes from more than 170 countries to compete in more than 30 sports.

Can sports benefit and impact a child’s behavioral and mental health? How can staying physically healthy help improve the child’s lung health?

What programs or events does Special Olympics Colorado offer that can help a child’s behavioral and mental health?

This article explores the benefits of sports and how they impact a child’s mental and behavioral wellness. It also discusses the link between a child’s physical activity and lung health.

Additionally, this write-up lists the programs and events that Special Olympics Colorado offers for children with intellectual disabilities.

How Do Sports Benefit and Impact a Child’s Behavioral and Mental Health?

Research showed that 73% of parents believed sports benefit their child’s mental health. In particular, being active in sports is linked to the following:

  • Lower stress levels: A clinical report noted that teenagers playing organized sports had fewer mental health issues and less emotional distress than their peers.

The same report also said that athletes might show greater stress resistance.

  • Lower anxiety and depression rates: One study showed that having a moderate interest in sports may reduce depression, especially among adolescents. Another study mentioned that athletes who play team sports might be less likely to experience anxiety or depression.
  • Higher self-esteem and confidence: A study reviewed the mental and social benefits of sports participation among children and adolescents.

The researchers said that frequently reported benefits of sports include improved self-esteem, better social interaction, and fewer depressive symptoms.

The researchers also suggested advocating for community sport participation as a leisure activity for children and adolescents. These experts believe that participating in community sport may improve children’s physical, psychological, and social health.

  • Less substance abuse and risky behaviors: Another potential benefit of sports is its association with lower rates of substance abuse.

Studies showed that, compared with their peers, teenagers who participate in sports are less likely to smoke marijuana and cigarettes. These teens are also less likely to use cocaine and other illegal drugs.

  • Reduced suicide risk: The helpful effects of sports on depression and mental health can also apply to suicide.

According to studies, another benefit of team sports other than contributing to physical activity is helping protect youths against feelings of hopelessness and risks of suicide. Organized sports participation is also connected to a lower likelihood of suicidal behavior.

  • Improved academic performance: An American Academy of Pediatrics article mentioned that physical activity could help children have better mental performance in school. Joining organized sports outside school also links to higher cognitive performance.

There’s little research on the mental health benefits of organized sports in schools. But exploring such benefits for students can be advantageous for promoting sports.

  • Increased creativity: One study assessed the link between youth sport participation and creativity among 99 students.

Results showed that the most creative individuals among the participants were those who spent half of their time playing unstructured or non-competitive sports.

  • Greater enjoyment of various forms of physical activity: A study suggested that taking part in various physical activities may help increase enjoyment and participation among youth.

The researchers said that giving teenagers more chances to engage in different activities might help these teens identify the physical activities they can enjoy for a long time.

  • Improved mental and emotional well-being, especially for individuals with disabilities: A research article explored the self-perceived physical and mental well-being of intellectually or physically impaired young swimmers.

The findings showed that competitive athletes have 40% better mental and emotional health than those who didn’t participate.

The results suggested that those with physical disabilities playing adaptive sports may have a better quality of life and satisfaction than those who didn’t get involved in sports.

Lung Health and Physical Activities: Is There a Connection?

When you’re physically active, your lungs and heart work hard to supply the extra oxygen your muscles need. In other words, physical activity can help make your heart and lungs stronger, like how exercise can make your muscles strong.

As your physical fitness improves, your body’s efficiency in getting oxygen into your bloodstream and muscles can also improve. This effect also means that you’re less likely to experience shortness of breath when you exercise.

Some exercises can also help make your diaphragm and rib muscles strong. These body parts help power inhaling and exhaling.

Additionally, playing sports can help improve a person’s physical health, including their lung health, and lower the symptoms of lung-related diseases like lung cancer, pneumonia, or mesothelioma and its stages.

Special Olympics Colorado’s Programs and Events

You can help your child get involved with sports through Special Olympics Colorado’s sports events and programs. Participating in these programs, like Young Athletes, can help with the child’s behavioral and mental health.

Young Athletes is a sport and play program for children with and without intellectual disabilities, ages 2 to 7 years old. This program helps them improve their gross motor skills, hand-eye coordination, social skills, and confidence.

More than 8,000 children have participated in Young Athletes, and around 96% have experienced improved self-confidence.

Other Special Olympics programs for Young Athletes include:

  • Learn to Play: This program is for children 2 to 10 years and teaches them to run, golf, bowl, and ski in a fun and engaging sports introduction.
  • Summer Sports Camp: This camp, held each July, helps children 2 to 10 years old experience different sports like basketball, tee-ball, soccer, and tennis.
  • Unified Juniors: This transitional program gives Young Athletes aged 4 to 10 plenty of opportunities to play sports on a development team.
  • Red Shirt Rookies: This elementary after-school program encourages sports-based Unified play and skill-building for children aged 6 to 11.
  • Competitive Community Teams: This program offers individual and team athletic opportunities at the community level. Community teams also help children to have fun, meet new friends, and develop a love of the sport.

For more information about Young Athletes and how to get involved, please visit

Ruth Riley is an educator, writer, and literary enthusiast. She teaches linguistics to college students and also conducts studies about CBD. By utilizing her expertise in teaching and writing, she wishes to educate more people and provide insight to various health and wellness sites.

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