A recent study of more than 9000 young adults examined whether team sports helped children overcome adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The researchers followed almost 10,000 teens for a decade, including almost 4900 teens exposed to ACEs and more than 4700 who were not. The study concluded that teens who participated in team sports had a 24 percent lower probability of receiving a depression diagnosis and 30 percent lower odds of receiving an anxiety diagnosis than those who did not participate.
The study measured association, not causation, and could not identify whether or how sports boosted resilience from ACEs. The study authors noted indications in the study that team sports may increase self-esteem, feelings of social acceptance, and feelings of being connected to the school environment.
This is only one study, and it did not exclude the possibility that those teens with good mental health self-selected into team sports. However, it does add one more piece of evidence to the possible ways to help children overcome childhood trauma. It also raises an interesting policy question for legislators and foster care programs, indicating that they need to place a high priority on encouraging and supporting participation in team events. The costs and transportation difficulties can be high, but it may be as necessary for children as education, tutoring and mental health care.