Teens don't have to play competitive sports to be good students, popular with their peers or a successful adult, but sports can put youths at an advantage. Studies have shown that adolescents who play sports are generally more confident, better leaders and more motivated in their schoolwork and their plans for the future. However, sports aren't for everyone, and each individual is impacted differently by participating in athletics.
The Physical Impact of Sports
The headline of a 2012 article published on New York Times' Well Blog summed up the physical impact of athletics on the teenage body: Sports Promote Healthy Weight in Teenagers. According to the study cited, teens who play on one sports team per season significantly cut their chances of being overweight or obese. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website says regular physical activity in adolescence improves strength and endurance, helps build healthy bones and muscles, helps control weight, cuts anxiety and stress, boosts self-esteem and may improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
According to a 1998 University of Michigan study, teens who play sports are more likely to get better grades than those that don't. Researchers found that teens involved in sports had higher grade-point averages, and were more prepared to pursue future goals. "Teens who participated in sports, school involvement activities and academic clubs also were more likely to be enrolled full-time in college at age 21," said University of Michigan psychologist Jacquelynne Eccles, one of the authors of a report on the study. A 2012 Dutch study had similar outcomes. A review of the study, published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine said it "suggests there is a significant positive relationship between physical activity and academic performance."
The Impact of Sports on Social Development
Experts are split on whether sports have a positive or a negative impact on teens. One Michigan State University study pointed out that students who play sports develop a strong bond with their teammates, suggesting that sports play an integral role in teaching young people how to communicate. Another study by West Virginia University found that girls who play sports feel significantly more satisfied with their lives than girls who don't. But many experts believe that sports can be linked to aggressive behavior. Athletic youth that can't reach goals that are expected of them may feel angry, alienated and can eventually become aggressive, according to HelpingPsychology.com.
The same University of Michigan study that found that students who play sports are more likely to get better grades than those that don't also revealed that those same students were more likely to drink and use drugs. Teens who were involved in other activities, like church and pro-social activities were more protected from developing these behaviors. In a 2009 study, researchers examined survey responses from 13,000 high school students concerning unhealthy behaviors and found that young men who participated in sports were more likely to engage in risky behaviors than those who did not. Young women who were surveyed, however, had lower rates of marijuana use, drinking and depression.