Promoting the Mental Health of Youth Through Sports

May 11, 2022

COVID-19 significantly impacted the mental health of youth in the U.S.: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that more than a third (37%) of youth experienced poor mental health as a result of the pandemic, and 44% of youth stated they felt consistently sad or hopeless. This May, as we mark Mental Health Awareness Month, Blue KC is committed to helping meet the behavioral health needs of our members – which encompasses mental health support and treatment.

We believe that sports can help youth maintain their mental well-being, and in more ways than one.

While we all know sports have an evident positive impact on the physical health of individuals, there’s a growing body of evidence that sports can also have positive effects on the mental health of individuals, specifically in youth. In 2019, the Cleveland Clinic completed a study that proves engaging in team sports can help kids decrease rates of depression. In fact, researchers found children who were exposed to trauma reported better mental health as adults if they had participated in sports as teens and children.

How do youth sports help mental health?

Participation in sports leads to many positive outcomes now and later in life. For example:

  • Exercise positively impacts levels of serotonin, a chemical that helps regulate mental health, and stimulates the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which improves mood.
  • Physical activity releases endorphins, the body’s natural “happy chemicals,” and reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
  • Sports are associated with lower rates of stress, anxiety, depression and suicidal behavior.
  • Team sports enhance resilience, empathy, confidence and empowerment.
  • Team sports have also been shown to increase executive functioning, creativity, cognitive development and self-regulation.

These are all excellent benefits of physical activity, the pressure student athletes feel can also put a strain on their mental health. A recent surge in suicides among college athletes has shown the detrimental effect the stress of performing can have on student athletes’ well-being. It’s important for coaches and teachers to recognize the signs that one of their players is struggling and offer help – but it’s essential parents are equipped with the right tools, too.

Blue KC is committed to providing our members with resources to maintain their mental well-being. Through our sports themed programs and partnerships, such as the Shut Out the Stigma initiative with the Kansas City Royals, we are working to reduce the stigma around behavioral health, to provide facts and resources and remind Kansas Citians that it’s OK to ask for help. The program has the support of people such as Ryan Lefebvre, the current play-by-play commentator for the Royals, who shares his experience living with depression and offers advice to those who might be afraid to seek help. With this program we hope to leverage the familiar faces and voices of the Kansas City Royals to normalize the conversation around mental health.

Blue KC offers additional programs specific to Kansas Citians to support those experiencing a mental health crisis through the services of Mindful KC. Mindful KC connects you with a Mindful Advocate, a therapist you can reach by phone, anytime, night or day. The Mindful Advocate can provide in-the-moment support, or help connect you or your child with supportive resources or counseling. The Mindful Advocate can be reached by calling 833-302-MIND (6463). You can also reach out to the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time of day or night.

There is an urgent need to solve the mental health crisis among youth. Blue KC is devoted to strengthening our strategy and ability to meet the soaring behavioral health needs of children. We continue to work with our providers and the community on ways to improve services and access for all. Together, we can break the stigma and create safe spaces and solutions for our great city.