Many sports enthusiasts would argue that they are the world’s best kept secret. Whilst many may not readily acknowledge it, there seems to be no contest as to who plays the most sports, and why! In North America and Europe, it’s clear that tennis and golf are still the most popular sports, in terms of audience participation and television coverage. Other sports, such as cricket and football, appear to struggle, and even in countries where the game is less well-known, such as Japan, rugby and hockey are enjoying substantial audiences and involvement rates. However, it’s clear that the overall trend in the world is towards increased participation in sports.
Surveys have shown that participation in sports has positive effects on mental health and physical health and can improve confidence and motivation. The evidence is clear that engaging in sport and other physical activities, particularly when playing sports in other countries, can boost confidence and improve performance. Sports have even been shown to have positive effects on mental health and motivation, as it’s been well demonstrated that participating in regular sports releases stress and builds confidence, something all humans need. But it’s also clear that participation in sports can improve mental health and well-being.
So what’s behind the apparent link between sports and mental health and motivation? One of the theories that has been put forward is that participation in sports improves physical fitness. Physical fitness is an important determinant of overall health and fitness, and indeed physical fitness is one of the key elements in successful sports participation. And while it’s true that inactivity and low levels of physical fitness can have negative health effects, including decreased life expectancy, it’s also the case that physical fitness can contribute positively to mental health and motivation. For example, elite athletes regularly train in order to be ready for competitive matches, and those who are not as talented or successful may find it more challenging to be involved in the training routine, but they reap the rewards by improving their physical fitness.
Another factor that has been linked to sports and mental health is the increased satisfaction felt by participants in sports and the associated positive benefits on their health and well-being. Participating in a sport or recreational activity provides the achievement of a goal, something that the participant is committed to and works hard towards. It provides a sense of achievement, as well as a sense of moving towards a particular objective – whether this is reaching the required goal for the day, gaining some level of skill for a particular task, getting some kind of award for the activity or achieving some recognition for the sport or person.
Finally, the achievement of a goal or completion of a task is another common mental aspect of sports. The fact that participants in sports are working towards specific outcomes, that their participation is not simply about fun, and that they are achieving definite objectives that do not necessarily come easily mean that they have a higher commitment to the tasks they are completing than they would if they were completing more leisurely activities. These results are especially relevant in the realm of physical activity, as sports can be very physically demanding, and it can be argued that the increased intensity and focus brought about by the competition of sports, and the fact that participants are working towards specific outcomes, contributes to the development of better physical skills and can lead to an improved ability to participate in a wider range of activities. Finally, this increased focus and commitment may also lead to an increase in self-esteem, which is one of the strongest influences on a person’s personality.
In conclusion, there is much evidence that suggests a link between participation in sports and mental health and emotional well-being. The evidence comes from research that has explored how sports affect players on two teams. One study found that players on extreme sports had significantly higher levels of social confidence and had higher self-esteem. The players displayed higher levels of social trust and were less depressed. Another study, which controlled for age and gender found that college baseball players showed a significant increase in social and interpersonal trust and that these players were less depressed.