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How much is too much when it comes to youth sport?

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Creating a positive parent culture

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Balanced Female Health

The Unique Wellbeing Benefits of Organised Sport

A recently published New Zealand study has found that participation in organised sport provides wellbeing benefits to young people, above and beyond the benefits derived from other recreational physical activities. 

In this article, we take a deeper look into this research and consider some of the implications for Balance is Better readers. 

Is all physical activity equally good for your wellbeing? 

It might seem like semantics, but it’s a question worth pondering. Let us explain. 

To begin, let’s set aside the fact that some physical activity is better than none (proof of this later).  

This leaves two variables left to explore: 

  1. Duration of activity 
  2. Type of activity 

A food analogy… 

If we draw a comparison to how we think about food, we might think of duration of activity as the quantity of food consumed, and the type of activity as (you guessed it) the different foods you can consume. 

So what do we know about food when it comes to our wellbeing? 

Well we know that both the types of food we consume and the amount of food we consume can have a positive impact and a negative impact on our wellbeing. That is: 

  • The right amount of food sustains our energy requirements, too much can make us obese, too little and we starve. 
  • Some types of foods are a better source of nutrients than others for supporting our bodies vital wellbeing needs. 

So, what about physical activity? 

Let’s loop back to physical activity and our question: is all physical activity equally good for your wellbeing? 

As mentioned earlier, a recently published New Zealand study has looked to explore this question by analysing and comparing the wellbeing benefits that recreational physical activity and organised sport provide to young people’s wellbeing. 

The research, which analysed data collected between 2017-2019 from Sport New Zealand’s Active NZ Young Peoples survey, found that organised sport can provide wellbeing benefits for young people above and beyond other types of physical activity. 

Let’s dig into the research a little more 

Firstly, how was wellbeing measured? 

Participants in the Active NZ Young People’s Survey were asked to rate their wellbeing on a 10-point scale ranging from 1 (very unhappy) to 10 (very happy). Note, this is in line with the OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Wellbeing. Anyone who responded with ≥8 were categorised as having “better wellbeing”. 

What did the researchers analyse? 

The researchers looked at how the following five variables impacted young people’s wellbeing: 

  1. Being physically active versus inactive 
  2. Meeting World Health Organisation Guidelines on physical activity levels ( ≥420 min/week of recreational physical activity) versus not 
  3. The total duration of hours/per week participated in any recreational physical activity across a week 
  4. Participating in any type of organise sport activity (i.e. in a competition or tournament and/or training or practising with a coach/instructor) versus not 
  5. The total duration of hours/per week participated in any organised sport activity across a week 

What did the researchers find? 

The researchers found, even when accounting for gender, ethnicity and deprivation: 

1. Physical activity v. inactivityYoung people who are physically active are 2.49x more likely to report having better wellbeing than young people who are inactive.
2. Meeting WHO Guidelines on physical activity levelsYoung people who do ≥420 min/week of recreational physical activity are 63% more likely to report having better wellbeing than young people that do not reach physical activity guidelines.  
3. Duration of recreational physical activityEvery extra hour per week of physical activity resulted in a 3% increase in the likelihood of young people reporting having better wellbeing.
4. Participating in organised sportYoung people who participate in organised sport were 66% more likely to report having better wellbeing than young people who do not participate in sport, regardless of total recreational physical activity participation.
5. Duration of organised sport activityEvery extra hour per week of organised sport activity resulted in a 9% increase in the likelihood of young people reporting having better wellbeing, regardless of total recreational physical activity participation.   Note, the researchers contended that beyond a certain point there was a limit to how much additional participation in sport might contribute to positive wellbeing.

What’s happening here?  

Back to our question about Is all physical activity equally good for your wellbeing? 

This research shows that there is a dose-response relationship between recreational physical activity and wellbeing. That is, more physical activity correlates with better wellbeing. 

Additionally, there is an even stronger dose-effect relationship between participating in organised sport and wellbeing. But this relationship may have a limit, beyond which no further wellbeing benefit is realised (and potentially it declines). 

Why the extra benefits from sport? 

The researchers contended that this was because of a few things: 

The key messages to take home 

  1. When it comes to young people’s wellbeing any physical activity is better than none. 
  2. Sport has the potential to provide additional wellbeing benefits for young people above and beyond just general physical activity. Obviously, at an individual level this assumes that quality of sport experience is positive. 
  3. Most sport will facilitate some form of connection and community. However, quality sport experiences are critical for enabling the fullest wellbeing benefits from sport to be realised. This means while sport has potential to achieve great wellbeing outcomes for young people, for this to be harnessed, we need to care about what goes into the making of a quality sport experience (e.g. coaches, programme design, etc.). 

Read the full article:  The Value of Sport: Wellbeing Benefits of Sport Participation during Adolescence

Photo by Fitsum Admasu on Unsplash

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