The rates of mental health issues in young people are continuing to soar, affecting how they feel, think, behave and interact with others. If you’ve noticed that your teenager suffers from mood shifts or a general dip in state of mind, they’re not alone. Based on the 2013-14 Young Minds Matter survey, among adolescents aged 11-17, 1 in 5 (20%) had either high (13%) or very high (6.6%) levels of psychological stress. Exercise or a team activity could be just the thing they need to help them boost their mental health and encourage them to develop the skills and resilience to productively manage abnormal stressors. Of course, if you have concerns about your own or a loved one’s mental health, it’s important to seek professional help from either a trusted GP or one of the resources we’ll link at the end of this article.

The Effects Of COVID-19

Students already face enormous stress in the classroom and their daily lives, however the uncertainty of the pandemic and disruptions to education have become a frequent contributor to their stress or anxiety.

UNICEF Australia released findings in 2020 that 36% of people aged 13-17 reported that COVID-19 had negatively affected their levels of stress and anxiety with 46% worried about being isolated from friends and schoolmates, and 45% worried about their education being disrupted or being held back as a result of the changes to schooling.

How Sports & Exercise Can Help

Good mental health is considered the state of wellbeing that allows you to cope with the normal stresses of life and function productively with resilience. Exercise is proven to help the body and mind in many ways with strong correlations proven between good physical health and strong mental health. Conversely, lack of movement means that oxygen is not being circulated throughout the body or to the brain which can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. Once a person begins to move, the hormone serotonin is released and those negative feelings can start to lift. According to the Young Minds Matter survey, adolescents reported their strategies to help them manage any emotional or behavioural problems included doing more exercise or taking up a sport (37.9%), doing more activities they enjoyed (45.1%), seeking support from friends (24.4%) and improving their diet (23.2%).

Sport provides focus, fitness, social activity and is a gateway to new friendships. Being part of a team helps people feel they are part of something bigger than themselves, which increases their sense of belonging and comradery. Team sports also give athletes an opportunity to celebrate their wins and allows them to learn from and move on from their losses with like-minded peers.

When student athletes invest in mental work and are less stressed, they are able to focus better in the classroom. This allows them to use skills such as reasoning and critical thinking more effectively while building the confidence to question, analyse and debate. Exercise not only boosts your child’s mood in the short term but also helps to develop a stronger and more efficient brain in the long term!

How To Help Your Children

When young people experience mental health issues, they often disengage from peers and interests. Encourage your children to participate in a broad range of activities that interest them, outside of sport you can consider extracurriculars such as art, music or reading. You might also like to consult with your child’s school on ways to encourage greater participation and find out what support is available.

Support your child’s efforts in sport by looking for opportunities to give them positive feedback and praise. This might include telling them you love watching them play, cheering them on from the sidelines, asking questions after the game about what they learnt and what went well. As a parent or caregiver you can model positive attitudes and behaviours by encouraging values of respect, positivity and good sportsmanship. You can also help your child focus on personal effort and improvement rather than the sole element of competition or the score of the game.

If your child is struggling with emotional regulation or interacting with others, team sports can help create a safe environment for them to learn important social skills. By encouraging connectedness and building friendships, you can create open lines of communication among peers and coaching staff. This has the potential to develop into a culture of support and reduces potential stigma by showing that supporting mental wellbeing also promotes sporting excellence.

Schools play a major role in supporting young people with emotional problems and are often where symptoms of mental disorders are first identified. In addition to this, a wide variety of support services are available to assist young people, you or someone else you know. For more information or a list of national helplines and websites, please click here.