The Effects of Sports on Emotional Health

Man playing game of softball

It doesn't take long to come up with a list of the benefits of playing sports. Among virtually all ages and body types, participating in sports encourages everything from cardiovascular conditioning to the ability to operate as a part of a team. While some commonly lauded benefits transcend the physical, the emotional effects of sports rarely enter the discussion. Just as the same game can strengthen your body or give you a bone fracture, sports have both positive and negative emotional effects.

Stress Reduction

Sports, from running track to playing football, serve as exercise and exercise serves as a stress reducer. Physical activities such as sports cause the brain to release chemicals neurotransmitters known as endorphins, which create euphoric feelings and reduce stress. On a simpler level, a mind focused on the game is not focused on your worries and anxieties. Playing sports also raises your body temperature, which may exert calming emotional effects.

Positive Emotional Effects

In addition to stress relief, playing sports may improve self-confidence and motivation in young athletes, according to the textbook Adolescence by Joseph Santrock. Similarly, David Rocco's Sports in Adolescence purports that team sports encourage the feelings of belonging, accomplishment and enjoyment. For adults and children alike, one positive effect of sports is simple; the act of unwinding and spending time with friends on the field, track or court can simply make you feel happy. The physical fitness that results from playing sports can also bolster your self-esteem and boost your energy levels.

Sports-Induced Stress

While the physical act of playing sports helps reduce stress, the mental act of placing too much emphasis on winning may create it. This stress, induced by pressure and expectation, may in turn lead to fatigue – known specifically as athletic burnout – or even depression. On the flip side, this emotional element may actually help prepare young players for coping with stress, defeat and performance anxiety in the adult world.

Negative Emotional Effects

It's possible that an emphasis on winning can create an unhealthy view of competition and foster feelings of aggression in adolescents, and a 2011 study conducted by the University of California at San Diego found that upset losses led to a 10 percent increase in at-home violence committed by football players against their significant others. Athletes who suffer from sport injuries commonly experience negative emotions such as boredom, depression and frustration. Sports injuries may also lead to fatigue, tension, hostility and a sense of uncertainty.