Teens who play sports fare better in school, have stronger relationships and overall are healthier, according to a new study by the Women’s Sports Foundation called “Teen Sport in America: Why Participation Matters.” And these findings are particularly true for teen girls who participate in two or more sports. But girls aren’t as involved in sports as boys (and the difference is dramatic), and different sports are rated differently for areas such as self-esteem, physical health and potential to graduate from a four-year college.
So, what sports do girls choose and what impact does that have?
The study, based on data from Monitoring the Future’s nationwide surveys of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders, found that the top sports for girls are volleyball, softball, basketball, track and field, soccer and cheerleading. The sports girls chose the least were wrestling, lacrosse, golf and football. Overall, 61 percent of girls participated in sports, compared with 75 percent of boys. And 29 percent of girls participated in two or more sports, compared to 47 percent of boys.
A national study of U.S. children and adolescents found girls were more likely to drop out of sports than boys, with 8 percent of third- through fifth-graders eliminating sports, and 16 percent of ninth- through 12th-graders. The sports kids are most likely to leave: gymnastics, volleyball, basketball, football, soccer and lacrosse.
Why do girls drop out? According to an earlier study by the foundation, they have a lack of access and opportunity to play, safety and transportation issues, especially in urban areas, and social stigma—bullying and fear of being tagged as “gay." They also might not have enough money for all the athletic equipment that's often required or recommended. Or they might not have enough of a family support system.
Why is this so important? Teens who play sports not only do better in school, but also are more likely to have high self-esteem, stronger relationships and improved physical health. Consider these facts from the research on kids who participate in sports vs. those who don’t:
• 24 percent more likely to eat breakfast
• More than four times more likely to exercise every day
• 23 percent more likely to get seven hours of sleep
• 21 percent more likely to rate themselves successful in school
• 13 percent more likely to graduate from a four-year college
And some sports have more benefits than others, according to the data.
Self-esteem, which influences so much else in adolescence, increases with sports participation—teens who participate in two or more sports have a 10 percent higher score on self-esteem than teens who don’t play any sports.
And what sports are best for self-esteem: Softball/baseball, basketball, cheerleading and soccer. What sport is ranked worse for self-esteem? Wrestling (not a big favorite for girls!). Track and field, tennis, cheerleading, soccer and weightlifting were most likely to lead to four-year colleges.
Most sports benefit physical activity and overall health, including dietary choices. And a few actually are more likely to bring out negative behavior—cigarette use, marijuana use and binge drinking.
The sports found to positively impact those behaviors are track and field, soccer and cross-country, while negative impacts were found from football, wrestling, lacrosse and ice hockey.