As a parent, you’re always wondering what more you can do to support your kids’ overall well-being, including as your child enters their teenage years. Adolescence comes with a lot of change, particularly psychologically and mentally. One strategy to easily support your teen’s mental health is to encourage them to play a sport (if they don’t already). If your teen does play a sport, continue reading to learn about how playing sports can affect your teen’s mental health.

Psychological, Cognitive, And Mental Benefits

While playing sports certainly benefits teens’ physical health, it comes with a host of benefits for their psychological, mental, and emotional well-being. Research shows that sports and other forms of exercise can work as effectively as medication in treating mental illness in teens, its benefits lasting months (or years) longer than medication alone.

Studies show teens who play a sport report lower rates of stress, anxiety, depression, and suicidal behavior. Beyond that, these individuals are less likely to engage in reckless behaviors, including substance abuse. Perhaps this is because participation in team sports is linked with a higher degree of executive functioning and self-regulation.

On a chemical and physiological level, exercise boosts serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin regulates mental health by stimulating norepinephrine production, which improves overall mood. Plus, playing sports and other physical activities induces endorphin release while reducing cortisol levels. Endorphins are our brain’s “happy” hormones, while cortisol is our body’s stress hormone.


Other Benefits of Playing Sports

On a social and behavioral level, playing a sport can benefit your teen’s development in a myriad of ways that they may not even realize. Team sports help adolescents build self-esteem and grow their teamwork skills. Play a sport can help your teen practice teamwork, collaboration, and bonding with their peers.

Being part of a sports team in high school can encourage your teen to “come out of their shell” too. The engagement and support they will receive and the challenges they will face will teach your teen resilience, accountability, and empathy. On a logical level, more time spent playing a sport or exercising means less time spent on social media–one of the most addictive things teens have access to.

Exercise As Recovery

In terms of mental health and mental illness, sports can help prevent and mediate symptoms of anxiety and depression in teens. Beyond that, consistent exercise aids in recovery from these conditions, among others, like substance abuse or certain addictions.


Addictive substances like nicotine, alcohol, prescription drugs, and illicit drugs stimulate the reward center in the brain by increasing the brain’s dopamine levels. For teens struggling with addiction, exercising or playing a sport can help them find a more productive way to manage cravings and mimic the dopamine rush that substances induce.

Key Takeaways

Ultimately, sports and physical activity can significantly support teens’ mental health. That being said, the benefits sports provide may not always be enough for some teens. In other words, if your teen is struggling with anxiety, depression, addiction, or any other mental health concern, talk to your child and seek treatment before their condition worsens. Though exercise is by no means a cure-all for teen mental health, it can pave the way for a healthy adolescence and transition into adulthood.