Sports Participation and Social Skills: Do Children Get Along More and Bully Less?

Monday, October 28, 2013: 11:50 AM
Plaza International Ballroom E-F (Hyatt Regency Orlando, formerly the Peabody)
Alison J. Riese, MD, Alpert Medical School/Brown University/Rhode Island Hospital, Providence, RI

Purpose: Youth participation in organized sports is endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and thought to positively influence the physical and social-emotional development of children.  Documented benefits of sports participation include increased school attachment, academic performance, self-esteem and mental health, and physical/nutritional status.  However, recent research has shed light on negative outcomes, particularly aggression and risk-taking behaviors. This study aims to examine the relationship between sports participation and the presence of positive social skills, as well as its association with bullying behaviors.

Methods: We used data from the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health to analyze 64,076 interviews conducted with parent/guardians of nationally representative sample of children ages 6 to 17 years old.  We defined sports participation based on parental report of involvement with a sports team or lessons in the past 12 months, adjusting negative responses to exclude those with involvement in other clubs/activities.  We derived the outcome of positive social skills from the validated scale of social skills competency included within the survey.  We operationalized the presence of bullying behaviors from parental report of bullying or being cruel/mean to others.  We performed bivariate analyses and logistic regression to characterize the association between sports participation status and our two dependent variables, positive social skills and the presence of bullying behaviors.

Results: Fifty-eight percent of children ages 6 to 17 were involved in sports. Parents/guardians reported presence of good social skills in 57% of children, while 15% were reported to have bullying behaviors.  Adjusting for age, gender, race, and socioeconomic status, children participating in sports had 73% higher odds of having good social skills compared to those who did not participate in any extracurricular activity (odds ratio 1.73, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.51-1.98).  Additionally, those who participated in sports had 30% lower odds of bullying behaviors than those who did not participate (OR 0.70, 95% CI 0.58-0.83). When stratified by race/ethnicity, the relationship between sports and social skills persisted, however, the relationship was weaker for non-Hispanic black and Hispanic children (OR 1.22, 95% CI 0.91-1.63 & OR 1.33, 95% CI 0.94-1.89, respectively) compared to non-Hispanic white children (OR 1.70, 95% CI 1.43-2.02). The odds of bullying behaviors in children participating in sports compared to those who do not participate was lowest in non-Hispanic white children (OR 0.56, 95% CI 0.43-0.73) versus non-Hispanic black children (OR 0.76, 95% CI 0.56-1.02) and the relationship was absent in Hispanic children (OR 1.02, 95% CI 0.68-1.53).

Conclusion: Sports participation is significantly associated with the presence of greater social skills and decreased bullying behaviors. These findings suggest that sports-related programs may have protective value in the prevention of bullying and youth violence. However, prospective studies must occur to demonstrate a causal relationship.