Do Teen Sports Increase Risk of Teen Drinking and Violence?

Young men who participate in team sports may be more likely to fight and drink.

ByABC News
November 6, 2009, 5:58 PM

Nov. 9, 2009— -- Conventional wisdom has always been that team sports build character, cooperation, and leadership skills. But new research suggests that being on the school football team may also be hurting your teen, especially boys.

In a study presented today at the American Public Health Association's 137th Annual Meeting and Exposition in Philadelphia, teen sports may be associated with risky behavior.

Researchers examined survey responses from 13,000 high school students concerning unhealthy behaviors such as engaging in violence, drinking and binge drinking as well as smoking.

What they found was that the young men who participated in team sports were found more likely to participate in these risky behaviors compared to those who were not involved in sports.

Conversely, young women participating in sports were found to have fewer rates of depression, marijuana use, and smoking.

"Sports team participation appears to have both protective and risk-enhancing associations," said Susan M. Connor, lead researcher on the study.

But some child development experts caution that the research does not prove that participation in organized sports causes risky behavior. George Scarlett, assistant professor of the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development at Tufts University in Boston, explains, "[These] findings are based on correlations -- and correlations never establish cause and effect.

"The impression given is that sports somehow cause risky behavior, but the correlations do not say this," he continued. "They merely say the two co-occur."

Yet others in child development agree that this finding may not be so far-fetched. Prior studies of certain sports -- particularly high-contact sports such as football -- have also shown correlations between participation and a higher likelihood of violence in males.

"Coaches, characteristics of the sport itself, local cultures, and other factors can make significant differences in how sports participation impacts kids," said Judith Myers-Walls, associate professor of Child Development and Family Studies at Purdue University in West LaFayette, Ind.