Team versus individual sports participation in adolescence and depressive symptoms in early adulthood


Participation in school sport during adolescence has been linked to positive mental health in early adulthood (Jewett et al, 2014). However, little is known about the influence of various sport contexts on mental health outcomes (e.g., depressive symptoms) over time. Drawing from a social interaction hypothesis (Lox et al, 2010), team sport participation may be more protective of depressive symptoms compared to individual sport due to the social nature of participation (Eime et al, 2013). This hypothesis has not been tested empirically. The purpose of this study was to examine the association between participation in team or individual sport during adolescence and depressive symptoms in early adulthood. Over five years of adolescence, participants (n = 860; 54% female) reported on organized team and individual sport involvement. Three years later, participants (Mage = 20 ± .75 years) reported depressive symptoms (Bech et al, 2001). ANOVA and linear regression models were used to analyze the data. The correlation between team and individual sport participation was r=0.22. Based on the ANOVA results, participants who were not involved in team sports reported significantly (p<.05) higher depressive symptoms (M = 11.1 ± 9.0) compared to adolescents who participated in team sport consistently during adolescence (5 years; M = 8.8 ± 7.4). In the regression model controlling for sex, age, and parental education, team, but not individual, sport participation during adolescence was a significant negative predictor of depressive symptoms (R2=0.07, p<.05) in early adulthood. Consistent team sport participation throughout adolescence may have a protective effect against depressive symptoms in early adulthood more so than individual sport participation. As such, specific sport contexts may have differential effects on mental health. The mechanisms underlying these effects warrant further investigation.