Female Athletes May Fight Less

Sports participation among girls linked to reduction in violence

(RxWiki News) The impulsiveness of the teen years means a lot of teens may take risks. Perhaps channeling this energy into sports could prevent some girls from dangerous activities.

A recent study found that fewer female teen athletes were involved in fighting or took a weapon to school, compared to girls who didn't play sports.

This trend was not found among boys, though. The common trends among boys and girls was less bullying for team sport athletes.

"Athletic activities can produce great results."

The study, led by Tamera Coyne-Beasley, MD, MPH, of the General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine department of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, looked for possible links between teens' participation on sports teams and their participation in violent activities.

The researchers pulled data from the 2011 North Carolina Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which was given to 1,820 students, aged 14 to 18.

Half of these students reported playing a school-sponsored sport, with 25 percent playing a team sport, 9 percent involved in individual sports and 17 percent participating in both.

Examples of individual sports include track or cross country events, tennis or golf.

Then the researchers looked at how many students had been involved in fighting, bullying or carrying a weapon.

Boys were equally likely to have been in a fight or carried a weapon to school, regardless of whether they played a sport or not. But trends among the girls were different.

While 14 percent of the girl athletes had been in a fight in the past year, 22 percent of the girls who didn't play sports had.

Fewer of the girls playing sports were also caught carrying a weapon to school within the previous month, compared to the girls who didn't play sports.

Six percent of the female athletes had carried a weapon to school within the previous 30 days, compared to 11 percent of the girls who didn't participate in school sports.

"Creating team environments within individual sports does lead to a more positive culture," said Jack Newman, a coach, dailyRx expert and the CEO of Austin Tennis Academy.

"At the Austin Tennis Academy, our experience in creating a team environment for an individual sport has led to much improved social skills and students who are less apt to form negative cliques," Newman said.

"Our experience has been that female athletes gain self confidence and a greater sense of positive self worth through their involvement in sport, and this stronger self image might be one explanation for the lower incidence of fighting for girls in the study," Newman added.

Overall, boys were slightly less likely to have been bullied if they played a sport, but the difference was small and primarily for team sports. A quarter of boys not playing sports at all had been bullied, compared to 20 percent of the male athletes.

The numbers were flipped for boys who only played individual sports. While 18 percent of the male athletes playing team sports had been bullied, 29 percent of the boys playing individual sports had been bullied.

This pattern appeared among the girls as well: 41 percent of girls playing an individual sport reported being bullied, compared to 32 percent of girls playing team sports.

The researchers concluded that school sports participation might make a difference for girls in reducing their participation in violent activities.

"Athletic participation may prevent involvement in violence-related activities among girls but not among boys because aggression and violence generally might be more accepted in boys' high school sports," said Dr Coyne-Beasley in a prepared statement.

She said the connection to team sports versus individual sports is worth exploring.

"Though we don't know if boys who play team sports are less likely to be the perpetrators of bullying, we know that they are less likely to be bullied," Dr. Coyne-Beasley said in the statement.

"Perhaps creating team-like environments among students such that they may feel part of a group or community could lead to less bullying."

These study findings are preliminary. It was presented at a conference and has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The research was presented May 5 at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Information regarding funding and disclosures were unavailable.

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Review Date: 
May 3, 2013
Last Updated:
November 4, 2013