The relationship between team sport and mental health of young people is crucial to the foundation of an international school culture that allows students to flourish

Physical and mental health are increasingly regarded as two sides of the same coin, neither can be prioritised over the other if we are in the business of developing the whole child – and team sports in particular have been shown to offer additional benefits to developing wellbeing. Looking after this balance and using team sports to develop young people is a key pillar of a Globeducate international school education.

The advantages of playing sport for a young person are plentiful – improving concentration, reducing stress and depression, encouraging healthy sleep habits and helping to maintain a healthy weight. Team sports in particular contribute to social growth and often to the development of leadership traits. Perhaps because of the opportunity to train, try, win, or lose together, young people involved in team sports are naturally more inclined to adopt a team mindset at school, in social situations and in their future work.

The team mindset leads to strong leadership qualities over time and also, research suggests, to better mental health.  A Globeducate international school education gives all pupils the opportunity to engage in sporting activities – through diverse co-curricular programmes and a strong culture of inter-school competitions, sport becomes a discreet vehicle for creating the opportunities for this mindset to develop.

Mauro González is Head of Physical Education at O Castro British School in Vigo, North West Spain. His team hosted the 7th Globeducate Olympic Games in Summer 2019 and saw the coming together of 350 students from 15 schools across the Globeducate network, from Spain, Italy, France, the UK and Portugal. He explains, “The aim of this annual event is to enjoy sport and games together, with friendly competition, to make new friends, play in teams, and to experience a new culture. A number of sporting activities were split over three days, each team accruing points as they moved through the programme with their coach. It was an unforgettable experience for all who took part and testament to the role that team experience and sport plays in our schools.

“The Ministry of Health in Spain states that health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing – and this is something we are committed to developing in our schools. Currently, due to the pandemic, teachers and coaches have had to use lots of creative thinking to continue with our holistic and stimulating experiences of team and individual sport and we have done this by maintaining regular sport that is adapted to the current regulation. To keep enjoying new things, for instance, at O Castro British School we have introduced Spikeball, a highly challenging team sport that is fashionable in the USA and has become something of an obsession during our breaktimes now!”

In 2010, Professor Dinesh Bhugra (King´s College, London), reported to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, that “in the past two decades there emerged evidence to suggest that over three quarters of the psychiatric disorders develop below the age of 25.” He went on to emphasise an inextricable link between physical health and mental health – poor physical health increases the risk of mental illness. “Positive mental health is associated  with enhanced psychosocial functioning, improved learning and academic achievement, and increased participation in community life,” he added.

In many Globeducate schools there are opportunities for participation in community life with valued social roles, such as Heads of House, Prefects, Buddies for new pupils, Eco-Schools council and of course, team sport captains and vice captains.  Marc Andreu, Sports Programme Academic Advisor for three Globeducate international schools in Spain*, says, “Combining a high-performance sport programme and an international academic programme is something we pride ourselves on – as so many of our parents choose our schools because we offer the same commitment in both areas of school life. We devote a great deal of focus and use our expertise to show the students how it can be possible to find their ideal job profile and future aspirations through looking closely at the sports they enjoy and perform best in, and we reflect with them on the attributes they exhibit through team sport. Evaluation sports performance offers great scope for self-reflection. We see how taking part in team sports and having the opportunity to play sport with other Globeducate schools cultivates a sense of competitiveness and bonding between team members.”

Of course, this year has been unusual because of Covid-19, and teams have not been able to travel. Adam Hurley, Principal of Blyth Academy Downsview Park, Toronto, a school for elite athletes, reflects on how the current restrictions have impacted on team sport and mental health. “The last eight months have been unprecedented in the lives of all members of Blyth Academy Downsview Park School for Elite Athletes. During that time, many aspects of our lives have changed – school included. We went from tightknit, caring, and creative classrooms with vibrant sports programming to learning from home. We learned that Zoom fatigue is real and that self-care is essential. While we’re excited to be back on campus, we know that this new academic year is far from normal and that self-care is more important now than ever.

“The integration of our sports training programs in Hockey, Soccer and Fitness help to improve social, emotional and physical health for our student-athletes, especially in these challenging times. Our students benefit from having the opportunity to exercise daily, providing an outlet to reduce stress and increase overall well-being. In a world where everything is constantly changing, we are proud to provide some stability for our student-athletes, providing them with an exceptional learning experience in their classrooms and in their sports. While our academic programming is very important and we pride ourselves on the quality of it, student and faculty mental health and well-being are at the forefront of our focus this year to ensure a safe, enjoyable and positive experience for everyone.”

A UK Department for Education report in 2015, titled ´Mental Health and Behaviour in Schools´,  states that poor mental health undermines educational attainment and that it is crucial for schools to address ways of preventing mental health problems. Through sport, pupils have the potential to gain inner resources that they can draw on as a buffer when negative or stressful things happen, helping them to thrive even in the face of significant challenges. The ´sense of connectedness´ they feel in belonging to a sports team or after-school sporting club, and to the wider community of the school can bolster mental health – even those pupils who are on the sidelines, supporting their team, can gain this sense of connectedness.

In 2012, Karin Monshouwer of the Trimbos Instituut in the Netherlands, and colleagues at Trimboss and VU University Medical Centre, wrote in the journal, Clinical Psychological Science, on whether psychological factors associated with exercise played a role in boosting teenagers´ mental health. She presented the idea that both self-image and social interaction are major contributors to mental health. The latter, involving social interactions, team spirit, and mutual support from team members, relates strongly to international school culture.  Monshouwer gathered and studied data on more than 7,000 Dutch students aged 11 to 16 and the results showed clearly that the teenagers who were regularly involved in organised sports were the least likely to have mental health problems. The researchers confirmed both the self-image and social interaction hypotheses. Monshouwer also emphasised that body image and social interaction were psychological factors in protecting mental health among sporty teenagers but that physiological benefits are also important – a study in May 2012 by scientists from Vermont University showed that exercise triggers neurobiological changes in the brain itself.

There is growing evidence of an inextricable link between team sports and exercise, and teenagers´ mental wellbeing, and this is a crucial part of Globeducate school life that is evaluated and closely monitored through our Platinum Standard framework for quality in our schools. We look forward to being able to reintroduce our inter-school sporting competitions and local tournaments and, in the meantime, continue to deliver individual and team sport in the most creative and engaging ways possible.

* Agora Sant Cugat International School, Agora International School Andorra  and Agora International School Barcelona. 

04 / 11 / 20