A growing body of literature has shown that youth sport participation may serve a protective function for youth, particularly those from high-risk backgrounds (Hermens et al., 2017). For instance, sport participation is positively correlated with physical activity, life skill development, academic achievement, and social and emotional learning (Holt et al., 2011). Despite strides to decrease disparities in sport participation, barriers still exist for girls, low-income families, and high-risk populations. Importantly however, another substantial body of literature has found links between sport participation and substance use, particularly among high school and university age students (Kwan et al., 2014). There is a need to evaluate this negative association among younger, vulnerable youth. The purpose of this study is to attempt to understand the disparities in the body of literature between the positive and negative impacts of sport participation.
This study is a secondary data analysis of the Johns Hopkins University Prevention, Intervention, and Research Center’s 2nd Generation dataset (JHU PIRC), a longitudinal study comprised mostly of low-income, African American youth (n = 678). Data were collected via self-report on stressful life events, sport participation, and substance use (alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, any drug use) during the middle school years (6th – 8th grades).
Preliminary results indicate a significant gender gap in sport participation with 70% of males participating in sport compared to 30% of females, X2 (1, N = 629) = 52.15, p <.001. Sport participation was associated with alcohol use (males: X2 (1, N = 342) = 3.9, p = .049; females: X2 (1, N = 273) = 6.2, p = .013) and any drug use (males: X2 (1, N = 342) = 4.7, p = .031; females: X2 (1, N = 273) = 4.5, p = .034). 66% of male athletes reported alcohol use compared to 56% of non-athletes. For females, 74% of athletes reported alcohol use compared to 58.7% of non-athletes. 72% of male athletes reported any substance use compared to 60% of non-athletes. Similarly, 76% of female athletes reported any substance use compared to 64% of non-athletes. Females who participated in sport also reported statistically higher number of stressful life events, t(256) = 2.698, p = .042, and deviant peer association, t(141.3) = -2.235, p = .027. No effects were found for tobacco use or marijuana use in this sample.
This study extended work on associations between sport participation and substance use to a younger, high risk sample of girls and boys. There is a need for more in-depth research examining disparities between the positive and negative impacts of sport participation. Mediating factors, such as quality of the sport programs should be considered.