Youth Sports Can Be Life-Changing

Youth Sports Can Be Life-Changing—Here’s Why Everyone Should Get to Play –

On a warm October day in 2019, Rebekah Bruesehoff sprinted across a large field in New Jersey. She was gripping a yellow-and-black field hockey stick, ready to strike the ball in front of her. So far that season, her team was undefeated and Bruesehoff was excited to be part of a squad that worked together both “on and off the field,” she shared on Instagram.

“I am a midfielder. So I’m sort of in the middle of it all, which is super fun. It’s exciting, it’s fast, and we’re all working toward a common goal. And we win together, we lose together,” Bruesehoff recently told SELF.

Bruesehoff was assigned male at birth but has “deeply” known that she is a girl from a very young age. She socially transitioned by changing her name and pronouns at the age of eight—a decision that both her family and medical professionals supported. Now 16 years old, Bruesehoff is living as her authentic self. “When I’m on the field, nobody cares that I’m trans. I’m really just like any other player.”

Many young athletes feel a similar sense of happiness and belonging when they’re out on the field, court, or track with their peers, whether they’re building camaraderie through diligent training or resilience through friendly competition. It’s well-known that getting regular movement can be integral to kids’ physical and emotional well-being, yet trans youth like Bruesehoff are being systematically targeted by state lawmakers through a wave of bills that attack trans rights, including trans kids’ access to sports.

Currently 22 states ban trans students from simply existing as themselves while participating in the sport they love, according to the Movement Advancement Project. A law in Texas, for example, requires a student to play on a sports team that corresponds with the sex listed on their birth certificate, which must have been issued near the time they were born.

Conservative lawmakers are also targeting trans youth, particularly trans girls, at a national level. In April, the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce passed the so-called Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act. The bill would amend Title IX—a civil rights law that prohibits schools that receive federal funding from discriminating based on sex—and require students to compete in sports “based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth.”

As a society, we’ve generally agreed that sports are positive, healthy, and valuable activities that contribute to a well-rounded educational experience for kids, says Elizabeth Meyer, PhD, an associate professor who researches gender and sexual diversity in K–12 schools at the University of Colorado Boulder. So it is vital that all kids are welcomed and accommodated, she tells SELF. Here are just a few of the many reasons that politicians should take a back seat and let them play.

Trying a sport is often a fun way for kids to stay active.

Sprinting around bases as a crowd cheers, shooting the game-winning basket, and spiking a volleyball with everything you’ve got don’t always feel like a grueling gym workout. Sports can make exercise feel exciting, and that’s crucial during kids’ formative years.

All young people deserve to experience the bodywide benefits of heart-pumping movement. In fact, a study published in the journal Sports Medicine – Open this year highlights some of the perks of that early exercise: Researchers in Brazil found that rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, and dyslipidemia (or the imbalance of fats like cholesterol) were lower in adults who reported playing sports as kids compared to those who didn’t, regardless of their current activity levels.

A 2018 study published in the Journal of Mineral and Bone Research also found that young adults who regularly played sports between the ages of 5 and 17 were more likely to have increased “bone mineral content”—which generally translates to stronger bones—than their less athletic peers. Not only does that help set a foundation for healthy development, but it can also potentially prevent major pain later in life. The researchers noted that having “optimal” bone mass as a young adult can help protect young folks against diseases like osteoporosis and fractures as they get older.

There’s also the issue of sleep—an especially important one for teens, the majority of whom clock in far fewer hours than the recommended 8 to 10 per night. We’ve all felt the effects of a late night, and you likely remember it hitting you particularly hard in, say, history class as your teacher droned about ancient Rome. Because students can’t control their schools’ start times—which experts say are often too early—the cycle of exhaustion can be hard to break and can set the stage for poor grades, drowsy driving, substance use, anxiety, and depression. It’s evident that regular exercise helps people doze off quickly and improves sleep quality, and sports can be one way into that restorative movement.

Sports can be an emotional lifeline for many young folks too.

Anyone who has ever lived and breathed and just truly loved a sport knows that it’s all about how it makes you feel. This can look like achieving a new PR, learning how to lose gracefully, working through emotional setbacks like injuries, or just feeling a confidence boost and developing higher self-esteem when collaborating with or leading a team. Beyond the physical boost, kids who play sports also tend to experience less anxiety and reduced stress—daunting emotions that creep in when homework gets more challenging and the pressure to fit in and keep up with a robust social life becomes very real.

“The resilience that I learned in sport as a young athlete is the same resilience that I need every day of my life as a trans person,” Chris Mosier, who is the first trans athlete to represent the United States in international competition and to qualify for the Olympic Trials, tells SELF. Mosier stresses that playing volleyball, basketball, and softball in high school was “not just fun, it was lifesaving for me.” For many people, sports are solace when life gets dark. The track, field, pool, rink—they’re safe places to burn negative energy, laugh with your friends, and just get out of your head.

This is vital for LGBTQ+ youth in particular, who face a heightened risk of mental health concerns, discrimination, and violence. More than 80% of LGBTQ+ students experienced in-person harassment and assault at school, according to a 2021 national survey. In fact, many queer kids report hearing school employees, including their teachers—mentors they’re supposed to feel safe with—use antigay language.

They’re also more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their cisgender peers; the Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ+ folks between the ages of 13 to 24 seriously consider suicide each year in the US. And these risks are especially pronounced among trans and nonbinary youth, who are 2 to 2.5 times as likely to experience depression and seriously consider or attempt suicide compared to their LGBTQ+ peers.

Kids who play a team sport, however, are less likely to report feeling persistent sadness or hopelessness or having suicidal thoughts, according to a 2022 study of more than 46,000 high school students of varying gender identities in Colorado. The researchers noted that regular physical activity can help reduce the risk of depression, but more importantly, participating in team sports helps young folks build strong, supportive social circles.

Meaning, it helps you find your people. “Sport was my safe place,” Mosier says. “I could be myself.”

Playing on a team fosters connection and community.

The unfortunate reality is that many trans kids don’t have a safe home where they can be their authentic selves. In fact, 16% of LGBTQ+ youth have reported sleeping outside of their homes because they ran away—and more than half of these kids made that tough decision because they feared their parents or other caregivers would mistreat them simply for being who they are, according to a 2021 survey by the Trevor Project. Of the 14% of LGBTQ+ youth who reported being kicked out of their homes by their caregivers, 40% cited their identity as the reason for this abandonment.

LGBTQ+ students are also less likely to participate in school sports than their cis peers, in part because they may feel socially excluded or unsafe, according to a report by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). During gym class, many young LGBTQ+ students report being bullied because of their sexuality or gender expression, leading them to avoid locker rooms or school athletic fields and facilities altogether.

Yet those who do participate in sports—and feel welcomed in these spaces—have a higher sense of well-being and belonging in school, research shows. “When you’re on a team, you’re all in it together, you’re hyping each other up, you’re supporting each other through ups and downs, through wins and losses,” Sivan, an 18-year-old soccer player in Massachusetts, recently told SELF. And you’re developing these really strong relationships and a sense of belonging and community. I really feel that there’s truly nothing quite like experiencing this beautiful, almost magical sense of belonging that I’ve experienced being involved with sports.”

“The fact that I happen to be transgender doesn’t matter at all,” he said. “What does matter is that I’m playing my hardest and working with my team.”

Exclusionary practices in sports harm all kids, not just trans youth.

Regardless of these clear benefits, legislation that blocks trans and nonbinary youth from participating in school sports is on the rise.

These exclusionary practices against trans athletes have the potential to harm everyone—including cis kidsTravers, PhD, a professor of sociology who studies trans youth, sports, and social justice at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, tells SELF. “It reinforces the gender norms that cisgender girls and cisgender boys are [also] subject to,” they explain. This includes things like feeling the pressure to have a “feminine” haircut as a girl, “masculine” clothes as a guy, and hobbies that are not too “girly” or “boyish.”

The legislation also potentially invites dangerous gender policing through tactics such as genital inspections, which have been proposed in anti-trans bills for K–12 sports in Ohio (though these inspections were later removed from the Ohio legislation). These types of invasive procedures have a long and sordid history. In 1936 at the Berlin Olympics, for example, there were rumors that track athlete Helen Stephens was a man, and she was forced to undergo a genital inspection before her event. By 1966, sports officials had implemented a mandatory genital check of every woman competing in the international games. (The mandate was intensely criticized by the public, so it evolved into chromosome testing and eventually hormone testing. In 2021, the International Olympic Committee announced a framework—guidelines, not laws—that encourages international sports federations to avoid unnecessary, invasive medical testing in order to determine an athlete’s eligibility to play.)

In Utah, a similar policing of female athletes happened in 2022. One athlete was secretly investigated by the high school athletics association after the parents of two girls whom the athlete had defeated suggested she was transgender. Other complaints against female athletes that were brought forward to the athletics association—none of which were verified—included “when an athlete doesn’t look feminine enough.”

Ultimately, failing to adopt inclusive policies for all kids in sports conveys a message that discrimination is no big deal, which can “undermine team unity and also encourage divisiveness by policing who is ‘really’ a girl,” Helen Carroll, former director of the Sports Project of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, wrote in response to Idaho’s anti-trans Fairness in Women’s Sports Act.

These bans are not about trans people taking over women’s sports—they’re part of a continued effort to legislate trans people out of existence, Mosier says. “Lawmakers singling out trans people, particularly kids, is wrong. Sports should be open to all youth.”

Trans kids deserve to live healthy, active lives and feel safe, supported, and validated. They are just kids who want to play with their friends, Dr. Meyer stresses. “That’s all it is.”

Don’t miss: 15 High-Protein Lunch Ideas That Keep You Full

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like

The #1 Daily Walking Workout for Women to Get Fit

The #1 Daily Walking Workout for Women to Get Fit – If…

The 10-Minute Dumbbells Workout for Chicken Wing Arms

The 10-Minute Dumbbells Workout for Chicken Wing Arms – Dealing with excess…

7 Exercises To Build Up Your Core if You Hate Sit-Ups

7 Exercises To Build Up Your Core if You Hate Sit-Ups –…

Testosterone Treatments Aren’t Linked to Heart Risks When Patients Are Carefully Monitored, Study Finds

Advertisements for treatments for “low T,” or low testosterone levels in middle-aged…