• Systematic review update
  • Open access
  • Published: 21 June 2023

The impact of sports participation on mental health and social outcomes in adults: a systematic review and the ‘Mental Health through Sport’ conceptual model

  • Narelle Eather   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-6320-4540 1 , 2 ,
  • Levi Wade   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-4007-5336 1 , 3 ,
  • Aurélie Pankowiak   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-0178-513X 4 &
  • Rochelle Eime   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-8614-2813 4 , 5  

Systematic Reviews volume  12 , Article number:  102 ( 2023 ) Cite this article

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Sport is a subset of physical activity that can be particularly beneficial for short-and-long-term physical and mental health, and social outcomes in adults. This study presents the results of an updated systematic review of the mental health and social outcomes of community and elite-level sport participation for adults. The findings have informed the development of the ‘Mental Health through Sport’ conceptual model for adults.

Nine electronic databases were searched, with studies published between 2012 and March 2020 screened for inclusion. Eligible qualitative and quantitative studies reported on the relationship between sport participation and mental health and/or social outcomes in adult populations. Risk of bias (ROB) was determined using the Quality Assessment Tool (quantitative studies) or Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (qualitative studies).

The search strategy located 8528 articles, of which, 29 involving adults 18–84 years were included for analysis. Data was extracted for demographics, methodology, and study outcomes, and results presented according to study design. The evidence indicates that participation in sport (community and elite) is related to better mental health, including improved psychological well-being (for example, higher self-esteem and life satisfaction) and lower psychological ill-being (for example, reduced levels of depression, anxiety, and stress), and improved social outcomes (for example, improved self-control, pro-social behavior, interpersonal communication, and fostering a sense of belonging). Overall, adults participating in team sport had more favorable health outcomes than those participating in individual sport, and those participating in sports more often generally report the greatest benefits; however, some evidence suggests that adults in elite sport may experience higher levels of psychological distress. Low ROB was observed for qualitative studies, but quantitative studies demonstrated inconsistencies in methodological quality.

Conclusions

The findings of this review confirm that participation in sport of any form (team or individual) is beneficial for improving mental health and social outcomes amongst adults. Team sports, however, may provide more potent and additional benefits for mental and social outcomes across adulthood. This review also provides preliminary evidence for the Mental Health through Sport model, though further experimental and longitudinal evidence is needed to establish the mechanisms responsible for sports effect on mental health and moderators of intervention effects. Additional qualitative work is also required to gain a better understanding of the relationship between specific elements of the sporting environment and mental health and social outcomes in adult participants.

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Introduction

The organizational structure of sport and the performance demands characteristic of sport training and competition provide a unique opportunity for participants to engage in health-enhancing physical activity of varied intensity, duration, and mode; and the opportunity to do so with other people as part of a team and/or club. Participation in individual and team sports have shown to be beneficial to physical, social, psychological, and cognitive health outcomes [ 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 , 6 , 7 ]. Often, the social and mental health benefits facilitated through participation in sport exceed those achieved through participation in other leisure-time or recreational activities [ 8 , 9 , 10 ]. Notably, these benefits are observed across different sports and sub-populations (including youth, adults, older adults, males, and females) [ 11 ]. However, the evidence regarding sports participation at the elite level is limited, with available research indicating that elite athletes may be more susceptible to mental health problems, potentially due to the intense mental and physical demands placed on elite athletes [ 12 ].

Participation in sport varies across the lifespan, with children representing the largest cohort to engage in organized community sport [ 13 ]. Across adolescence and into young adulthood, dropout from organized sport is common, and especially for females [ 14 , 15 , 16 ], and adults are shifting from organized sports towards leisure and fitness activities, where individual activities (including swimming, walking, and cycling) are the most popular [ 13 , 17 , 18 , 19 ]. Despite the general decline in sport participation with age [ 13 ], the most recent (pre-COVID) global data highlights that a range of organized team sports (such as, basketball, netball volleyball, and tennis) continue to rank highly amongst adult sport participants, with soccer remaining a popular choice across all regions of the world [ 13 ]. It is encouraging many adults continue to participate in sport and physical activities throughout their lives; however, high rates of dropout in youth sport and non-participation amongst adults means that many individuals may be missing the opportunity to reap the potential health benefits associated with participation in sport.

According to the World Health Organization, mental health refers to a state of well-being and effective functioning in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, is resilient to the stresses of life, and is able to make a positive contribution to his or her community [ 20 ]. Mental health covers three main components, including psychological, emotional and social health [ 21 ]. Further, psychological health has two distinct indicators, psychological well-being (e.g., self-esteem and quality of life) and psychological ill-being (e.g., pre-clinical psychological states such as psychological difficulties and high levels of stress) [ 22 ]. Emotional well-being describes how an individual feels about themselves (including life satisfaction, interest in life, loneliness, and happiness); and social well–being includes an individual’s contribution to, and integration in society [ 23 ].

Mental illnesses are common among adults and incidence rates have remained consistently high over the past 25 years (~ 10% of people affected globally) [ 24 ]. Recent statistics released by the World Health Organization indicate that depression and anxiety are the most common mental disorders, affecting an estimated 264 million people, ranking as one of the main causes of disability worldwide [ 25 , 26 ]. Specific elements of social health, including high levels of isolation and loneliness among adults, are now also considered a serious public health concern due to the strong connections with ill-health [ 27 ]. Participation in sport has shown to positively impact mental and social health status, with a previous systematic review by Eime et al. (2013) indicated that sports participation was associated with lower levels of perceived stress, and improved vitality, social functioning, mental health, and life satisfaction [ 1 ]. Based on their findings, the authors developed a conceptual model (health through sport) depicting the relationship between determinants of adult sports participation and physical, psychological, and social health benefits of participation. In support of Eime’s review findings, Malm and colleagues (2019) recently described how sport aids in preventing or alleviating mental illness, including depressive symptoms and anxiety or stress-related disease [ 7 ]. Andersen (2019) also highlighted that team sports participation is associated with decreased rates of depression and anxiety [ 11 ]. In general, these reviews report stronger effects for sports participation compared to other types of physical activity, and a dose–response relationship between sports participation and mental health outcomes (i.e., higher volume and/or intensity of participation being associated with greater health benefits) when adults participate in sports they enjoy and choose [ 1 , 7 ]. Sport is typically more social than other forms of physical activity, including enhanced social connectedness, social support, peer bonding, and club support, which may provide some explanation as to why sport appears to be especially beneficial to mental and social health [ 28 ].

Thoits (2011) proposed several potential mechanisms through which social relationships and social support improve physical and psychological well-being [ 29 ]; however, these mechanisms have yet to be explored in the context of sports participation at any level in adults. The identification of the mechanisms responsible for such effects may direct future research in this area and help inform future policy and practice in the delivery of sport to enhance mental health and social outcomes amongst adult participants. Therefore, the primary objective of this review was to examine and synthesize all research findings regarding the relationship between sports participation, mental health and social outcomes at the community and elite level in adults. Based on the review findings, the secondary objective was to develop the ‘Mental Health through Sport’ conceptual model.

This review has been registered in the PROSPERO systematic review database and assigned the identifier: CRD42020185412. The conduct and reporting of this systematic review also follows the Preferred Reporting for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines [ 30 ] (PRISMA flow diagram and PRISMA Checklist available in supplementary files ). This review is an update of a previous review of the same topic [ 31 ], published in 2012.

Identification of studies

Nine electronic databases (CINAHL, Cochrane Library, Google Scholar, Informit, Medline, PsychINFO, Psychology and Behavioural Sciences Collection, Scopus, and SPORTDiscus) were systematically searched for relevant records published from 2012 to March 10, 2020. The following key terms were developed by all members of the research team (and guided by previous reviews) and entered into these databases by author LW: sport* AND health AND value OR benefit* OR effect* OR outcome* OR impact* AND psych* OR depress* OR stress OR anxiety OR happiness OR mood OR ‘quality of life’ OR ‘social health’ OR ‘social relation*’ OR well* OR ‘social connect*’ OR ‘social functioning’ OR ‘life satisfac*’ OR ‘mental health’ OR social OR sociolog* OR affect* OR enjoy* OR fun. Where possible, Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) were also used.

Criteria for inclusion/exclusion

The titles of studies identified using this method were screened by LW. Abstract and full text of the articles were reviewed independently by LW and NE. To be included in the current review, each study needed to meet each of the following criteria: (1) published in English from 2012 to 2020; (2) full-text available online; (3) original research or report published in a peer-reviewed journal; (4) provides data on the psychological or social effects of participation in sport (with sport defined as a subset of exercise that can be undertaken individually or as a part of a team, where participants adhere to a common set of rules or expectations, and a defined goal exists); (5) the population of interest were adults (18 years and older) and were apparently healthy. All papers retrieved in the initial search were assessed for eligibility by title and abstract. In cases where a study could not be included or excluded via their title and abstract, the full text of the article was reviewed independently by two of the authors.

Data extraction

For the included studies, the following data was extracted independently by LW and checked by NE using a customized Google Docs spreadsheet: author name, year of publication, country, study design, aim, type of sport (e.g., tennis, hockey, team, individual), study conditions/comparisons, sample size, where participants were recruited from, mean age of participants, measure of sports participation, measure of physical activity, psychological and/or social outcome/s, measure of psychological and/or social outcome/s, statistical method of analysis, changes in physical activity or sports participation, and the psychological and/or social results.

Risk of bias (ROB) assessment

A risk of bias was performed by LW and AP independently using the ‘Quality Assessment Tool for Observational Cohort and Cross-Sectional Studies’ OR the ‘Quality Assessment of Controlled Intervention Studies’ for the included quantitative studies, and the ‘Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP) Checklist for the included qualitative studies [ 32 , 33 ]. Any discrepancies in the ROB assessments were discussed between the two reviewers, and a consensus reached.

The search yielded 8528 studies, with a total of 29 studies included in the systematic review (Fig.  1 ). Tables  1 and 2 provide a summary of the included studies. The research included adults from 18 to 84 years old, with most of the evidence coming from studies targeting young adults (18–25 years). Study samples ranged from 14 to 131, 962, with the most reported psychological outcomes being self-rated mental health ( n  = 5) and depression ( n  = 5). Most studies did not investigate or report the link between a particular sport and a specific mental health or social outcome; instead, the authors’ focused on comparing the impact of sport to physical activity, and/or individual sports compared to team sports. The results of this review are summarized in the following section, with findings presented by study design (cross-sectional, experimental, and longitudinal).

figure 1

Flow of studies through the review process

Effects of sports participation on psychological well-being, ill-being, and social outcomes

Cross-sectional evidence.

This review included 14 studies reporting on the cross-sectional relationship between sports participation and psychological and/or social outcomes. Sample sizes range from n  = 414 to n  = 131,962 with a total of n  = 239,394 adults included across the cross-sectional studies.

The cross-sectional evidence generally supports that participation in sport, and especially team sports, is associated with greater mental health and psychological wellbeing in adults compared to non-participants [ 36 , 59 ]; and that higher frequency of sports participation and/or sport played at a higher level of competition, are also linked to lower levels of mental distress in adults . This was not the case for one specific study involving ice hockey players aged 35 and over, with Kitchen and Chowhan (2016) Kitchen and Chowhan (2016) reporting no relationship between participation in ice hockey and either mental health, or perceived life stress [ 54 ]. There is also some evidence to support that previous participation in sports (e.g., during childhood or young adulthood) is linked to better mental health outcomes later in life, including improved mental well-being and lower mental distress [ 59 ], even after controlling for age and current physical activity.

Compared to published community data for adults, elite or high-performance adult athletes demonstrated higher levels of body satisfaction, self-esteem, and overall life satisfaction [ 39 ]; and reported reduced tendency to respond to distress with anger and depression. However, rates of psychological distress were higher in the elite sport cohort (compared to community norms), with nearly 1 in 5 athletes reporting ‘high to very high’ distress, and 1 in 3 reporting poor mental health symptoms at a level warranting treatment by a health professional in one study ( n  = 749) [ 39 ].

Four studies focused on the associations between physical activity and sports participation and mental health outcomes in older adults. Physical activity was associated with greater quality of life [ 56 ], with the relationship strongest for those participating in sport in middle age, and for those who cycled in later life (> 65) [ 56 ]. Group physical activities (e.g., walking groups) and sports (e.g., golf) were also significantly related to excellent self-rated health, low depressive symptoms, high health-related quality of life (HRQoL) and a high frequency of laughter in males and females [ 60 , 61 ]. No participation or irregular participation in sport was associated with symptoms of mild to severe depression in older adults [ 62 ].

Several cross-sectional studies examined whether the effects of physical activity varied by type (e.g., total physical activity vs. sports participation). In an analysis of 1446 young adults (mean age = 18), total physical activity, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, and team sport were independently associated with mental health [ 46 ]. Relative to individual physical activity, after adjusting for covariates and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA), only team sport was significantly associated with improved mental health. Similarly, in a cross-sectional analysis of Australian women, Eime, Harvey, Payne (2014) reported that women who engaged in club and team-based sports (tennis or netball) reported better mental health and life satisfaction than those who engaged in individual types of physical activity [ 47 ]. Interestingly, there was no relationship between the amount of physical activity and either of these outcomes, suggesting that other qualities of sports participation contribute to its relationship to mental health and life satisfaction. There was also some evidence to support a relationship between exercise type (ball sports, aerobic activity, weightlifting, and dancing), and mental health amongst young adults (mean age 22 years) [ 48 ], with ball sports and dancing related to fewer symptoms of depression in students with high stress; and weightlifting related to fewer depressive symptoms in weightlifters exhibiting low stress.

Longitudinal evidence

Eight studies examined the longitudinal relationship between sports participation and either mental health and/or social outcomes. Sample sizes range from n  = 113 to n  = 1679 with a total of n  = 7022 adults included across the longitudinal studies.

Five of the included longitudinal studies focused on the relationship between sports participation in childhood or adolescence and mental health in young adulthood. There is evidence that participation in sport in high-school is protective of future symptoms of anxiety (including panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, social phobia, and agoraphobia) [ 42 ]. Specifically, after controlling for covariates (including current physical activity), the number of years of sports participation in high school was shown to be protective of symptoms of panic and agoraphobia in young adulthood, but not protective of symptoms of social phobia or generalized anxiety disorder [ 42 ]. A comparison of individual or team sports participation also revealed that participation in either context was protective of panic disorder symptoms, while only team sport was protective of agoraphobia symptoms, and only individual sport was protective of social phobia symptoms. Furthermore, current and past sports team participation was shown to negatively relate to adult depressive symptoms [ 43 ]; drop out of sport was linked to higher depressive symptoms in adulthood compared to those with maintained participation [ 9 , 22 , 63 ]; and consistent participation in team sports (but not individual sport) in adolescence was linked to higher self-rated mental health, lower perceived stress and depressive symptoms, and lower depression scores in early adulthood [ 53 , 58 ].

Two longitudinal studies [ 35 , 55 ], also investigated the association between team and individual playing context and mental health. Dore and colleagues [ 35 ] reported that compared to individual activities, being active in informal groups (e.g., yoga, running groups) or team sports was associated with better mental health, fewer depressive symptoms and higher social connectedness – and that involvement in team sports was related to better mental health regardless of physical activity volume. Kim and James [ 55 ] discovered that sports participation led to both short and long-term improvements in positive affect and life satisfaction.

A study on social outcomes related to mixed martial-arts (MMA) and Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) showed that both sports improved practitioners’ self-control and pro-social behavior, with greater improvements seen in the BJJ group [ 62 ]. Notably, while BJJ reduced participants’ reported aggression, there was a slight increase in MMA practitioners, though it is worth mentioning that individuals who sought out MMA had higher levels of baseline aggression.

Experimental evidence

Six of the included studies were experimental or quasi-experimental. Sample sizes ranged from n  = 28 to n  = 55 with a total of n  = 239 adults included across six longitudinal studies. Three studies involved a form of martial arts (such as judo and karate) [ 45 , 51 , 52 ], one involved a variety of team sports (such as netball, soccer, and cricket) [ 34 ], and the remaining two focused on badminton [ 57 ] and handball [ 49 ].

Brinkley and colleagues [ 34 ] reported significant effects on interpersonal communication (but not vitality, social cohesion, quality of life, stress, or interpersonal relationships) for participants ( n  = 40) engaging in a 12-week workplace team sports intervention. Also using a 12-week intervention, Hornstrup et al. [ 49 ] reported a significant improvement in mental energy (but not well-being or anxiety) in young women (mean age = 24; n  = 28) playing in a handball program. Patterns et al. [ 57 ] showed that in comparison to no exercise, participation in an 8-week badminton or running program had no significant improvement on self-esteem, despite improvements in perceived and actual fitness levels.

Three studies examined the effect of martial arts on the mental health of older adults (mean ages 79 [ 52 ], 64 [ 51 ], and 70 [ 45 ] years). Participation in Karate-Do had positive effects on overall mental health, emotional wellbeing, depression and anxiety when compared to other activities (physical, cognitive, mindfulness) and a control group [ 51 , 52 ]. Ciaccioni et al. [ 45 ] found that a Judo program did not affect either the participants’ mental health or their body satisfaction, citing a small sample size, and the limited length of the intervention as possible contributors to the findings.

Qualitative evidence

Three studies interviewed current or former sports players regarding their experiences with sport. Chinkov and Holt [ 41 ] reported that jiu-jitsu practitioners (mean age 35 years) were more self-confident in their lives outside of the gym, including improved self-confidence in their interactions with others because of their training. McGraw and colleagues [ 37 ] interviewed former and current National Football League (NFL) players and their families about its impact on the emotional and mental health of the players. Most of the players reported that their NFL career provided them with social and emotional benefits, as well as improvements to their self-esteem even after retiring. Though, despite these benefits, almost all the players experienced at least one mental health challenge during their career, including depression, anxiety, or difficulty controlling their temper. Some of the players and their families reported that they felt socially isolated from people outside of the national football league.

Through a series of semi-structured interviews and focus groups, Thorpe, Anders [ 40 ] investigated the impact of an Aboriginal male community sporting team on the health of its players. The players reported they felt a sense of belonging when playing in the team, further noting that the social and community aspects were as important as the physical health benefits. Participating in the club strengthened the cultural identity of the players, enhancing their well-being. The players further noted that participation provided them with enjoyment, stress relief, a sense of purpose, peer support, and improved self-esteem. Though they also noted challenges, including the presence of racism, community conflict, and peer-pressure.

Quality of studies

Full details of our risk of bias (ROB) results are provided in Supplementary Material A . Of the three qualitative studies assessed using the Critical Appraisal Skills Program (CASP), all three were deemed to have utilised and reported appropriate methodological standards on at least 8 of the 10 criteria. Twenty studies were assessed using the Quality Assessment Tool for Observational Cohort and Cross-Sectional Studies, with all studies clearly reporting the research question/s or objective/s and study population. However, only four studies provided a justification for sample size, and less than half of the studies met quality criteria for items 6, 7, 9, or 10 (and items 12 and 13 were largely not applicable). Of concern, only four of the observational or cohort studies were deemed to have used clearly defined, valid, and reliable exposure measures (independent variables) and implemented them consistently across all study participants. Six studies were assessed using the Quality Assessment of Controlled Intervention Studies, with three studies described as a randomized trial (but none of the three reported a suitable method of randomization, concealment of treatment allocation, or blinding to treatment group assignment). Three studies showed evidence that study groups were similar at baseline for important characteristics and an overall drop-out rate from the study < 20%. Four studies reported high adherence to intervention protocols (with two not reporting) and five demonstrated that.study outcomes were assessed using valid and reliable measures and implemented consistently across all study participants. Importantly, researchers did not report or have access to validated instruments for assessing sport participation or physical activity amongst adults, though most studies provided psychometrics for their mental health outcome measure/s. Only one study reported that the sample size was sufficiently powered to detect a difference in the main outcome between groups (with ≥ 80% power) and that all participants were included in the analysis of results (intention-to-treat analysis). In general, the methodological quality of the six randomised studies was deemed low.

Initially, our discussion will focus on the review findings regarding sports participation and well-being, ill-being, and psychological health. However, the heterogeneity and methodological quality of the included research (especially controlled trials) should be considered during the interpretation of our results. Considering our findings, the Mental Health through Sport conceptual model for adults will then be presented and discussed and study limitations outlined.

Sports participation and psychological well-being

In summary, the evidence presented here indicates that for adults, sports participation is associated with better overall mental health [ 36 , 46 , 47 , 59 ], mood [ 56 ], higher life satisfaction [ 39 , 47 ], self-esteem [ 39 ], body satisfaction [ 39 ], HRQoL [ 60 ], self-rated health [ 61 ], and frequency of laughter [ 61 ]. Sports participation has also shown to be predictive of better psychological wellbeing over time [ 35 , 53 ], higher positive affect [ 55 ], and greater life satisfaction [ 55 ]. Furthermore, higher frequency of sports participation and/or sport played at a higher level of competition, have been linked to lower levels of mental distress, higher levels of body satisfaction, self-esteem, and overall life satisfaction in adults [ 39 ].

Despite considerable heterogeneity of sports type, cross-sectional and experimental research indicate that team-based sports participation, compared to individual sports and informal group physical activity, has a more positive effect on mental energy [ 49 ], physical self-perception [ 57 ], and overall psychological health and well-being in adults, regardless of physical activity volume [ 35 , 46 , 47 ]. And, karate-do benefits the subjective well-being of elderly practitioners [ 51 , 52 ]. Qualitative research in this area has queried participants’ experiences of jiu-jitsu, Australian football, and former and current American footballers. Participants in these sports reported that their participation was beneficial for psychological well-being [ 37 , 40 , 41 ], improved self-esteem [ 37 , 40 , 41 ], and enjoyment [ 37 ].

Sports participation and psychological ill-being

Of the included studies, n  = 19 examined the relationship between participating in sport and psychological ill-being. In summary, there is consistent evidence that sports participation is related to lower depression scores [ 43 , 48 , 61 , 62 ]. There were mixed findings regarding psychological stress, where participation in childhood (retrospectively assessed) was related to lower stress in young adulthood [ 41 ], but no relationship was identified between recreational hockey in adulthood and stress [ 54 ]. Concerning the potential impact of competing at an elite level, there is evidence of higher stress in elite athletes compared to community norms [ 39 ]. Further, there is qualitative evidence that many current or former national football league players experienced at least one mental health challenge, including depression, anxiety, difficulty controlling their temper, during their career [ 37 ].

Evidence from longitudinal research provided consistent evidence that participating in sport in adolescence is protective of symptoms of depression in young adulthood [ 43 , 53 , 58 , 63 ], and further evidence that participating in young adulthood is related to lower depressive symptoms over time (6 months) [ 35 ]. Participation in adolescence was also protective of manifestations of anxiety (panic disorder and agoraphobia) and stress in young adulthood [ 42 ], though participation in young adulthood was not related to a more general measure of anxiety [ 35 ] nor to changes in negative affect [ 55 ]). The findings from experimental research were mixed. Two studies examined the effect of karate-do on markers of psychological ill-being, demonstrating its capacity to reduce anxiety [ 52 ], with some evidence of its effectiveness on depression [ 51 ]. The other studies examined small-sided team-based games but showed no effect on stress or anxiety [ 34 , 49 ]. Most studies did not differentiate between team and individual sports, though one study found that adolescents who participated in team sports (not individual sports) in secondary school has lower depression scores in young adulthood [ 58 ].

Sports participation and social outcomes

Seven of the included studies examined the relationship between sports participation and social outcomes. However, very few studies examined social outcomes or tested a social outcome as a potential mediator of the relationship between sport and mental health. It should also be noted that this body of evidence comes from a wide range of sport types, including martial arts, professional football, and workplace team-sport, as well as different methodologies. Taken as a whole, the evidence shows that participating in sport is beneficial for several social outcomes, including self-control [ 50 ], pro-social behavior [ 50 ], interpersonal communication [ 34 ], and fostering a sense of belonging [ 40 ]. Further, there is evidence that group activity, for example team sport or informal group activity, is related to higher social connectedness over time, though analyses showed that social connectedness was not a mediator for mental health [ 35 ].

There were conflicting findings regarding social effects at the elite level, with current and former NFL players reporting that they felt socially isolated during their career [ 37 ], whilst another study reported no relationship between participation at the elite level and social dysfunction [ 39 ]. Conversely, interviews with a group of indigenous men revealed that they felt as though participating in an all-indigenous Australian football team provided them with a sense of purpose, and they felt as though the social aspect of the game was as important as the physical benefits it provides [ 40 ].

Mental health through sport conceptual model for adults

The ‘Health through Sport’ model provides a depiction of the determinants and benefits of sports participation [ 31 ]. The model recognises that the physical, mental, and social benefits of sports participation vary by the context of sport (e.g., individual vs. team, organized vs. informal). To identify the elements of sport which contribute to its effect on mental health outcomes, we describe the ‘Mental Health through Sport’ model (Fig.  2 ). The model proposes that the social and physical elements of sport each provide independent, and likely synergistic contributions to its overall influence on mental health.

figure 2

The Mental Health through Sport conceptual model

The model describes two key pathways through which sport may influence mental health: physical activity, and social relationships and support. Several likely moderators of this effect are also provided, including sport type, intensity, frequency, context (team vs. individual), environment (e.g., indoor vs. outdoor), as well as the level of competition (e.g., elite vs. amateur).

The means by which the physical activity component of sport may influence mental health stems from the work of Lubans et al., who propose three key groups of mechanisms: neurobiological, psychosocial, and behavioral [ 64 ]. Processes whereby physical activity may enhance psychological outcomes via changes in the structural and functional composition of the brain are referred to as neurobiological mechanisms [ 65 , 66 ]. Processes whereby physical activity provides opportunities for the development of self-efficacy, opportunity for mastery, changes in self-perceptions, the development of independence, and for interaction with the environment are considered psychosocial mechanisms. Lastly, processes by which physical activity may influence behaviors which ultimately affect psychological health, including changes in sleep duration, self-regulation, and coping skills, are described as behavioral mechanisms.

Playing sport offers the opportunity to form relationships and to develop a social support network, both of which are likely to influence mental health. Thoits [ 29 ] describes 7 key mechanisms by which social relationships and support may influence mental health: social influence/social comparison; social control; role-based purpose and meaning (mattering); self-esteem; sense of control; belonging and companionship; and perceived support availability [ 29 ]. These mechanisms and their presence within a sporting context are elaborated below.

Subjective to the attitudes and behaviors of individuals in a group, social influence and comparison may facilitate protective or harmful effects on mental health. Participants in individual or team sport will be influenced and perhaps steered by the behaviors, expectations, and norms of other players and teams. When individual’s compare their capabilities, attitudes, and values to those of other participants, their own behaviors and subsequent health outcomes may be affected. When others attempt to encourage or discourage an individual to adopt or reject certain health practices, social control is displayed [ 29 ]. This may evolve as strategies between players (or between players and coach) are discussion and implemented. Likewise, teammates may try to motivate each another during a match to work harder, or to engage in specific events or routines off-field (fitness programs, after game celebrations, attending club events) which may impact current and future physical and mental health.

Sport may also provide behavioral guidance, purpose, and meaning to its participants. Role identities (positions within a social structure that come with reciprocal obligations), often formed as a consequence of social ties formed through sport. Particularly in team sports, participants come to understand they form an integral part of the larger whole, and consequently, they hold certain responsibility in ensuring the team’s success. They have a commitment to the team to, train and play, communicate with the team and a potential responsibility to maintain a high level of health, perform to their capacity, and support other players. As a source of behavioral guidance and of purpose and meaning in life, these identities are likely to influence mental health outcomes amongst sport participants.

An individual’s level of self-esteem may be affected by the social relationships and social support provided through sport; with improved perceptions of capability (or value within a team) in the sporting domain likely to have positive impact on global self-esteem and sense of worth [ 64 ]. The unique opportunities provided through participation in sport, also allow individuals to develop new skills, overcome challenges, and develop their sense of self-control or mastery . Working towards and finding creative solutions to challenges in sport facilitates a sense of mastery in participants. This sense of mastery may translate to other areas of life, with individual’s developing the confidence to cope with varied life challenges. For example, developing a sense of mastery regarding capacity to formulate new / creative solutions when taking on an opponent in sport may result in greater confidence to be creative at work. Social relationships and social support provided through sport may also provide participants with a source of belonging and companionship. The development of connections (on and off the field) to others who share common interests, can build a sense of belonging that may mediate improvements in mental health outcomes. Social support is often provided emotionally during expressions of trust and care; instrumentally via tangible assistance; through information such as advice and suggestions; or as appraisal such feedback. All forms of social support provided on and off the field contribute to a more generalised sense of perceived support that may mediate the effect of social interaction on mental health outcomes.

Participation in sport may influence mental health via some combination of the social mechanisms identified by Thoits, and the neurobiological, psychosocial, and behavioral mechanisms stemming from physical activity identified by Lubans [ 29 , 64 ]. The exact mechanisms through which sport may confer psychological benefit is likely to vary between sports, as each sport varies in its physical and social requirements. One must also consider the social effects of sports participation both on and off the field. For instance, membership of a sporting team and/or club may provide a sense of identity and belonging—an effect that persists beyond the immediacy of playing the sport and may have a persistent effect on their psychological health. Furthermore, the potential for team-based activity to provide additional benefit to psychological outcomes may not just be attributable to the differences in social interactions, there are also physiological differences in the requirements for sport both within (team vs. team) and between (team vs. individual) categories that may elicit additional improvements in psychological outcomes. For example, evidence supports that exercise intensity moderates the relationship between physical activity and several psychological outcomes—supporting that sports performed at higher intensity will be more beneficial for psychological health.

Limitations and recommendations

There are several limitations of this review worthy of consideration. Firstly, amongst the included studies there was considerable heterogeneity in study outcomes and study methodology, and self-selection bias (especially in non-experimental studies) is likely to influence study findings and reduce the likelihood that study participants and results are representative of the overall population. Secondly, the predominately observational evidence included in this and Eime’s prior review enabled us to identify the positive relationship between sports participation and social and psychological health (and examine directionality)—but more experimental and longitudinal research is required to determine causality and explore potential mechanisms responsible for the effect of sports participation on participant outcomes. Additional qualitative work would also help researchers gain a better understanding of the relationship between specific elements of the sporting environment and mental health and social outcomes in adult participants. Thirdly, there were no studies identified in the literature where sports participation involved animals (such as equestrian sports) or guns (such as shooting sports). Such studies may present novel and important variables in the assessment of mental health benefits for participants when compared to non-participants or participants in sports not involving animals/guns—further research is needed in this area. Our proposed conceptual model also identifies several pathways through which sport may lead to improvements in mental health—but excludes some potentially negative influences (such as poor coaching behaviors and injury). And our model is not designed to capture all possible mechanisms, creating the likelihood that other mechanisms exist but are not included in this review. Additionally, an interrelationship exits between physical activity, mental health, and social relationships, whereby changes in one area may facilitate changes in the other/s; but for the purpose of this study, we have focused on how the physical and social elements of sport may mediate improvements in psychological outcomes. Consequently, our conceptual model is not all-encompassing, but designed to inform and guide future research investigating the impact of sport participation on mental health.

The findings of this review endorse that participation in sport is beneficial for psychological well-being, indicators of psychological ill-being, and social outcomes in adults. Furthermore, participation in team sports is associated with better psychological and social outcomes compared to individual sports or other physical activities. Our findings support and add to previous review findings [ 1 ]; and have informed the development of our ‘Mental Health through Sport’ conceptual model for adults which presents the potential mechanisms by which participation in sport may affect mental health.

Availability of data and materials

The datasets used and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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We would like to acknowledge the work of the original systematic review conducted by Eime, R. M., Young, J. A., Harvey, J. T., Charity, M. J., and Payne, W. R. (2013).

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Eather, N., Wade, L., Pankowiak, A. et al. The impact of sports participation on mental health and social outcomes in adults: a systematic review and the ‘Mental Health through Sport’ conceptual model. Syst Rev 12 , 102 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13643-023-02264-8

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Perspective article, artificial intelligence and machine learning in sport research: an introduction for non-data scientists.

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  • Institute for Health and Sport, Victoria University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

In the last two decades, artificial intelligence (AI) has transformed the way in which we consume and analyse sports. The role of AI in improving decision-making and forecasting in sports, amongst many other advantages, is rapidly expanding and gaining more attention in both the academic sector and the industry. Nonetheless, for many sports audiences, professionals and policy makers, who are not particularly au courant or experts in AI, the connexion between artificial intelligence and sports remains fuzzy. Likewise, for many, the motivations for adopting a machine learning (ML) paradigm in sports analytics are still either faint or unclear. In this perspective paper, we present a high-level, non-technical, overview of the machine learning paradigm that motivates its potential for enhancing sports (performance and business) analytics. We provide a summary of some relevant research literature on the areas in which artificial intelligence and machine learning have been applied to the sports industry and in sport research. Finally, we present some hypothetical scenarios of how AI and ML could shape the future of sports.

Introduction

It was in Moneyball ( Lewis, 2004 ), the famous success storey of the Major League Baseball team “Oakland Athletics,” that using in-game play statistics came under focus as a means to assemble an exceptional team. Despite Oakland Athletics' relatively small budget, the adoption of a rigorous data-driven approach to assemble a new team led to the playoffs in the year 2002. An economic evaluation of the Moneyball hypothesis ( Hakes and Sauer, 2006 ) describes how, at the time, a baseball hitters' salary was not truly explained by the contribution of a player's batting skills to winning games. Oakland Athletics gained a big advantage over their competitors by identifying and exploiting this information gap. It's been almost two decades since Moneyball principles, or SABRmetrics ( Lewis, 2004 ) was introduced to baseball. SABR stands for Society for American Baseball Research and SABRmetricians are those scientists who gather the in-game data and analyse it to answer questions that will lead to improving team performance. Since the success of the Oakland Athletics, most MLB teams started employing SABRmetricians. The ongoing and exponential increase of computer processing power has further accelerated the ability to analyse “big data,” and indeed, computers increasingly are taking charge of the deeper analysis of data sets, through means of artificial intelligence (AI). Likewise, the surge in high-quality data collection and data aggregation (accomplished by organisations like Baseball Savant/StatCast, ESPN and others) are key ingredients to the spike in the accuracy and breadth of analytics that was observed in the MLB in recent years.

The adoption of AI and statistical modelling in sports has become therefore more prominent in recent years as new technologies and research applications are impacting professional sports at various levels of sophistication. The wide applicability of machine learning algorithms, combined with increasing computing processing power as well as access to more and new sources of data in recent years, has made sports organisations hungry for new applications and strategies. The overriding aim is still to make them more competitive on and off the field–in athletic and business performance. The benefits of leveraging the power of AI can, in that regard, take different forms from optimising business or technical decision making to enhancing athlete/team performance but also increasing demand for attendance at sporting events, as well as promoting alternative entertainment formats of the sport.

We next list some areas where AI and machine learning (ML) have left their footprints in the world of sports ( Beal et al., 2019 ) and provide some examples of applications in each (some of the listed applications could overlap with one or more of the areas).

• Game activity/analytics: match outcome modelling, player/ball Tracking, match event (e.g., shot) classification, umpire assistance, sports betting .

• Talent identification and acquisition: player recruitment, player performance measurement, biomechanics .

• Training and coaching: assessment of team formation efficacy, tactical planning, player injury modelling .

• Fan and business focused: measurement of a player's economic value, modelling demand for event attendance, ticket pricing optimisation (variable and dynamic), wearable and sensor design, highlight packaging, virtual and augmented reality sport applications, etc .

The field of AI (particularly ML) offers new methodologies that have proven to be beneficial for tackling the above challenges. In this perspective paper we aim to provide sports business professionals and non-technical sports audiences, coaches, business leaders, policy makers and stakeholders with an overview of the range of AI approaches used to analyse sport performance and business centric problems. We also discuss perspectives on how AI could shape the future of sports in the next few years.

Research on AI and ML in Sports

In this section, we will not be reviewing examples of how AI has been applied to sports for a specific application, but rather, we will look at the intersection of AI and sports at a more abstract level, discussing some research that either surveyed or summarised the application of AI and ML in sports.

One of the earliest works discussing the potential applications of artificial intelligence in sports performance, and its positive impact on improving decision-making is by Lapham and Bartlett (1995) . The paper discusses how expert systems (i.e., a knowledge-based database used for reasoning) can be used for sports biomechanics purposes. Bartlett (2006) reviewed developments in the use of AI in sports biomechanics (e.g., throwing, shot putting, football kicking, …) to show that, at the time of writing, expert systems were marginally used in sports biomechanics despite being popular for “gait analysis” whereas Artificial Neural Networks were used for applications such as performance patterns in training and movement patterns of sports performers. An Artificial Neural Network (ANN) is a system that mimics the functionality of a human brain. ANNs are used to solve computational problems or estimate functions from a given data input, by imitating the way neurons are fired or activated in the human brain. Several (layers of) artificial neurons, known as perceptrons, are connected to perform computations which return an output as a function of the provided input ( Anderson, 1995 ).

Bartlett (2006) predicted that multi-layer ANNs will play a big role in sports technique analysis in the future. Indeed, as we discuss later, multi-layer ANNs, now commonly referred to as Deep Learning, have become one of the most popular techniques in sports related analytics. Last but not least Bartlett (2006) described the applications of Evolutionary Computation and hybrid systems in the optimization of sports techniques and skill learning. Further discussion around the applications of AI in sports biomechanics can be found in Ratiu et al. (2010) . McCabe and Trevathan (2008) discussed the use of artificial intelligence for prediction of sporting outcomes, showing how the behaviour of teams can be modelled in different sporting contests using multi-layer ANNs.

Between 2006 and 2010, machine learning algorithms, particularly ANNs were becoming more popular amongst computer scientists. This was aided by the impressive improvements in computer hardware, but also due to a shift in mindset in the AI community. Large volumes of data were made public amongst researchers and scientists (e.g., ImageNet a visual database delivered by Stanford University), and new open-source machine learning competitions were organised (such as Netflix Prize and Kaggle). It is these types of events that have shaped the adoption of AI and machine learning in many different fields of study from medicine to econometrics and sports, by facilitating access to training data and offering free open-source tools and frameworks for leveraging the power of AI. Note that, in addition to ANN, other machine learning techniques are utilised in such competitions, and sometimes these can be used in combination with one another. For instance, some of the techniques that went into the winning of the Netflix prize include singular value decomposition combined with restricted Boltzmann machines and gradient boosted decision trees.

Other examples discussing ANNs in sports include Novatchkov and Baca (2013) who discuss how ANNs can be used for understanding the quality of execution, assisting athletes and coaches, and training optimisation. However, the applications of AI to sports analytics go beyond the use of ANNs. For example, Fister et al. (2015 ) discussed how nature-inspired AI algorithms can be used to investigate unsolved research problems regarding safe and effective training plans. Their approach ( Fister et al., 2015 ) relies on the notion of artificial collective intelligence ( Chmait et al., 2016 ; Chmait, 2017 ) and the adaptability of algorithms to adapt to a changing environment. The authors show how such algorithms can be used to develop an artificial trainer to recommend athletes with an informed training strategy after taking into consideration various factors related to the athlete's physique and readiness. Other types of scientific methods that include Bayesian approaches have been applied to determining player abilities ( Whitaker et al., 2021 ) but also predicting match outcomes ( Yang and Swartz, 2004 ). Bayesian analysis and learning is an approach for building (statistical and inference) models by updating the probability for a hypothesis as more evidence or information becomes available by using Bayes' theorem ( Ghosh et al., 2007 ).

There are numerous research papers in which AI and ML is applied to sport, and it is not our aim to comprehensively discuss these works here 1 . However, we refer to a recent survey that elaborates on this topic. Beal et al. (2019) surveyed the applications of AI in team sports. The authors summarised existing academic work, in a range of sports, tackling issues such as match outcome modelling, in-game tactical decision making, player performance in fantasy sport games, and managing professional players' sport injuries. Work by Nadikattu (2020) presents, at an abstract level, discussions on how AI can be implemented in (American) sports from enhancing player performance, to assisting coaches to come up with the right formations and tactics, to developing automated video highlights of sports matches and supporting referees using computer vision applications.

We emphasise that the application of AI in sports is not limited to topics of sports performance, athlete talent identification or the technical analysis of the game. The (off the field) business side of sports organisations is rapidly shifting towards a data driven culture led by developing profiles of their fans and their consumer preferences. As fans call for superior content and entertainment, sport organisations must react by delivering a customised experience to their patrons. This is often achieved by the use of statistical modelling as well as other machine learning solutions, for example, to understand the value of players from an economic perspective. As shown in Chmait et al. (2020a) , investigating the relationship between the talent and success of athletes (to determine the existence of what is referred to as superstardom phenomenon or star power) is becoming an important angle to explore value created in sport. To provide an idea of the extent of such work, we note some sports in which the relationship between famous players/teams and their effect on audience attendance or sport consumption has been studied:

• In soccer ( Brandes et al., 2008 ; Jewell, 2017 ),

• In Major League Baseball ( Ormiston, 2014 ; Lewis and Yoon, 2016 )

• In the National Basketball Association ( Berri et al., 2004 ; Jane, 2016 )

• In tennis: superstar player effect in demand for tennis tournament attendance ( Chmait et al., 2020a ), the presence of a stardom effect in social media ( Chmait et al., 2020b ), player effect on German television audience demand for live broadcast tennis matches ( Konjer et al., 2017 )

• And similarly, in Cricket ( Paton and Cooke, 2005 ), Hockey ( Coates and Humphreys, 2012 ), and in the Australian Football League ( Lenten, 2012 ).

AI algorithms are being used in Formula 1 (F1) to improve the racing tactics of competing teams by analysing data from hundreds of sensors in the F1 car. Recent work by Piccinotti (2021) shows how artificial intelligence can provide F1 with automated ways for identifying tyre replacement strategies by modelling pit-stop timing and frequency as sequential decision-making problems.

Researchers from Tennis Australia and Victoria University devised a racket recommendation technique based on real HawkEye (computer vision system) data. An algorithm was used to recommend a selection of rackets based on movement, hitting pattern and style of the player with the aim to improve the player's performance ( Krause, 2019 ).

Accurate and fair judging of sophisticated skills in sports like gymnastics is a difficult task. Recently, a judging system was developed by Fujitsu Ltd. The system scores a routine based on the angles of a gymnast's joints. It uses AI to analyse 3D laser sensors that capture the gymnasts' movements ( Atiković et al., 2020 ).

Finally, it is important to note the exceptionally successful adoption of AI in board games like Chess, Checkers, Shogi and the Chinese game of GO, as well as virtual games (like Dota2 and StarCraft). In the last couple of decades, AI has delivered a staggering rise in performance in such areas to the point that machines (almost) constantly defeat human world champions. We refer to some notable solutions like Schaeffer et al. (2007) Checkers artificial algorithm, DeepBlue defeating Kasparov in Chess ( Campbell et al., 2002 ), AlphaGo Zero defeating Lee Sedol in Go ( Silver et al., 2017 ) (noting that AlphaZero is also unbeatable in chess) and Vinyals et al. (2019) AlphaStar in StarcraftII as well as superhuman AI for multiplayer poker ( Brown and Sandholm, 2019 ). Commonly, in these types of games or sports, AI algorithms rely on a Reinforcement Learning approach (which we will describe later) as well as using techniques like the Monte-Carlo Search Trees to explore the game and devise robust strategies to solve and play these games. Some of the recent testbeds used to evaluate AI agents and algorithms are discussed in Hernández-Orallo et al. (2017 ). For a broader investigation of AI in board and virtual/computer games refer to Risi and Preuss (2020) .

The rise of applying AI and ML is unstoppable and to that end, one might be wondering how AI an ML tools work and why are they different from traditional summary analytics. We touch upon these considerations in the next section.

The Machine Learning Paradigm

To understand why ML is used in a wide range of applications, we need to take a look into the difference between recent AI approaches to learning and traditional analytics approaches. At a higher conceptual level, one can describe old or traditional approaches to sports analytics, as starting off with some set of rules that constitute the problem definition, some data that is to be processed using a program/application which will then deliver answers to the given problem. In contrast, in a machine learning/predictive analytics paradigm, the way this process works is fundamentally different. For instance, in some approaches of the ML paradigm, one typically starts by feeding the program with answers and corresponding data to a specific problem, with an algorithm narrowing down the rules of the problem. These rules are later used for making predictions and they are evaluated or validated by testing their accuracy over new (unseen) data.

To that end, machine learning is an area of AI that is concerned with algorithms that learn from data by performing some form of inductive learning. In simple terms, ML prediction could be described as a function 2 from a set of inputs i 1 , i 2 , …, i n , to forecast an unknown value y , as follows f ( w 1 * i 1 , w 2 * i 2 , …, w n * i n ) = y , where w t is the weight of input t .

Different types or approaches of ML are used for different types of problems. Some of the most popular are supervised learning, unsupervised learning , and reinforcement learning :

• In supervised learning, we begin by observing and recording both inputs (the i 's) and outputs (the y 's) of a system, for a given period of time. This data (collection of correct examples of inputs and their corresponding outputs) is then analysed to derive the rules that underly the dynamics of the observed system, i.e., the rules that map a given input to its correct output.

• Unlike the above, in unsupervised learning, the correct examples or outputs from a given system are not available. The task of the algorithm is to discover (previously unnoticed) patterns in the input data.

• In reinforcement learning, an algorithm (usually referred to as an agent) is designed to take a series of actions that maximise its cumulative payoff or rewards over time. The agent then builds a policy (a map of action selection rules) that return a probability of taking a given action under different conditions of the problem.

For a thorough introduction to the fundamentals of machine learning and the popular ML algorithms see Bonaccorso (2017) . The majority of AI applications in sports are based on one or more of the above approaches to ML. In fact, in most predictive modelling applications, the nature of the output y that needs to be predicted or analysed could influence the architecture of the learning algorithm.

Explaining the details of how different ML techniques work is outside the scope of this paper. However, to provide an insight into how such algorithms function in layman's terms and the differences between them, we briefly present (hypothetical) supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning problems in the context of sports. These examples will assist the professionals but also applied researchers who work in sport to better understand the way that data scientists think so to facilitate talking to them about their approach and methodology, without requiring to dive deep into the details of the underlying analytics.

Supervised Learning: Predicting Player Injury

Many sports injuries (e.g., muscle strain) can be effectively treated or prevented if one is able to detect them early or predict the likelihood of sustaining them. There could be many different (combinations of) reasons/actions leading to injuries like muscle strain. For example, in the Australian Football League, some of hypotheses put forward leading to muscle strain include: muscle weakness and lack of flexibility, fatigue, inadequate warm-up, and poor lumbar posture ( Brockett et al., 2004 ). Detecting the patterns that can lead to such injuries is extremely important both for the safety of the players, and for the success and competitiveness of the team.

In a supervised learning scenario, data about the players would be collected from previous seasons including details such as the number of overall matches and consecutive matches they played, total time played in each match, categorised by age, number of metres run, whether or not they warmed up before the match, how many times they were tackled by other players, and so on , but more importantly, whether or not the players ended up injured and missed their next match.

The last point is very important as it is the principal difference between supervised learning and other approaches: the outcome (whether or not the player was injured) is known in the historical data that was collected from previous seasons. This historical data is then fed (with the outcome) to a machine learning algorithm with the objective of learning the patterns (combination of factors) which led to an injury (and usually assigning a probability of the likelihood of an injury given these patterns). Once these patterns are learnt, the algorithm or model is then tested on new (unseen data) to see if it performs well and indeed predicts/explains injury at a high level of accuracy (e.g., 70% of the time). If the accuracy of the model is not as required, the model is tuned (or trained with slightly different parameters) until it reaches the desired or acceptable accuracy. Note here that we did not single out a specific algorithm or technique to achieve the above. Indeed, this approach can be applied using many different ML algorithms such as Neural Networks, Decision Trees and regression models.

Unsupervised Learning: Fan Segmentation

We will use a sport business example to introduce the unsupervised learning approach. Most sports organisations keep track of historical data about their patrons who attended their sporting events, recording characteristics such as their gender, postcode, age, nationality, education, income, marital status, etc. A natural question of interest here is to understand if the different segments of customers/patrons will purchase different categories (e.g., price, duration, class etc.) of tickets.

Some AI algorithms are designed to help split the available data, so that each data point (historical ticket sale) sits in a group/class that is similar to the other data points (other sales) in that same class given the recorded features. The algorithm will then use some sort of a similarity or distance metric to classify the patrons according to the category of tickets that they might purchase.

This is different from how supervised learning algorithms, like those discussed in the previous section, work. As we described before, in supervised learning we instruct the algorithm with the outcome in advance while training it (i.e., we classify/label each observation based on the outcome: injury or no injury, cheap or expensive seats, …). In the unsupervised learning approach, there is no such labelling or classification of existing historical data. It is the mission of the unsupervised learning algorithm to discover (previously unnoticed) patterns in the input data and group it into (two or more) classes.

Imagine the following use case where an Australian Football League club aims to identify a highly profitable customer segment within its entire set of stadium attendees, with the aim to enhance its marketing operations. Mathematical models can be used to discover (segments of) similar customers based on variations in some customer attributes within and across each segment. A popular unsupervised learning algorithm to achieve such goal is the K-means clustering algorithm which finds the class labels from the data. This is done by iteratively assigning the data points (e.g., customers) from the input into a group/class based on the characteristics of this input. The essence is that the groups or classes to which the data points are assigned to are not defined prior to exploring the input data (although the number of groups or segments can be pre-defined) but are rather dynamically formed as the K-means algorithm iterates over the data points. In the context of customer segmentation, when presenting the mathematical model (K-means algorithm) with customer data, there is no requirement to label a portion (or any of) of this data into groups in advance in order to train the model as usually done in supervised models.

Reinforcement Learning: Simulations and Fantasy Sports

As mentioned before, in reinforcement learning, an algorithm (such as Q-learning and SARSA algorithms) learns how to complete a series of tasks (i.e., solve a problem) by interacting with an (artificial) environment that was designed to simulate the real environment/problem at hand. Unlike the case with supervised learning, the algorithm is not explicitly instructed about the right/accurate action in different states/conditions of the environment (or steps of problem it is trying to solve). But rather it incrementally learns such a protocol through reward maximisation.

In simple terms, reinforcement learning approaches represent problems using what are referred to as: an agent (a software algorithm), and a table of states and actions . When the agent executes an action, it transitions from one state to another and it receives a reward or a penalty (a positive or negative numerical score respectively) as a result. The reward/penalty associated with the action-state combination is then stored in the agent's table for future reference and refinement. The agent's goal is to take the action that maximises its reward. When the agent is still unaware of the expected rewards from executing a given action when at a given state, it takes a random action and updates its table following that action. After many (thousands of) iterations over the problem space, the agent's table holds (a weighted sum of) the expected values of the rewards of all future actions starting from the initial state.

Reinforcement learning has been applied to improve the selection of team formations in fantasy sports ( Matthews et al., 2012 ). Likewise, the use of reinforcement learning is prominent in online AI bots and simulators like chess, checkers, Go, poker, StarCraft, etc.

Finally, it is important to also note the existence of genetic or evolutionary algorithms, sometimes referred to as nature/bio-inspired algorithms. While such algorithms are not typically considered to be ML algorithms (but rather search techniques and heuristics), they are very popular in solving similar types of problems tackled by ML algorithms. In short, the idea behind such algorithms is to run (parallel) search, selection and mutation techniques, by going over possible candidate solutions of a problem. The solutions are gradually optimised until reaching a local (sub-optimal) or global maximum (optimal solution). To provide a high-level understanding of evolutionary algorithms, consider the following sequence of steps:

• We start by creating (a population of) initial candidate or random strategies/solutions to the problem at hand.

• We assess these candidate solutions (using a fitness function) and assign scores to each according to how well they solve the problem at hand.

• We then pick a selection of these candidate solutions that performed best at stage two above. We then combine ( crossbreed ) these together to generate ( breed) new solutions (e.g., take some attributes from one candidate solution and others from another candidate solution in order to come up with a new solution).

• We then apply random changes ( mutations ) to the resulting solutions from the previous step.

• We repeat the solution combination/crossbreeding process until a satisfactory solution is reached.

Evolutionary algorithms can be used as alternative means for training machine learning algorithms such as reinforcement learning algorithms and deep neural networks.

The Future of AI in Sport

There is no doubt that AI will continue to transform sports, and the ways in which we play, watch and analyse sports will be innovative and unexpected. In fact, machine learning has drastically changed the way we think about match strategies, player performance analytics but also how we track, identify and learn about sport consumers. A Pandora's box of ethical issues is emerging and will increasingly need to be considered when machines invade the traditionally human centred and naturally talented athlete base of sport. It is unlikely that AI will completely replace coaches and human experts, but there is no doubt that leveraging the power of AI will provide coaches and players with a big advantage and lead over those who only rely on human expertise. It will also provide sport business managers with deeper, real time insights into the behaviours, needs and wants of sport consumers and in turn AI will become a main producer of sport content that is personalised and custom made for individual consumers. But human direction and intervention seems to be, at least in the near future, still essential working towards elite sport performance and strategic decision making in sport business. The sporting performance on the field is often produced as an entertainment spectacle, where the sporting context is the platform for generating the business of sport. Replacing referees with automated AI is clearly possible and increasingly adopted in various sports, because it is more accurate and efficient, but is it what the fans want?

What might the future of sport with increasingly integrated AI look like? Currently, most of the research in AI and sports is specialised. That is to provide performance or business solutions and solve specific on and off field problems. For instance, scientists have successfully devised solutions to tackle problems like player performance measurement, and quantifying the effect of a player/team on demand for gate attendance. Nevertheless, our research has not identified studies (yet) that provide a 360-degree analysis on, for example, the absolute value of an athlete by taking into account all the dimensions of his or her performance on how much business can be developed, for example in regard to ticket sales or endorsement deals.

One of the main challenges to achieve such a comprehensive analysis is mainly due to the fact that data about players and teams, and commercial data such as ticket sales and attendance numbers, are kept proprietary and are not made public to avoid providing other parties with competitive information. Moreover, privacy is an important consideration as well. Regulations about data privacy and leakage of personal identification details must be put in place to govern the use and sharing of sports (performance and consumption) data. Data ownership, protection, security, privacy and access will all drive the need for comprehensive and tight legislation and regulation that will strongly influence the speed and comprehensiveness of the adoption of AI in sport. To that end, it is worth considering privacy and confidentiality implications independently when studying the leagues' journey of AI adoption compared to that of individual teams and ultimately the individual players. Eventually, the successful adoption of AI in a sports league will likely depend on the teams in that league and their players to be willing to share proprietary data or insights with other teams in the league. Performance data of players in particular is becoming a hot topic of disputation. It may well be AI that will determine the bargaining power of players and their agents in regard to the value of their contracts. As an extension of this it will then also be AI providing the information that will determine if players are achieving the performance objectives set by coaches and as agreed to in contracts. In other words, confidentiality and ownership of league, team or player level data will become an increasing bone of legal contention and this will be reflected in the complexity of contractual agreements and possible disputes in the change rooms and on the field of play. Being in control of which data can or cannot, and will or will not, be used is at stake.

From an economic perspective, relying on artificial algorithms could increase the revenue of sports organisations and event organisers when enabled to apply efficient variable and dynamic pricing strategies and build comprehensive and deep knowledge consumer platforms. Different types of ML algorithms can be adopted to deliver more effective customer marketing via personalisation and to increase sales funnel conversion rates.

Finally, for a window on the future of data privacy, it might be useful to return to baseball where the addiction to big data started its spread across the high-performance sport industry. Hattery (2017 , p. 282) explains that in baseball “using advanced data collection systems … the MLB teams compete to create the most precise injury prediction models possible in order to protect and optimise the use of their player-assets. While this technology has the potential to offer tremendous value to both team and player, it comes with a potential conflict of interest. Players' goals are not always congruent with those of the organisation: the player strives to protect his own career while the team is attempting to capitalise on the value of an asset. For this reason, the player has an interest in accessing data that analyses his potential injury risk. This highlights a greater problem in big data: what rights will individuals possess regarding their own data points?”

This privacy issue can be further extended to the sport business space Dezfouli et al. (2020) have shown how AI can be designed to manipulate human behaviour. Algorithms learned from humans' responses who were participating in controlled experiments. The algorithms identified and targeted vulnerabilities in human decision-making. The AI succeeded in steering participants towards executing particular actions. So, will AI one day be shaping the spending behaviour of sports fans by exploiting their fan infused emotional vulnerabilities and monitoring their (for example) gambling inclinations? Will AI sacrifice the health of some athletes in favour of the bigger team winning the premiership? Or is this already happening? Time will tell.

Data Availability Statement

The original contributions presented in the study are included in the article, further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding author.

Author Contributions

NC and HW had major contribution to the writing of this manuscript. NC contributed to the writing of the parts around artificial intelligence and machine learning and provided examples of these. HW shaped the scope of the manuscript and wrote and edited many of its sections particularly the introduction and the discussion. Both authors contributed to the article and approved the submitted version.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher's Note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

1. ^ For conferences and published articles on AI and sports analytics see Swartz (2020) .

2. ^ Note that such function is also found in regression techniques where the weights/coefficients are unknown. In ML, it is usually the case where both the function and its weights are unknown and are determined using various search techniques and algorithms.

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Keywords: artificial intelligence, machine learning, sports business, sports analytics, sport research, future of sports

Citation: Chmait N and Westerbeek H (2021) Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in Sport Research: An Introduction for Non-data Scientists. Front. Sports Act. Living 3:682287. doi: 10.3389/fspor.2021.682287

Received: 18 March 2021; Accepted: 15 November 2021; Published: 08 December 2021.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2021 Chmait and Westerbeek. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Nader Chmait, nader.chmait@vu.edu.au

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Research Article

Retrospective survey of youth sports participation: Development and assessment of reliability using school records

Roles Data curation, Methodology, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

Affiliation College of Arts and Sciences, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America

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Roles Conceptualization, Formal analysis, Methodology, Resources, Writing – review & editing

* E-mail: [email protected]

Affiliation Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, United States of America

Roles Conceptualization, Formal analysis, Funding acquisition, Methodology, Writing – review & editing

Affiliation Population Studies Center and the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America

Roles Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Methodology, Validation, Writing – review & editing

Affiliation Computer Sciences and Artificial Intelligence Library, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America

Roles Data curation, Funding acquisition, Methodology

Affiliation University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America

Roles Conceptualization, Writing – review & editing

Affiliation Department of Sociology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois, United States of America

Roles Conceptualization, Formal analysis, Funding acquisition, Methodology, Resources, Supervision, Writing – review & editing

Affiliation Department of Statistics, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America

  • Steven Jin, 
  • Amanda R. Rabinowitz, 
  • Jordan Weiss, 
  • Sameer Deshpande, 
  • Nitika Gupta, 
  • Reuben A. Buford May, 
  • Dylan S. Small

PLOS

  • Published: September 17, 2021
  • https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0257487
  • Peer Review
  • Reader Comments

Table 1

Many youths participate in sports, and it is of interest to understand the impact of youth sports participation on later-life outcomes. However, prospective studies take a long time to complete and retrospective studies may be more practical and time-efficient to address some questions. We pilot a retrospective survey of youth sports participation and examine agreement between respondent’s self-reported participation with high school records in a sample of 84 adults who graduated from high school between 1948 and 2018. The percent agreement between our survey and the school resources for individual sports ranged between 91.5% and 100%. These findings provide preliminary evidence for the reliability of retrospective self-report of youth sports participation. This survey may serve as an efficient approach for evaluating relationships between involvement in youth sports and health outcomes later in adulthood.

Citation: Jin S, Rabinowitz AR, Weiss J, Deshpande S, Gupta N, Buford May RA, et al. (2021) Retrospective survey of youth sports participation: Development and assessment of reliability using school records. PLoS ONE 16(9): e0257487. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0257487

Editor: Javier Brazo-Sayavera, Universidad de la Republica, URUGUAY

Received: August 30, 2020; Accepted: September 3, 2021; Published: September 17, 2021

Copyright: © 2021 Jin et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Data Availability: All relevant data are within the paper and its Supporting Information files.

Funding: SJ was supported by the Penn Undergraduate Research Mentoring program ( https://www.curf.upenn.edu/content/penn-undergraduate-research-mentoring-program-purm ) and the Wharton Dean’s Research Fund. NG was supported by the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics SUMR Scholars program ( https://ldi.upenn.edu/education/penn-ldi-training-programs/sumr/ ). JW received funding from the Population Research Training Grant (NIH T32 HD007242) awarded to the Population Studies Center at the University of Pennsylvania by the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development ( https://www.nichd.nih.gov/ ). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Introduction

Playing high school sports has historically been and continues to be a prominent part of adolescence and young adulthood. In the United States, nearly eight million students played a high school sport during the 2018–2019 school year [ 1 ]. However, participation in high school sports has recently declined (from 7,980,886 in 2017–2018 to 7,937,491 in 2018–2019), led by declines in football participation, marking the first decline in participation for more than 30 years [ 1 ]. Reasons for this decline may be multifaceted and partially attributed to growing concern over the short- and long-term implications on mental and cognitive health of playing collision sports [ 2 ]. State-level appropriations for public school athletic programs were also reduced in response to the Great Recession [ 3 ], which, some have argued, is justified in response to potential deleterious effects on health and detracting from academic achievement [ 4 ]. To date, however, numerous studies that examined associations between participation in school sports and health or academic achievement found no association [ 5 , 6 ] while others reported that playing high school sports may have positive effects on educational attainment and future labor outcomes [ 7 , 8 ]. Additionally, many papers have reported positive associations between sports participation and physical fitness, brain function [ 9 , 10 ], and social and emotional health [ 11 ]. Meanwhile, a growing but mixed body of work links sports-related head trauma to mental and cognitive health deficits, prompting concern about the potential risks of adolescent participation in contact sports [ 12 ].

An ideal study of the long-term health implications of playing high-school sports would involve the collection of detailed, prospective information on sports participation with longitudinal follow-up that includes measures of cognitive and psychosocial functioning.

However, longitudinal studies of this magnitude are costly and the scientific community would have to wait decades for study participants to age to a point when the long-term risks of contact sports may manifest [ 13 ]. An alternative approach is to capitalize on existing longitudinal studies that collect both retrospective and prospective data, such as the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health). These large-scale studies are nationally representative and contain data spanning economic, health, and psychosocial outcomes.

The prospective identification of brain injury by observation or clinical diagnosis, is the gold standard method for injury ascertainment. This method is often too costly or unfeasible in many research designs. Fortunately, retrospective self-report measures have been developed and validated to collect incidence of prior head injury, such as the OSU-TBI ID [ 14 ] and the BISQ [ 15 ]. Data support that these instruments are valid and reliable indicators of prior brain trauma, including mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) with associated loss of consciousness. Such measures have already been integrated into survey studies of long-term health. However, due to the absence of a known reliable survey to assess early-life sports participation, studies have been limited in their collection of information related to sports participation in early-life. This hampers the ability to contextualize possible deleterious effects of head injury against the backdrop of physical, emotional, and social benefits of youth sports participation.

To fill this gap, this study introduces a retrospective sports participation questionnaire administered electronically to adults who graduated from high school between 1948 and 2018. We evaluate the reliability of the questionnaire with respect to high school sports participation and find it to be reliable. Retrospective assessment of youth sports participation has the advantage of allowing investigators to capitalize on existing longitudinal datasets that have already tracked cognitive and health outcomes into later-life when some of the deleterious effects of brain injury are thought to manifest. Our survey represents a feasible and cost-effective approach for obtaining retrospective sports participation data.

Materials and methods

Survey development.

Survey items were developed by the authors. Items were designed to capture information about the duration and intensity of exposure (i.e., sports participation). Intensity was operationalized as both weekly hours of participation and the competitive level of the team. A draft version of the survey was implemented using the Qualtrics platform for web-based survey administration. An electronic link to the survey was shared with two athletic trainers for comment after which the survey was piloted among a group of undergraduate research assistants (RAs) who were not involved in survey development. Feedback from that process was incorporated, and the survey was updated for content, clarity, and ease of use. The finalized version was sent back to RAs for quality assurance before deployment in the study sample.

In our survey, subjects were asked to select the sports in which they participated from a list of radio buttons. The survey used a series of blocks to assess sports participation at various stages of one’s education. This included a block for grades K-6, grades 7–8, grades 9–12, and college. For each block corresponding to a specific period in the life course, respondents were asked to select the sports in which they participated from a list of 15 radio buttons. The specific 15 sports (listed in Table 1 ) included in our survey were selected based on sports participation surveys conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations as well as knowledge of other sports that were popular at the schools where the pilot study described in the next section was conducted. Based on each respondent’s selections, binary variables were constructed for participation in each sport during high school. Respondents also indicated whether, at each specific period, they had any physical limitations that prevented them from participating in sports. For each selected sport at each time period, respondents were asked to report (using radio buttons) the specific grades in which they participated, whether their team (a) traveled for games or tournaments, (b) participated in playoffs, (c) won a championship, or (d) none of the above. Respondents also indicated how many hours per week (0 hours, 1–4 hours, 5–9 hours, 10–14 hours, 15–19 hours, 20+ hours) they spent practicing and playing games for each specific sport, in addition to the position(s) they played. Our survey is provided in the supplementary materials.

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https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0257487.t001

Sample collection

A pilot study was conducted to assess the reliability of the survey by constructing a convenience sample that distributed the survey through alumni e-mail lists and social media groups from high schools where authors (D.S. and A.R) are alumni. The volunteer sample consisted of all alumni from these two high schools who responded to a request to fill out the survey. These high schools offered an advantage in that they maintain yearbook and/or online database records of student sports participation. The availability of such data from these high schools provided a straightforward method for evaluating the accuracy of self-reported high school sports participation data. Yearbook data were reviewed by two independent RAs on site at the individual schools. RAs abstracted data on sports participation by examining physical yearbooks or reviewing information from digital archives. The inspection of yearbooks involved examining all possible sources of sports participation information, including team photographs, rosters, and descriptions of extracurriculars for individual students. When multiple archival sources were available, all information was considered for the purposes of coding sport participation.

Disagreements in coding were rare, but when they occurred, they were resolved by consensus with input from all authors. The Institutional Review Board of the University of Pennsylvania reviewed the procedures of this study and determined that the study met eligibility criteria for IRB review exemption. Because the IRB judged the risk to be minimal to participants and the risk/benefit ratio to be reasonable, the IRB approved our process of providing the information about how the survey would be used to participants and not requiring explicit consent.

Statistical analysis

We examined the agreement between respondent’s self-reported sports participation and the information obtained from yearbooks/online databases by examining the percentage of survey responses that were in agreement with these external sources. For each individual sport, there were four possible outcomes: 1) the survey respondent reported participation that was confirmed by the school record, 2) the survey respondent reported participation but it was not confirmed by the school record, 3) the survey respondent did not report sports participation but there was a record of sports participation in the school yearbook/database, or 4) the survey respondent and the school record did not report participation. We removed cases from analysis if they could not be validated due to irregularities with the school resources available to us, e.g. if a sport was not included in the school record for a given year.

Eighty-two respondents completed the survey. The average time it took to complete the survey was 15.8 minutes (SD = 23.7 minutes). Modal completion time for the full sample was 6 minutes. The mean age of the sample was 42.2 years (SD = 14.4y); 61% (n = 50) of the sample was male and 83% (n = 68) of respondents were white. Respondents reported playing an average of 2.02 (SD = 1.09) sports.

The percent agreement between our survey and the school resources for individual sports ranged between 91.5% and 100% ( Table 1 ). Table 1 also displays the frequency of self-reported participation for each sport.

To illustrate the duration and intensity information gathered through the survey, we also report data for several measures of intensity, such as years of play, weekly hours spent participating in practice and games, and team achievements (i.e. playoff appearances and championships won) for the most frequently participated in sports—basketball and soccer ( Table 2 ).

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https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0257487.t002

In this paper, we introduce a new survey for gathering retrospective data on youth-sports participation. Comparisons of participants’ responses with high school yearbook data suggested that most respondents were able to reliably report their high school athletic experiences. Out of 15 sports evaluated, agreement between survey data and school records was over 90% for all 15 sports. This was notable, considering that the average age of survey respondents was 42 years old, which would indicate that many participants in our sample were at least 25 years post-high school. Our study provides preliminary evidence that individuals are reliable reporters of their high school sports-participation, and the survey presented here is one instrument that could be used for this purpose. However, this is a pilot study with small sample sizes and further research is warranted.

Of note, our results support the validity of self-reported retrospective assessment of the highest frequency and highest concussion risk sports evaluated in the present sample. The self-reported retrospective assessment of football, basketball, soccer, and wrestling participation all demonstrated excellent agreement with participation recorded in school yearbooks.

Limitations

There are limitations of the present study that bear noting. The survey queries sports participation throughout childhood and adolescence. However, we were only able to evaluate the reliability of participants’ reports of high school sports. Hence, the present data do not allow us to evaluate the reliability of retrospective reports of sports in earlier childhood. Although we collected information about the intensity of sports participation, we did not have corroborative yearbook data to evaluate the reliability of these responses. Some of the sports we evaluated have very small sample sizes. The sample was a convenience sample comprised of the authors’ alumni networks, and not a representative sample of different types of schools across geographic regions. Hence it is possible that characteristics of the sample may have influenced our results in unanticipated ways.

Inconsistencies between survey responses and school records may have been due to memory errors on the part of survey respondents. There are two types of memory errors that would result in inaccurate self-report: retrieval errors (or failure to report prior participation that did take place) and confabulations (or erroneous report of sports participation that did not occur). Inconsistencies due to memory failure would most likely show the pattern of higher sports participation rates indicated by school records as compared to survey responses, as confabulatory errors are relatively uncommon for the type of autobiographical information assessed in the present study—memory for sustained regular participation in a highly engaging experience, rather than a brief non-distinctive repetitive event (i.e. a single instance of taking a daily medication [ 16 ]). However, aside from cheerleading, cross country, skiing, and frisbee, the counts for self-reported participation in all other sports were greater than or equal to the corresponding participation counts obtained from school resources. This finding suggests that inconsistency between self-reported participation and school records may be due to errors in record keeping, rather than memory failures on the part of the survey respondents. These discrepancies could be due to inaccurate school records related to student absence on the day of team yearbook photos or errors in listing all athletes’ names in photo captions.

Future directions

Limitations notwithstanding, the present study supports the reliability of retrospective self- reported sports participation, particularly in the highest frequency, highest concussion risk sports. This survey may be an efficient way to incorporate youth sports participation into existing datasets for research purposes, providing an opportunity to better characterize the risks and benefits of youth participation in contact sports on cognitive, physical, and emotional health across the lifespan.

Further assessment of the reliability of this survey could be a next step to integrating it in a large, representative sample. In doing so, we can better understand the long-term implications of adolescent sports participation on trajectories of health as well as financial and psychosocial well-being. Future studies may seek to replicate the present findings in a larger sample, which would enable the opportunity to compare reliability across different sports. Our survey contains measures of sports-intensity (time spent in participation and competitive levels) but we were not able to evaluate their reliability. Sports-intensity is potentially important for investigators to consider, because it may be relevant to both psychological and physical effects of athletic participation that may bear on health risks and benefits [ 17 , 18 ]. Future work could evaluate the reliability of the sports-intensity using collateral interviews (e.g. coaches, parents), local newspaper reports, and school records.

There are a number of longitudinal data sets that have been following individuals from childhood/adolescence into later life. The addition of reliable instruments for retrospective self-report of youth sports participation to these data sets would provide an efficient and cost- effective method for examining the effects of childhood/adolescent sports participation on later life outcomes.

Supporting information

S1 survey. survey used for study..

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0257487.s001

S1 Dataset. Sports participation data.

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0257487.s002

S2 Dataset. Cleaned participation data used for analysis.

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0257487.s003

S1 Text. Dataset and survey question explanations.

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0257487.s004

Acknowledgments

We thank all the survey participants and special thanks to Susan Paterson, Tim Seminerio, Genevieve Strycharz, Stephen Loy, Timothy Hetrich and Corey Jones for their help with accessing school resources.

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  • Published: 28 November 2019

Mental Health In Elite Athletes: Increased Awareness Requires An Early Intervention Framework to Respond to Athlete Needs

  • Rosemary Purcell 1 , 2 ,
  • Kate Gwyther 1 , 2 &
  • Simon M. Rice   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-4045-8553 1 , 2  

Sports Medicine - Open volume  5 , Article number:  46 ( 2019 ) Cite this article

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The current ‘state of play’ in supporting elite athlete mental health and wellbeing has centred mostly on building mental health literacy or awareness of the signs of mental ill-health amongst athletes. Such awareness is necessary, but not sufficient to address the varied mental health needs of elite athletes. We call for a new model of intervention and outline the backbone of a comprehensive mental health framework to promote athlete mental health and wellbeing, and respond to the needs of athletes who are at-risk of developing, or already experiencing mental health symptoms or disorders. Early detection of, and intervention for, mental health symptoms is essential in the elite sporting context. Such approaches help build cultures that acknowledge that an athlete’s mental health needs are as important as their physical health needs, and that both are likely to contribute to optimising the athlete’s overall wellbeing in conjunction with performance excellence. The proposed framework aims at (i) helping athletes develop a range of self-management skills that they can utilise to manage psychological distress, (ii) equipping key stakeholders in the elite sporting environment (such as coaches, sports medicine and high-performance support staff) to better recognise and respond to concerns regarding an athlete’s mental health and (iii) highlighting the need for specialist multi-disciplinary teams or skilled mental health professionals to manage athletes with severe or complex mental disorders. Combined, these components ensure that elite athletes receive the intervention and support that they need at the right time, in the right place, with the right person.

Currently, there is no comprehensive framework or model of care to support and respond to the mental health needs of elite athletes.

We propose a framework that recognises the impact of general and athlete-specific risk factors, and engages key individuals that may identify and promote athlete mental health.

The framework is adaptable and responsive to varied career stages and mental health states.

There has been a rapid increase in research examining the mental health of elite athletes culminating with the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC’s) recent Expert Consensus Statement on mental health in elite athletes [ 1 ]. This statement provides a comprehensive analysis of, and recommendations for, the treatment of both high prevalence (e.g. anxiety and mood symptoms) and more complex mental health disorders (e.g. eating and bipolar disorders) in the elite sporting context. This is a timely resource which will help guide and ultimately improve the clinical management of athletes by sports medicine, mental health, and allied health professionals. The primary focus of the consensus statement, along with much of the extant literature, is on managing the individual athlete affected by mental ill-health. There has been little scholarly and service-level attention to more comprehensive frameworks that (a) recognise the role of the broader elite sports ecology as both a contributor to athlete mental health difficulties and a facilitator of their remediation, and (b) approaches that emphasise the prevention of mental health symptoms, along with early detection and intervention to restore athlete wellbeing (and ideally optimise performance).

Risk Factors for Mental Ill-health in Elite Athletes

Meta-analytic reviews indicate that elite athletes experience broadly comparable rates of mental ill-health relative to the general population in relation to anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and sleep disorders [ 2 , 3 ]. This should not be unexpected given the considerable overlap in the years of active elite competition and the primary ages of onset for most mental disorders [ 4 , 5 , 6 ].

Increasing evidence points to a range of both athlete-specific and general risk factors associated with mental ill-health in elite athletes. Athlete-specific risk indicators include sports-related injury and concussion [ 3 , 7 , 8 , 9 ], performance failure [ 10 ], overtraining (and overtraining syndrome) [ 11 ] and sport type (e.g. individual sports conferring a higher risk that team sports) [ 12 ]. General risk indicators include major negative life events [ 13 , 14 ], low social support [ 15 , 16 ] and impaired sleep [ 17 , 18 ]. These risk factors may impact the severity and onset of particular mental health symptoms, but can also guide appropriate response strategies.

The salience of particular risk factors may vary across career phases. For example, in junior development years, supportive relationships with parents and coaches are imperative to athlete wellbeing [ 19 , 20 ]. During the high performance and elite phase, in addition to the coaching relationship, environmental and training demands become more relevant to mental health and wellbeing [ 21 ], including extended travel away from home and exposure to unfamiliar (training) environments [ 22 ]. Environmental conditions and travel may be especially salient for the mental health of para-athletes, who often encounter disruptive logistical issues associated with travel, such as a lack of adaptive sport facilities and sleeping conditions [ 23 ]. Prominent risk factors during the transition out of sport include involuntary or unplanned retirement and lack of a non-athletic identity, both of which are associated with a range of psychological challenges [ 24 ]. For para-athletes, involuntary retirement due to declassification (i.e. no longer meeting the required criteria to be classified as a para-athlete) is a unique burden [ 25 ].

Optimising the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Elite Athletes: Barriers and Facilitators

A comprehensive framework for mental health in elite athletes needs to consider the range of relevant risk factors across key career phases, as well as factors that inhibit or facilitate the ability to effectively respond to athletes’ needs. Key barriers include more negative attitudes towards help-seeking amongst athletes than the general population [ 26 ], as well as greater stigma and poorer mental health literacy. Fear of the consequences of seeking help (e.g. loss of selection) and lack of time are also influential [ 26 , 27 , 28 ]. Facilitative factors include support and acknowledgment from coaches [ 27 ] who can help to create a non-stigmatised environment where help-seeking can be normalised [ 28 ]. Approaches that seek to optimise athletic performance while simultaneously providing intervention for mental health symptoms may also facilitate engagement [ 29 , 30 ]. Brief anti-stigma interventions and mental health literacy programs that seek to increase knowledge of mental health symptoms have been shown to improve help-seeking intentions in elite athletes [ 31 , 32 , 33 ], although the impact of such programs on help-seeking behaviours is not known.

Are there Existing Frameworks or Models of Care for Mental Health in Elite Sport?

To date there are no published frameworks regarding how best to support the mental health needs of elite athletes. In addition to the IOC Consensus Statement, recent position statements have emphasised the need to build awareness of mental health problems and increase help-seeking behaviours [ 34 , 35 , 36 ]. These initiatives are unquestionably warranted; however, improving awareness and help-seeking behaviours are at best pointless, and at worst unsafe, if systems of care to respond to athlete’s need are not available. A whole of system approach needs to be developed simultaneously.

Beyond the peer-reviewed literature, useful guidelines exist within selected sporting associations regarding supporting athlete wellbeing [ 37 , 38 , 39 ]. These resources highlight a number of critical factors in managing athlete mental health in the sporting context including (i) the sports’ responsibility for managing the athlete’s care and support (e.g. duty of care issues); (ii) the need for regular screening or monitoring of athletes to detect changes in mental state or behaviour; (iii) privacy and confidentiality regarding mental health as key ethical issues and challenges; (iv) athlete preferences for help-seeking (how and from whom); (v) the need to refer out to or engage external mental health professionals where expertise does not exist within the sporting environment; and (vi) the value of trained peer workers (former athletes/players) to provide support and guidance to athletes and to coordinate activities related to professional development needs (such as public speaking or financial planning) and individual goal-setting (e.g. around educational or post-sport vocational interests). However, no single framework incorporates all of these factors nor is there a framework that focuses on the spectrum of athlete/player mental health needs, from symptom prevention to specialist mental health care. There has been some progress in developing mental health guidelines in collegiate-level athletes [ 40 , 41 , 42 ], which highlight the need to provide specific and targeted support, while noting that few comprehensive or targeted models of care for mental health have been developed for this population.

Developing a Comprehensive Mental Health Framework to Support Elite Athletes

Many of the general and athlete-specific risk factors for mental ill-health are potentially modifiable (e.g. coping strategies, coaching style, training demands) and require intervention at the individual athlete, the sporting or environmental and/or organisational levels. A comprehensive framework for athlete mental health that is conceptualised within the broader ‘ecology’ of elite sporting environments will be best able to respond to the range of risk indicators in this context (see Fig. 1 ). Ecological systems help to explain the relationship between the aspects or experiences of an individual (termed ‘ontogenetic’ factors, such as coping or substance use) and the broader social and cultural contexts in which they exist [ 43 ]. In the case of elite athletes, this includes the ‘microsystem’ of coach(es), teammates (where appropriate) and family/loved ones. The wider sporting environment (e.g. the athlete’s sport, its rules and governing body) forms the exosystem, while the role of national and international sporting bodies and the media and broader society form the macrosystem.

figure 1

An ecological systems model for elite athlete mental health

Any mental health framework that ignores wider ecological factors runs the risk of focusing exclusively on, and potentially pathologising the individual athlete, when other factors may be more influential in contributing to, or perpetuating poor mental health. Such factors may include maladaptive relationships with coaches or parents, social media abuse and/or financial pressures.

In addition to ecological factors, a comprehensive framework for mental health should encompass both prevention and early intervention, consistent with established models that are influential in public health and social policy (e.g. Haggerty and Mrazek’s mental health promotion spectrum [ 44 ]; see Fig. 2 ). An early intervention framework can optimise athlete mental wellbeing and respond rapidly to mental health symptoms and disorders as they emerge to best maintain the athlete’s overall function.

figure 2

The mental health promotion spectrum

Within this framework, the prevention stages aim to reduce the risk of mental health symptoms developing or to minimise their potential impact and severity; the treatment and early intervention stages seek to identify and halt the progression of emerging mental health difficulties; and the continuing care stages help an individual to recover and prevent relapse, typically through ongoing clinical care with a mental health professional [ 44 ].

Based on the extant literature regarding risk factors for mental ill-health in elite athletes, along with existing sporting guidelines or statements regarding athlete wellbeing, and our experience developing and implementing early intervention services and system reform for young people’s mental health [ 45 , 46 , 47 ], we propose the following framework to respond to the mental health of elite athletes (see Fig. 3 ).

figure 3

Elite athlete mental health and wellbeing framework

Preventative or ‘Foundational’ Components

Core foundational components should include (i) mental health literacy to improve understanding, reduce stigma and promote early help-seeking; (ii) a focus on athlete development (both career and personal development goals) and skill acquisition to help attain these goals; and (iii) mental health screening of, and feedback to, athletes. The purpose of these foundational components is to enhance awareness of the importance of athlete wellbeing across the elite sport ‘ecology’. This in turn addresses workplace duty of care and occupational health and safety responsibilities towards athletes’ overall wellbeing in the context of sport-related stressors.

Mental Health Literacy

Mental health literacy programs should be provided to athletes, coaches and high-performance support staff to help to create a culture that values enhancing the mental health and wellbeing of all stakeholders. Programs should also be offered to the athlete’s family or friends to build their capacity to identify symptoms and encourage help-seeking, particularly as these are the individuals from whom athletes will initially seek help and support [ 48 , 49 ]. Engaging an array of individuals, including organisational staff, in these programs broadens the reach of mental health literacy within an athlete’s (or sport’s) ecology (see Fig. 1 ). Gulliver and colleagues effectively trialled the delivery of a mental health literacy program to elite athletes via team-based workshops facilitated by mental health professionals [ 26 ]. This delivery method is preferred given the opportunity for qualified facilitators to discuss and explore athlete questions or concerns (especially regarding confidentiality and the implications of help-seeking for selection) and to potentially problem-solve together. The content of such training should be customised to address the specific aspects of the sport (e.g. team-based versus individual sport) and developmental stages (e.g. junior versus retiring athletes). Basic program content should cover (i) athlete-specific and general risk factors that can increase susceptibility to mental ill-health; (ii) key signs or symptoms of impaired wellbeing; (iii) how and from whom to seek help, both within and outside the sport; and (iv) basic techniques for athletes to self-manage transient mood states or psychological distress, such as relaxation techniques, adaptive coping strategies, self-compassion and mindfulness.

Individually Focused Development Programs

Individually focused development programs can assist athletes to identify personal/vocational goals and acquire the skills necessary to achieve them. This is necessary to help develop a parallel non-athletic identity, the skills to manage life-sport balance and to prepare for the eventual end of competitive sport. The latter may be challenging in younger athletes who often lack the longer-term perspective or life experience to perceive the need for such planning. However, a focus on developing a non-athletic identity must occur at all phases of the sporting career and not be confined to the transition out of sport phase, since building such skills takes time (and athletes are prone to unplanned retirement due to injury). These activities are ideally facilitated by a skilled, well-trained ‘peer workforce’. These are individuals who have a lived experience of mental ill-health and sufficient training to share their knowledge to help support others in similar situations [ 50 ]. In the sporting context, a peer workforce could include former athletes or coaches who work with current athletes to discuss and normalise experiences of mental health symptoms or their risk factors. Former athletes can assist with athlete development programs and mobilise athletes to the importance of actively participating with such programs, based on their own experiences [ 39 ].

Mental Health Screening

Mental health screening should be included alongside routine physical health checks by medical staff as part of a comprehensive framework. Screening items should be sensitive to the elite context [ 50 , 51 ] and should be designed to provide feedback to athletes to help promote improved self-awareness, such as their mental state and triggers for symptoms. Critical times to screen are following severe injury (including concussion) and during the transition into, and out of sport [ 1 ], and the lead-up to and post major competitions may also be periods of higher risk. It is important to note that there is currently a lack of widely validated athlete-specific screening tools, though one elite athlete sensitised screening measure—the Athlete Psychological Strain Questionnaire—has been validated in a large sample of male elite athletes reporting strong psychometric properties [ 52 ], and is under further validation with female and junior athletes. Research potential exists to not only develop further athlete-specific measures, but to determine who is best suited to conduct screening, and what credentials or training may be required to ensure safety and integrity in this process (e.g. that appropriate help or referral is provided to athletes who screen positive).

Indicated (‘at-risk’) Prevention Programs

The second phase is indicated prevention programs for those considered or assessed as being ‘at-risk’ of impaired mental health and wellbeing. This phase aims to mitigate the likelihood of deterioration in mental health by detecting symptoms as early as possible and facilitating referral to appropriate health professionals. Key staff within the sports system can be assisted to develop skills in early symptom identification and to promote professional help-seeking. This includes coaches, athletic trainers and teammates (where appropriate) who are in a position to notice ‘micro’ changes in an athlete over days or weeks, and sports medicine staff, such as physiotherapists who may detect other non-observable signs, such as changes in energy or body tension. We term these individuals ‘navigators’ in the mental health framework, as they have a crucial role in observing the athlete’s behaviour or mental state and being able to link them to professional care. These navigators can be provided with additional training (adjunctive to mental health literacy) to better recognise and interpret the athlete’s behaviour in relation to their overall wellbeing, understand athlete privacy concerns that inhibit the disclosure of mental health symptoms and build self-efficacy to be able to raise their concerns safely with the affected athlete or medical/mental health staff.

Sport administrators should also consider developing guides on ‘what to do if concerned about an athlete’s mental wellbeing’ and make these available to all relevant staff. These should include information regarding appropriate referral sources, responses (e.g. prevention program vs. early intervention) and facilitators to engage athletes, such as support and encouragement [ 27 , 28 ] and/or linking mental wellbeing with athletic performance [ 29 , 30 ]. Protocols or guides for responding to mental health concerns become less stigmatised when wellbeing needs are already routinely promoted via foundational programs.

Early Intervention

Early intervention is necessary in instances where the performance and life demands placed on an athlete exceed their ability to cope (i.e. major career-threatening injury or significant life stress). Structured clinical interventions for mild to moderate mental ill-health are typically indicated at this phase and should ideally be provided ‘in-house’ by mental health clinicians, such as sports or clinical psychologists or psychiatrists, or medical staff where appropriate (e.g. pharmacotherapy). The use of in-house professionals helps to counter the low levels of service use associated with referring athletes out to external service providers and the stigma that is associated with the athlete needing expert ‘outside help’ [ 53 ]. Where requisite in-house expertise does not exist, this can be managed by the use of qualified consultants, but ideally these professionals should be ‘embedded’ to some extent within the sporting environment to ensure that athletes and other staff understand ‘who they are and what their role is’, even if their presence is infrequent [ 54 ]. When referral out is necessary, or preferred by the athlete, ideally this should be to a mental health professional with appropriate sport sensitised training, knowledge and experience assisting elite athletes.

Early interventions need not always be face-to-face, but can be augmented by telephone or web-enabled consultations, the latter particularly relevant given the frequency with which elite athletes travel unaccompanied by the sporting entourage. All interventions, regardless of the mode of delivery, should use an individualised care approach that is based on assessment and conceptualisation of the individual athlete’s presenting problem(s). The intervention should target the psychological processes of the athlete that are impeding mental health [ 55 ] and take account of the specific familial, sporting and organisational issues that may be impacting on the athlete’s wellbeing.

An example of an early intervention model of care is the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) mental health referral network [ 56 ]. Athletes are assessed by an AIS mental health advisor, who can make a referral, if necessary, to a qualified mental health practitioner who has been credentialed to work within the network. This practitioner then works individually with the athlete to address their needs and ideally restore their mental health and functioning [ 57 ].

Specialist Mental Health Care

Despite best efforts to prevent or intervene early, some athletes will nonetheless experience severe or complex psychopathology requiring specialist mental health care, particularly where there is a risk of harm to self or others. In some cases, this may include hospitalisation or specialist inpatient or day programs. The IOC Expert Consensus Statement provides a summary of recommended clinical interventions for a range of mental disorders, including bipolar, psychotic, eating and depressive disorders, and suicidality [ 1 ]. Developing and implementing a mental health emergency plan may also be required, particularly in cases where an athlete presents with an acute disturbance in their mental state, for instance agitation/paranoia, or suicidal ideation [ 58 ]. The IOC Expert Consensus Statement recommends that structured plans should acknowledge and define what constitutes a mental health emergency, identify which personnel (or local emergency services) are contacted and when, and consider relevant mental health legislation [ 1 ].

There is also arguably a need for ‘return to sport or training’ guidance for athletes who have been unable to compete or train for their sport due to mental illness, akin to guidelines for managing concussion [ 59 ]. Such guidance could potentially provide a graduated, step-by-step protocol that prepares not only the athlete for a successful return to sport, but also the microsystem that supports them.

Conclusions

We have proposed a comprehensive framework for elite athlete mental health. More research is needed to bolster the efficacy of the approaches discussed here in the elite sports context, as well as other factors that are under-researched in the literature, such as gender-specific considerations in mental health [ 60 ] and considerations for para-athletes [ 23 ]. We are mindful that coaches and other high-performance staff are vulnerable to mental health problems [ 61 ] and the needs of these individuals need to be incorporated into a more inclusive model of care. Further, we recognise the scope of this framework does not cover the needs of non-elite athletes. Elements of this framework may be tailored in the future to be applicable and contextualised for non-elite environments where there may be limited resources, less professional staffing and greater limitations in athlete schedules.

Despite the exponential increase in research interest related to athlete mental wellbeing, major service delivery and treatment gaps remain. Evaluating the efficacy of mental health prevention and intervention programs via controlled trials or other high-quality designs is urgently needed. Program evaluation should ideally adopt an ecological systems approach to account for competition-related, individual-vulnerability and organisational factors on mental health outcomes, for example by seeking to measure system-level variables (e.g. the degree of perceived psychological safety within the sporting organisation [ 62 , 63 ]) and individual athlete-level variables (e.g. coping skills, relationship with coach, injury history). As initiatives are evaluated and enhanced or adapted, developers should consult with elite sport organisations and individuals to ensure the relevance and sport sensitivity of their programs. Increased resources and research funding to support the evaluation and implementation of athlete mental health programs is needed, such as currently exists for managing athletes’ physical health (e.g. musculoskeletal injuries, concussion).

Finally, we are acutely aware that a framework such as that articulated here requires substantial investment and that such funding is scant even in high income settings. The foundational and at-risk components lend themselves, we believe, to be adaptable to low resource settings, given the emphasis on athlete self-management and a trained peer workforce. Adaptations to providing early intervention in low resource settings will be needed, and innovations in general mental health can act as a blueprint [ 64 ]. Regardless of settings or resources, investment in a comprehensive response to athlete mental health needs attention if it is to ever gain parity with physical health.

Availability of Data and Materials

Not applicable.

Abbreviations

International Olympic Committee

Australian Institute of Sport

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Simon M Rice was supported by a Career Development Fellowship (APP115888) from the National Health and Medical Research Council.

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Purcell, R., Gwyther, K. & Rice, S.M. Mental Health In Elite Athletes: Increased Awareness Requires An Early Intervention Framework to Respond to Athlete Needs. Sports Med - Open 5 , 46 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-019-0220-1

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How to do Research on Sports

Academic Writing Service

Today, the sports business is a billion-dollar industry and an integral part of American and world culture. Interest in sports has hardly waned from the most watched Super Bowls, to the greatest World Series, to record-breaking accomplishments of sports stars. Yet there is a dark side; widespread controversies about steroid use, long-term contracts ruining the sport, and franchises relocating to other cities when the revenues dry up.

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Whether you love sports, have a difficult research question or a desire to learn more about a particular sport, athlete, or controversial issue, many sources provide information to suit your needs for research paper writing. Among them are almanacs and general reference works, abstract and citation indexes, popular periodicals and journals, and countless print and electronic sources.

The following sources describe the selected references in the above categories to get you started.

Selected Subject Headings

Listed below is a sample of a few broad Library of Congress subject headings—made up of one word or more representing concepts under which all library holdings are divided and subdivided by subject—which you can search under and use as subject terms as well when searching online library catalogs for preliminary and/or additional research, such as books, audio and video recordings, and other references, related to your research paper topic. When researching materials on your topic, subject heading searching may be more productive than searching using simple keywords. However, keyword searching when using the right search method (Boolean, etc.) and combination of words can be equally effective in finding materials more closely relevant to the topic of your research paper.

Suggested Research Topics for Sports

  • Coaching (athletics)
  • College Sports
  • Doping in Sports
  • Mass Media and Sports
  • Outdoor Life
  • Physical Education and Training
  • Professional Sports
  • Recreation Sport
  • Sporting Goods
  • Sports for Women
  • Sports—Administration/Management
  • Sports—History
  • Sports—Medicine
  • Sports—Psychology
  • Television Broadcasting of Sports
  • Violence in Sports

Selected Keyword Search Strategies and Guides

sports research guide 2

If your topic is “steroid use in professional sports,” for example, enter “steroids” and “professional sports” with “and” on the same line to locate sources directly compatible with the primary focus of your research paper. To find research on more specific aspects of your topic, from your list of keywords that you developed alternate with one new keyword at a time with “and” in between (for example, “steroids and athletes and professional sports,” “steroids and ban and professional sports,” “steroids and performance and professional sports,” “steroids and suspensions and professional sports,” etc.).

For additional help with keyword searching, navigation or user guides for online indexes and databases by many leading providers—including Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, EBSCO, H.W. Wilson, OCLC, Ovid Technologies, ProQuest, and Thomson Gale—are posted with direct links on library Web sites to guides providing specific instruction to using whichever database you want to search. They provide additional guidance on how to customize and maximize your searching, including advanced searching techniques and grouping of words and phrases using the Boolean search method—of your topic, of bibliographic records, and of full-text articles, and other documents related to the subject of your research paper. Many libraries, under the “Help” sections of their Web sites, post their own tutorials on subject and keyword searching, which you can also consult.

Selected Source and Subject Guides

As part of your preliminary research to find appropriate resources for your research paper, information source and research guides are available at most public and academic libraries and are keyword searchable through your library’s online catalog (to search and locate guides, enter your “subject” followed by these keywords one search at a time: “information sources,” “reference sources,” and “research guide”). Printed guides available for this subject area include

Information Sources in Sport and Leisure , edited by Michele Shoebridge, 345 pages (London; New York: Bowker-Saur, 1992)

Sport, Leisure, and Tourism Information Sources: A Guide for Researchers , edited by Martin Scarrott, 267 pages (Oxford and Boston: Butterworth Heinemann, 1999)

Sports, Exercise, and Fitness: A Guide to Reference and Information Sources , by Mary Beth Allen, 287 pages (Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited, 2005)

Sports History: A Guide to Scholarship, the Literature and Sources of Information , by Richard William Cox (London: Frank Cass, 2002)

Women in Sport: A Guide to Information Sources , by Mary L. Remley, 139 pages (Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research Co., 1980)

In addition to these sources of research, most college and university libraries offer online subject guides arranged by subject on the library’s Web page; others also list searchable course-related “LibGuides” by subject. Each guide lists more recommended published and Web sources—including books and references, journal, newspaper and magazines indexes, full-text article databases, Web sites, and even research tutorials—you can access to expand your research on more specific issues and relevant to your research paper subject.

Selected Books and References

ESPN Sports Almanac 2009 , edited by Gerry Brown and Michael Morrison, 976 pages (New York: Ballantine Books, 2008)

Called by its publisher “the most authoritative sports reference book ever published,” this best-selling almanac annually recaps the major sports stories and sports moments of the previous year. Featuring hundreds of photographs and thousands of graphics and tables, it offers year-by-year and sport-by-sport coverage, including facts and statistics, “Top Ten Moments” from each sport, plus essays and analysis by popular ESPN on-air personalities including Tim Kurkjian, Rick Reilly, Bill Simmons, Dick Vitale, and others.

Sports Illustrated 2009 Almanac , by the editors of Sports Illustrated, 576 pages (New York: Time, Inc., Home Entertainment, 2008)

Originally published annually by Little, Brown & Co., from 1992 to 2002 this book provides extensive coverage of the year in sports for 19 major sports, including baseball, football, biathlon, and figure skating. Included is a wealth of statistics, records, and essays by Sports Illustrated writers.

Dictionaries

Churchill Livingstone’s Oxford Dictionary of Sports Science and Medicine , 3rd ed., compiled by Michael Kent, 624 pages (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2007)

Written for athletes, coaches, medical professionals, and students, this third revised and updated edition includes more than 7,500 cross-referenced terms in all major areas of sports science and medicine. Subjects covered include anatomy, exercise physiology, nutrition, sports sociology, sports injuries, and scientific and training principles.

Dictionary of Sport and Exercise Science and Medicine , edited by Sheila Jennet, M.D. 496 pages (St. Louis, Mo.: Elsevier, 2008)

Easy-to-use dictionary that covers all sports and exercise sports sciences. Entries feature clear and concise definitions of terms for such areas as adapted physical education, biomechanics, exercise physiology, motor control, motor development, motor learning, sport pedagogy, sport psychology, and sport sociology.

Encyclopedias

Berkshire Encyclopedia of World Sport , edited by David Levinson and Karen Christensen, 4 vols., 1,816 pages (Great Barrington, Mass.: Berkshire Publishing Group, 2005)

Information about hundreds of sports from around the world since ancient times is well detailed and nicely chronicled in this informative four-volume encyclopedia. Entries cover not only each individual sport and how it’s played but also the history and evolution, human experience, emotion, and influences that shaped them.

International Encyclopedia of Women and Sports , 3 vols., edited by Karen Christensen, Allen Guttmann, and Gertrude Pfister (New York: Macmillan Library Reference, 2001)

In the words of one critic, “No other encyclopedia treats the field of women in international sports with such currency, depth, and detail” as this three-volume reference set does. It features more than 130 biographies, 170 individual and group sports overviews, and 75 country profiles, all related to women and sports. Articles up to 4,000 words long examine cultural, ethical, health, and societal issues, as well as non-Western sports, extreme sports, and outdoor recreation, generously supplemented by photographs, charts, informative sidebars, and bibliographies.

Rules of the Game: The Complete Illustrated Encyclopedia of all the Sports of the World , by the Diagram Group, 320 pages (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995)

This concise, color-illustrated volume details the rules and procedures, equipment required, and methods of scoring for more than 150 sports—including darts and jai alai—for over 400 related events.

General Reference

Sports: The Complete Visual Reference , by Francois Fortin (New York: Firefl y Books, 2003)

Fully revised color-illustrated reference guide to more than 125 sports played around the world, such as baseball, basketball, hockey, golf, BMX, and diving, grouped by category. Clear, concise explanations detail the origin, method of play, the kinds of equipment and environments, and physical and training requirements of each sport. Charts of world records and legendary competitors of the past are also included.

Handbook of Sport Psychology , 3rd ed., edited by Gershon Tenenbaum and Robert C. Eklund, 960 pages (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2007)

Authored by leading experts, this third, revised edition, featuring 22 chapters, documents the psychological aspects, discipline, and training of competitive sports, including new research and approaches to exercise, motivation, pain management, and performance.

Sports Nutrition: Olympic Handbook of Sports Medicine , edited by Ronald J. Maughan and Louise Burke, 200 pages (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Science, 2002)

This book offers practical nutritional information. Subjects covered include nutrition needs, exercise and energy demands, recovery time between training sessions, and nutritional strategies for training, as well as other related topics, such as weight management, limitations to exercise performance, sports foods, and other supplements vital to training and performance.

Selected Full-Text Article Databases

Academic Search Premier  (Ipswich, Mass.: EBSCO Publishing, EBSCOHost, 1972– )

Full-text articles from more than 4,650 publications, including an index of articles found in 1,000 other academic publications, for information on a wide range of topics in art, computer science, education, engineering, ethnic studies, humanities, language, literature, medical sciences, social sciences, and more.

Education Abstracts Full Text  (Bronx, N.Y.: H.W. Wilson Co., Wilson Disc, WilsonWeb/OCLC Education Abs/Ovid Technologies, Inc./ProQuest/Thomson DIALOG, 1983– )

Indexes, abstracts, and provides selected full text of articles in more than 400 education-related periodicals and yearbooks. Includes journals that cover physical education and sports in schools. Indexing begins in June 1983, and abstracts and full-text articles in August 1994, with most full-text articles beginning in 1996. Also produced under the name of Wilson Education Abstracts, both on CD-ROM and online.

Health Source: Consumer Edition  (Ipswich, Mass.: EBSCO Publishing, EBSCOHost, indexing/abstracting: 1984– , full text: 1990– )

Provides full text of 300 consumer-health, international health and nutrition journals—largely English-language materials—plus indexing and abstracts from newsletters, pamphlets, reference books, and other information. Useful for researching topics such as biomechanics, food sciences, physical fitness, sports and sports medicine, and wellness. Dates of coverage vary by title; full text from 1990 to the present.

InfoTrac OneFile  (Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale InfoTrac, 1980– )

Features citations, abstracts, and full-text articles from more than 6,000 scholarly journals, popular magazines, and newspapers in nearly every academic discipline, including the arts and humanities, social sciences and science and technology, as well as business, law, current affairs and general interest topics, from 1980 to the present updated daily.

LexisNexis Academic Universe  (Dayton, Ohio: LexisNexis, 1970– )

Good source for finding current articles and information on professional and amateur sports and athletes featuring full-text newspaper and journal articles more than 5,600 news, business, legal, medical, and reference publications. Includes national and regional newspapers such as the San Francisco Chronicle and The New York Times, broadcast transcripts, wire services, international news and non-English language sources. Stories are searchable under the “General News Topics” category, and under “News/Arts and Sports.”

ProQuest Research Library  (Ann Arbor, Mich.: ProQuest, index: 1971– , full text: 1986– )

Useful for researching such as topics as athletes, exercise, physical fitness, and sports injuries, ProQuest Research Library (originally Periodical Abstracts Research II) indexes current articles, some 2,500 full-text journals, in nearly every academic discipline, as well as current affairs and general interest topics. Citations and abstracts are from selected publications since 1972, with more complete coverage beginning in 1996. Updated daily, this multidisciplinary database mixes scholarly and popular journals, with full-text coverage of nearly 15 exercise and sport science titles from 1988 to the present.

PsycARTICLES  (Washington, .D.C.: American Psychological Association PsycINFO, 1894– )

Online database of full-text articles published by the American Psychological Association, APA Educational Publishing Foundation, the Canadian Psychological Association, and Hogrefe and Huber Publishers covering all aspects of psychology. Covers such areas as sports psychology, leisure, and rehabilitation.

SBRnet: Sport Business Research Network  (Princeton, N.J.: Sports Business Research Network, 1993– )

Major online research database featuring articles, consumer surveys, government data, market research reports, and news releases, some in full text, covering all facets of the sports industry, from archery to youth sports. This comprehensive database provides immediate access to market research from the National Sporting Goods Association, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and sports governing bodies, full-text articles from 14 magazines and newsletters published by Miller Freeman, the world’s largest sporting goods trade publisher, and newsletters provided by leading independent industry experts. In mid-1999, SBRNet added buyTRACK, a new database created by Harris Interactive, which tracks the sporting goods purchasing habits of consumers on the Internet.

SPORTDiscus  (Ottawa, Canada: Sports Information Resource Centre [SIRC], 1830– )

Contains more than 700,000 citations and abstracts, with links to full-text articles, to periodical literature in physical fitness, recreation, sport management, sport science, and related areas. Coverage includes worldwide scientific and practical literature, such as articles, audiovisual material, conference proceedings, dissertations, monographs, and research reports for both individual and team sports. Also indexed is literature on coaching, conditioning, officiating, and training, and additional sport- and fitness-related topics, including biomechanics, exercise physiology, exercise psychology, international sports history, sport psychology, and much more. Most sources are in English and French.

Selected Periodicals

American Track and Field  (Madison, Wisc.: Shooting Star Media, 1994– , five times yearly)

Aimed principally at high school, college, and club track and field and cross-country coaches, this professional periodical is a source of training information, new techniques, and approaches meant to improve “the performance of American athletes in the disciplines of track and field, cross country, and race walking.” An official partner with the U.S.A. Track and Field organization, American Track and Field was first published in 1994 and is issued five times yearly. Each issue profiles top athletes and coaches, reviews major world athletic events, reports on U.S. championships, and offers informative articles on related topics, including individual event training, sports nutrition, and sports psychology.

Baseball America  (Durham, N.C.: American Sports Pub., 1981– , weekly)

Perhaps the best baseball weekly in its class, this popular tabloid provides complete coverage of high school, college, and professional baseball. Highlighting each issue are expertly written articles, columns, and features covering the latest news, the top names and up-and-coming players in the game, plus statistics and scores of the most recent games. Past issues are available in microform from January 1991 through the end of the previous year.

Basketball Digest  (Evanston, Ill.: Century Pub. Co., 1973– , six times yearly)

Published six times yearly since November 1973, this entertaining tabloid provides an insider’s perspective on NBA, NCAA, and WNBA basketball, and the world of hoops in general. Every issue contains informative and timely features, player profiles, statistics, schedules, and more. The editors also publish special sections every year featuring their selections of the “NBA Player of the Year,” “All-NBA Teams,” “All-Rookie Teams,” and “All-American Teams.”

Football Digest  (Evanston, Ill.: Century Pub. Co., 1971– , eight times yearly)

From the publisher of Basketball Digest and Hockey Digest, this photo-packed magazine has since 1971 delivered comprehensive coverage of happenings in NFL and college football, including in-depth season previews, informative interviews with players and coaches, the latest news, NFL and college schedules, NFL rosters and directories, and relevant statistics on players and teams. Special issues are also devoted annually to the “NFL All-Pro” and “College All-American” teams.

Golf Digest  (Evanston, Ill.: Golf Digest, 1950– , monthly)

Published monthly since 1950, this glossy magazine provides practical advice and in-depth coverage of the game of golf for both amateur and semiprofessional golfers alike. Coverage includes “how-to” articles and lessons, feature stories, and reviews of the most recent championship opens, equipment reviews, and much more.

Hockey Digest   (Evanston, Ill.: Century Pub. Co., 1972– , six times yearly)

Since its first issue, published in November 1972, for more than 30 years this popular tabloid has provided the most extensive coverage of hockey, from the game’s top stars and Stanley Cup championships to college hockey. A wide range of articles is included in each issue, including interviews with professionals, in-depth features, and expert analysis of the latest trends and game action.

Journal of Sport History  (Radford, Va.: North American Society for Sport History, 1974– , quarterly)

A project of the Amateur Athletic Association of Los Angeles and the North American Society for Sport History, this scholarly publication offers articles in each issue devoted to the study of all aspects of sport history. Most articles and back issues of the journal are available online as PDF files from 1974 to 2001, and are fully searchable.

The NCAA News  (Shawnee Mission, Kan.: National Collegiate Athletic Association, 1900–2007, biweekly, online: 2008– )

The NCAA News is the official publication of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), a voluntary organization with members from nearly 1,200 colleges and universities, athletic conferences, and sports organizations nationwide. Published biweekly in print through 2007, this leading authority on college athletics covers the latest news regarding the business and administration of college athletics throughout the year. Beginning in January 2008, The NCAA News discontinued its print edition, becoming a daily online publication instead. To access, visit  http://www.ncaa.org/  and click on “NCAA News.”

Pro Football Weekly   (Chicago, Ill.: Pro Football Weekly, Inc., 1967– , weekly)

Devoted exclusively to pro football, this weekly tabloid newsmagazine provides complete coverage of the NFL, Canadian, Arena, and European football leagues. Each issue features award-winning columns and features, inside information, game previews, scouting analysis, investigative reporting, rosters and injury reports, and complete scores and statistics of the previous week’s action. Some content is published online and accessible at  http://www.profootballweekly.com/ .

Runner’s World  (Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale Press, 1970– , monthly)

First introduced nationally in 1970, this long-running monthly magazine publishes informative and helpful articles of interest to runners of all ages. Issues contain timely articles on medical and training advice, sports medicine and nutrition, shoe evaluations, profiles of running personalities, and coverage of important races and upcoming events designed to educate and inform its readers.

The Sporting News  (St. Louis, Mo.: Sporting News, 1886– , weekly)

Long known as the “bible of baseball” and “America’s sport authority,” this weekly sports publication, published since 1886, provides weekly analysis and reviews of every major sport, including baseball, basketball, football, and hockey. Every issue combines in-depth articles, team-by-team capsules, and the latest news and statistics covering American professional and college sports. The Sporting News also provides online access to archival material covering all sports through its Web page called The Vault. Included are sports histories, virtual scrapbooks of legendary sports figures, special features on sports anniversaries, and other resources. To access, visit  http://www.sportingnews.com/ .

Sports Illustrated  (New York: Time, Inc., 1954– , weekly)

Perhaps “the most recognized periodical of American sports,” this popular weekly magazine has provided coverage of American sports since 1954. Combining commentary and analysis with action-packed photography, every week articles include profiles of past and current sports legends, weekly wrap-ups of recent competitions in professional and college sports, major sport news, and primers of upcoming college and pro sport seasons. Full-text articles are also found in the library database Expanded Academic ASAP (1980– ).

Tennis  (Trumbull, Conn.: Miller Sports Group LLC, 1965– , 10 times yearly)

In print since 1965, this popular publication is a primary source of information and instruction for fans and avid tennis players of all levels of expertise. Articles cover every facet of the game with a primary emphasis on improving skill and enjoyment of the game. Contents of the most current issue are retrievable online at  http://www.tennis.com/ .

USA Today Sports Weekly  (Arlington, Va.: Gannett Co., 1991– , weekly)

Formerly known as Baseball Weekly, this newspaper-style tabloid, first published on April 11, 1991, in partnership with USA Today, provides comprehensive coverage of current sports in season. Each publication includes articles, features, commentaries, photos, statistics, and box scores of the previous week’s games. An electronic version is available by subscription. To subscribe and access, visit  http://www.usatodaysportsweekly.newsstand.com/ .

Selected Web Sites

Sports Videos, Articles, Player Biographies and More!  ( http://www.sporthaven.com/ )

Provides news and scores from all major professional sports, including the Canadian Football League (CFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), National Football League (NFL), National Hockey League (NHL), Professional Golf Association (PGA), racing, tennis, and more.

American Statistics Association—Sports Data Resources  ( http://www.amstat.org/sections/sis/Sports%20Data%20Resources/ )

Comprehensive online directory provided by the American Statistics Association featuring links to Web sites for a number of sports, including baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and soccer.

CBS Sports  ( http://www.cbssports.com/ )

A free service of CBS Broadcasting, Inc., offering full-text articles, scores, columns, and a search engine for information on baseball, NFL, NBA, NHL, golf, tennis, auto racing, and other sports.

SI  ( https://www.si.com/ )

Delivers full-text articles from Sports Illustrated, plus individual sections on baseball, pro and college football, pro and college basketball, golf, hockey, motor sports, soccer, tennis, and women’s sports, and scoreboards and team pages.

ESPN SportsZone  ( http://espn.go.com/ )

Offers regularly updated full-text articles on the NFL, college football, the NHL, the NBA, college basketball, and other sports.

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Latest Articles

The real cause of losing sports officials.

George Minoso 2024-02-15T12:01:06-06:00 February 16th, 2024 | Contemporary Sports Issues , General , Sports Coaching , Sports Management , Sports Studies |

Authors: Matthew J Williams D.S.M., M.B.A. M.S.

Department of Education, The University of Virginia’s College at Wise, Wise, VA, USA

Corresponding Author:

Dr. Matthew Williams The University of Virginia’s College at Wise 2001 Greenbriar Drive Bristol, VA 24202

Matthew J. Williams D.S.M., M.B.A., M.S., is an Associate Professor of Sport Management at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise. His areas of research interest include NASCAR, COVID-19, college athletics, professional sports, and sport management issues..

Recreational Sports, Junior Highschool Sports, and Highschool Sports are witnessing across all types of sports a decline in sports officials. Athletic directors in all three levels have seen a steadily declined in sports officials in the last twenty years. But since the COVID-19 Pandemic, the lack of sports officials has increased so rapidly that it could eventually become a nationwide crisis. The pandemic may have caused the decline of sports officials but it was not the only cause. The age of the sports officials has played a role in the decline of the sport’s officials. But the true main cause of losing sports officials has been the lack of respect for the sport’s officials through the behavior of players, coaches, family members, and sports fans.

Keywords Sports Officials, Players, Coaches, Fans, COVID-19 Pandemic, Respect.

Introduction

Recreational Sports, Junior High School Sports, and High School Sports are all witnessing a lack of sports officials all across the United States. There are so many theories out there on why we are losing sports officials so rapidly. If you have attended a sporting event lately and looked at the sports officials, a constant trend you will witness is the sports officials’ increasing ages and the lack of sports officials that are able to cover the sporting events. The repercussions of the lack of sports officials are already being felt. What is the true reason we are losing sports officials? Did COVID-19 Pandemic play a role in the loss of sports officials, the current age of sports officials, or the constant verbal abuse or threats to sports officials?

Even before the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic Virus, it was apparent to recreational athletic directors, and athletic directors at both junior high and high school that they were already seeing a steady decline in sports officials across the United States over the past decade. The scarcity of officials is a long-running problem in high school sports. (6) From the 2018-19 school year to 2021-22, 32 of 38 states reporting statistics have seen registration numbers of officials drop, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations data. (1) Over the last decade, there has been a steady decline in the amount of referees available. In 2018, the Michigan High School Athletic Association reported that amount of referees available dropped from 12,400 to around 10,000 over the previous decade. (11)

The start of the COVID-19 Pandemic in the spring of 2020 forced a majority of recreational sports, junior high and high school sports across the United States to cease operations and shut down all games until further notice. This action of shutting down all games caused some officials to walk away from officiating. Simply because there were no games for the sports officials to work. As a result of the shutdown, officials had a chance to evaluate if they wanted to return to officiating. So many sports officials did not return to officiate games because of numerous reasons in the fall of 2020 or the spring of 2021. The Alabama High School Athletic Association is working hard to recruit and retain officials in all sports after losing more than 1,000 after the COVID-19 shutdown in the spring of 2020. (2) Washington said the association lost more than 1,100 officials after the COVID-19 shutdown. (2)

In the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021, some of the COVID-19 Pandemic restrictions were lifted and sports returned to somewhat normalcy. However, some officials decided not to return to officiating simply because of their age. There is a concern by some the impact of COVID-19 might hasten the retirement of older officials. (8)

The average age of the sports official was between 45 and 60 and it played a major role in the sports officials’ decision either to continue to be sports officials or not to be a sports official. Officials tend to be near or beyond retirement age the median age for a football referee is 56, according to the National Association of Sports Officials survey. (6) 77% of current officials are over the age of 45, with slightly more than half over the age of 55. (12)

The average age of the sports officials was at least 45 or older during the COVID-19 Pandemic. The COVID-19 Pandemic forced some older sports officials to choose not to return to officiating because simply of the underlying healthcare issues from the COVID-19 Pandemic. Some officials chose not to work during the pandemic because of health/safety concerns, and some of them chose not to return at all. (17) “In talking to some of the state directors, many of these losses are people who were probably on the brink of retirement, and then COVID kind of forced the issue,” explains Dana Pappas, NFHS director of officiating services. (15) The pandemic has also pushed a growing number of referees out, with officials leaving out of fear of getting sick. (16)

During the fall of 2021, some governors across the United States mandated that state employees must be fully vaccinated to prevent and/or limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This mandate forced many officials to choose whether to get the COVID-19 vaccination or not get the COVID-19 vaccination. If the sport’s official chose not to take the COVID-19 vaccination due to fears of the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccination or for religious beliefs, they would be banned from officiating junior high school and/or high school games. This mandate forced many officials to stop officiating resulting in a smaller pool of available officials to officiate games. “We already have a shortage of officials, not just in football but other sports,” Weber said”. “That (vaccine requirement) will reduce our numbers, based on what we’re hearing from our officials.” (3) The COVID-19 Pandemic resulted in some officials deciding not to return to officiating, creating an already smaller pool of available officials to officiate games. COVID-19 accelerated the problem, without question. (9)

Today’s parents are more invested financially than ever in their children’s sports careers. Parents are financially supporting their children’s sports careers through travel teams, summer leagues, specialized camps, personal training, and individual lessons. In the hopes that their child will either be drafted into professional sports or earn a college scholarship. Parents being so financially invested has caused an explosion of verbal abuse or threats toward officials from parents. Parents want the best outcomes for their children and are not afraid to voice their opinion to officials either by verbal abuse or threatening officials. Barrett theorized that the rise of travel teams in baseball —not to mention AAU teams in basketball and specialized camps for young football players — has caused parents to feel much more invested in their kids’ athletic careers, both financially and emotionally. (9) The parents feel more emboldened now than ever and are not afraid to voice their opinion verbally toward officials due to the fact they are so financially invested in their children’s sports careers. The parents feel strongly that they deserve the best officials to call the games because they have invested so much financially. “Parents have this sense of entitlement,” Barrett said. “They’re paying so much money, they think they should have better umpires.” (9) “These parents have this mentality of. ‘We pay all this money and travel all this way we expect the best, and referees can’t make mistakes.’ It’s based on society saying it’s okay to yell at people in public if they’re not giving you what they want. It’s asinine.” (13) “The problem is that, as parents spend more time and money on children’s sports, families are “coming to these sporting events with professional-level expectations,” said Jerry Reynolds, a professor of social work at Ball State University who studies the dynamics of youth sports and parent behavior. (7)

Aggressive behavior of abuse toward officials from coaches, players, parents, and fans started well before the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020. “Before COVID, I felt like this behavior was reaching its peak,” Barlow said. (13) The aggressive behavior toward officials did not stop after the COVID-19 Pandemic was over. But some feel that the abuse of officials has increased resulting in the loss of more officials. Society of today has now become a custom of unruly behavior toward officials, players, and fans. The old saying, I paid my general admission ticket, gives me the right to berate an official, an opposing player, or a coach. This mentality has allowed more aggressiveness toward officials. Parents, coaches, and fans are increasingly aggressive toward officials. (4) People have had seemingly free license to scream, taunt and hurl insults at sporting events — acting out in ways they never would at work, the grocery store, or the dentists office. (14)

Officials have had enough of this type of abusive behavior, which is a major reason why we are losing officials so quickly. No official wants to be verbally abused, harassed, or threatened. Such unruly behavior is the driving force, referees say, behind a nationwide shortage of youth sports officials. (7) We have had the problem of losing officials because of the lack of respect toward officials from parents, family members, and fans well before the COVID-19 Pandemic. The shortfall has persisted for years, as rowdy parents, coaches, and players have created a toxic environment that has driven referees away and hampered the recruitment of new ones, referees say. (7)

The coaches, athletes, parents, family members, and fans of today no longer value or demand sportsmanlike behavior. We now accept unsportsmanlike behavior. Which consists of disrespect or lack of respect for officials through verbal abuse, threats, or harassment. Because we are accepting and allowing this type of behavior from coaches, athletes, parents family members, and fans. This is one of the main reasons why we are losing so many sports officials. “The un-sportsman like conduct of coaches, as well as some parents put people off and they don’t want to come back, they don’t want to return. They get yelled at during their days at work,” added Gittelson. (5) The shortage of officials in high school – and middle school – sports has been a growing concern for several years – in large part due to unsportsmanlike behavior by parents and other adult fans. (10)

Conclusions

The lack of sports officials is becoming a critical situation that recreational athletic directors, junior high school, and high school athletic directors will be facing in the coming years. Some sports officials are deciding to retire because of their age or knowing that their bodies can no longer keep pace with the speed of the game that they are officiating. This is creating a smaller pool of officials from the standpoint that the average age of the sport’s official is at least 45.

The COVID-19 pandemic did play somewhat of a role in reducing of sports officials that we are in right now. The pandemic brought health scares and mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations to some sports officials resulting in these officials making the decision to not return to officiating. But the real cause of the shortage of sports officials is simply the respect that is not given to the sports official by coaches, parents, family members, and fans. The behavior from coaches, parents, family members, and fans of yelling at sports officials, questioning sports officials’ calls, threats of violence towards sports officials, cursing at sports events, and even battery towards sports officials is out of control. No sports official wants to deal with this type of behavior at all nor should this type of behavior be allowed. This is the main reason why we are seeing the pool of sports officials becoming smaller. State legislation, superintendents of schools, principals of schools, and county commissioners need to address this issue of out-of-control behavior toward sports officials. If they do not, we will witness games being canceled, cancellation of seasons, and drastic pay increases that will be demanded by sports officials for the abuse.

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BOOK REVIEW: Organizational Behavior in Sport Management: An Applied Approach to Understanding People and Groups

George Minoso 2024-02-07T08:36:27-06:00 February 9th, 2024 | Book Reveiws , Sports Management |

Authors: Chenghao Ma

School of Humanities and Social Science, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, China

Chenghao Ma 2001 Longxiang Blvd., Shenzhen, China 518172 [email protected]

Chenghao Ma is now at the School of Humanities and Social Science, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen.

Barnhill, C. R., Smith N. L., & Oja, B. D. (2021). Organizational behavior in sport management: An applied approach to understanding people and groups. Palgrave Macmillan.

Analysis of Factors Influencing the College Choice Decisions of NCAA Division I International Student-Athletes

George Minoso 2024-02-02T07:45:38-06:00 February 2nd, 2024 | Research , Sports Coaching , Sports Management |

Authors: Bryan Romsa 1 , Katelyn Romsa 2 , Jon Lim 3 , and Agatha Ampaire 4

1 Associate Professor of Sport Management, South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD. USA 2 Associate Professor of Counseling and Human Development, South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD. USA 3 Associate Professor of Sport Management, Minnesota State University, Mankato, MN. USA 4 Career Education Coordinator, South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD. USA.

Jon Lim, EdD Associate Professor, Sports Management Minnesota State University, Mankato 1400 Highland Center Mankato, MN 56001 Phone:507-389-5231 [email protected]

Bryan Romsa, EdD is an Associate Professor of Sport Management at South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD. His research interests include recruitment and retention of NCAA student-athletes and sport exit planning of NCAA student-athletes.

Katelyn Romsa, EdD is an Associate Professor of Counseling and Human Development with an emphasis on the Administration of Student Affairs at South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD. Her research interests include recruitment and retention of college students and supervision models to maximize student success.

Jon Lim, EdD is an Associate Professor of Sport Management at Minnesota State University in Mankato, MN. His research interests include technology use in education and college choice decisions of NCAA athletes.

Agatha Ampaire, PhD is the Career Education Coordinator at South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD.

To examine the factors influencing the college choice decisions of NCAA Division I International Student-Athletes, one on one in-depth interviews were conducted with eight international student-athletes ( n =8) representing different countries, at a Division 1 university in the Midwest region of the USA. Interview questions were developed using the Student-Athlete College Choice Profile Survey (SACCPS) and were formulated to maximize the depth and breadth of interviewee responses. Results indicated that the head coach, availability of the academic major, and the availability of scholarships were the top reasons for choice of school. Seven of the participants did not visit the school prior to their decision but heavily relied on the coach, other international athletes, and internet searches. Taking time to build relationships with and provide information to international student-athletes maybe paramount to their recruitment.

Key Words: college athletics, coaching, recruiting,

INTRODUCTION

There is a general increase in the number of international student-athletes who participate in intercollegiate sports in the USA (Abbey-Pinegar, 2010; Chepyator-Thomson et al., 2016). This is partly because of the increased competitiveness of college athletics and the rising stakes; winning has become very important for schools (Weston, 2006). Recruiting and training of high caliber international athletes is seen as fundamental to the success of sports teams (Falcous & Maguire, 2005). Recruiting internationally is particularly important for smaller mid-major NCAA schools because they are more likely to be out competed for domestic talent by top tier institutions. International student-athletes are recruited using a variety of methods, prominent among the methods being professional contacts within the country of origin, and recruitment at international events, which leads to competition for the elite international students. Most of international student-athletes come from specific countries, hence the terminology ‘talent pipeline’ has been used to describe the sourcing of the athletes (Pierce et al., 2010). Additionally, recently there has been a recent reduction (Zong & Batalova, 2018) in the general number of international students who are choosing to come to the USA which could impact the available pool of international student-athletes. Therefore, understanding factors that influence international student-athletes’ school choice is important, and athletics can be a tool in attracting and retaining international students.

To gain a holistic understanding of international students’ college choice, we examined the literature on reasons why international student-athletes chose to come to the USA, and their experiences and adjustment to their new environment. The reasons why the athletes are interested in coming to the USA may influence the school options and opportunities available to them, while experiences of other international athletes could be an influential factor in choice of school.

Reasons International Student-Athletes Come to the USA

Researchers have classified the reasons that international students give for leaving their home countries into Push and Pull factors. Push factors are undesirable conditions in their country which force the students to seek greener pastures elsewhere, while Pull factors are the attributes of another country which the students find attractive (Chepyator-Thomson et al., 2016; Lee, 2010; Li & Bray, 2007). Many international student-athletes are willing to leave their home country for better opportunities and better economic prospects offered by the USA, to experience a different culture, to obtain an education while also improving their athleticism (Love & Kim, 2011). However, before the Push and Pull factors come into play, the recruiters have to be aware of the student-athlete’s abilities or the student has to be aware of the opportunities available, thus familiarity with the USA system and other social ties such as recommendation from friends or former international athletes plays an important role (Mazzarol & Soutar, 2002).

Adjustment to College and Experiences of International Student-Athletes

Chepyator-Thomson et al. (2016) found that most basketball players were recruited from English speaking countries. Pierce et al. (2011) posited that student-athletes from culturally similar countries to the USA were less likely to experience cultural shock and to adjust readily than other international student-athletes. International student-athletes may also struggle to commit to their teams if they are worried about their academic performance so as not to lose their athletic standing and scholarships (Sato et al., 2011). Additionally, international student- athletes may experience discrimination from teammates and often find it difficult to fit in because of cultural differences (Sato et al., 2018). They may also experience stress as a result of a combination of factors (Arturo, 2014). However, in a study of international student-athlete satisfaction, the athletes expressed overall satisfaction with the dimensions measuring satisfaction, including academic support services, personal treatment, team social contribution and medical support (Trendafilova et al., 2010).

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study was to examine the factors influencing the college choice decisions of NCAA Division I International Student-Athletes. Some researchers such as Judson et al. (2005) and Kankey and Quarterman (2007) have studied the college choices of international student-athletes, however, in a comprehensive review of extant literature, Pauline (2010) noted that most of the studies on school choice by student-athletes utilized questionnaires. The present study seeks to expand the understanding of  International student-athletes’ university choice by utilizing in-depth interviews to elicit more detailed information and provide explanation that cannot be captured using questionnaires.

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

The conceptual framework for this investigation was guided by a decision-making model developed by Hossler and Gallagher (1987). Hossler and Gallagher’s model is composed of three stages that individuals progress through during the college selection process (predisposition, search, and choice). During the predisposition stage, the athlete decides what path they want to pursue, in this case, they decide if they would like to play within or outside their home country. The search stage is when students weigh their options, they may contact universities of interest, or they evaluate offers they may have received from recruiters. In the choice stage the student has decided to pursue specific options, the student may submit applications to select universities and start working on the immigration process. Interviewers utilized this framework to explain the factors influencing the college choice decisions of international student-athletes.

Participants

The participants of this study included eight international student-athletes (6 women and 2 men) who were 18 years or older and participated in golf ( n =3) and swimming ( n =5) from a FCS Mid-Major Division I, land-grant institution in the Upper Midwest. Participants included 2 freshman, 1 sophomore, 4 juniors, and 1 senior. Purposive sampling was used to select the international student-athletes from the sports with the highest representation of international student-athletes on the roster, which were swimming and golf, respectively. A brief description of these participants is listed in Table 1.

research paper about sports

Research Design

This research study utilized a qualitative, phenomenological design to allow for a deeper understanding of the real-life experiences of international student-athletes to explore the factors influencing their college choice when coming to the USA. A phenomenological study was chosen to describe the meaning of the lived experiences for the several individuals who shared a similar concept or phenomenon (Creswell, 2018; Patton, 2015).

Interview Questions

Twenty interview questions were developed using the Student-Athlete College Choice Profile Survey (SACCPS). The interview questions were formulated to maximize the depth and breadth of interviewee responses (Patton, 2015). Student-athletes were purposively chosen to represent the proportion of international student-athletes at the school (i.e. students were chosen from the sports with the highest representation of international student-athletes, which were swimming and golf respectively).

The interviews were conducted using a semi-structed format (Gall et al. 2007). Core questions were the same across participants, but the interviewer varied additional questions depending on responses. Reflective listening and minimal encouragers were used to maximize participant responses and increase the depth of interview content. Allowing slight variations to accommodate the appropriate context and flow of the interview, the interview questions included. Student’s major, country of origin, if the student had athletic opportunities at other institutions what were the reasons that the student selected to attend at this particular institution, and if the student had transferred, what were reasons for transferring to the institution were examined. Also explored were the impacts on the student’s decision of several factors; the head coach and coaching staff, location of the school, the student’s family, the athletic facilities, the degree programs available, the campus visit, the size and location of the university and community, campus life outside of athletics, the academic support services for athletes, the opportunity to compete, knowledge of other international student-athletes, and availability of scholarships. We sought to address three main research questions: (a) Which factor that had the biggest influence on your college choice decision? (b) What advice would you give an international student-athlete trying to decide which institution to compete for in the USA? (c) What do you wish you would have considered before making your college choice decision.

Data Collection

 Data was collected from International student-athletes at a mid-major, NCAA Division I university in the Upper Midwest. Collaboration with the athletic department was used to recruit participants. The principal investigator of this study has developed an ongoing relationship with the athletic department (e.g., coaches, athletic director, administration). From this relationship, the principal investigator has become more knowledgeable and passionate about the choice of student-athlete populations, leading to this research project. Establishing trust and building a strong connection with athletics was instrumental in receiving permission and support from the coaching staff who assisted with recruiting participants. Participants were informed that the study was voluntary and that their withdrawal from the study at any time was allowed as there were no known risks or direct benefits for participating in this study.

The interview participants were briefed about the objective and procedures of the study and assured of anonymity as well as their right to withdraw from the study at any time without penalty. The interviews which lasted 30-45 minutes were conducted in person in a one-on-one setting in a private room and were digitally recorded using audio only. Field notes were also taken during the interviews. Participants were recruited through purposive convenience sampling by the researchers via telephone call, email, text, or in-person. Additionally, the researchers collaborated with the Athletics department at the institution (administrators, coaches, student-athletes) to recruit participants.

Data Analysis

In order to avoid research bias in this study and to ascertain the quality and rigor of the data analysis, the researchers of this study conducted an inductive analysis to understand and identify general patterns, or categories (Patton, 2015). All audio files were transcribed verbatim thematic analysis was used by the researchers to analyze the data. Open coding (Maxwell, 2013) was first achieved by segmenting the data into meaningful expressions or themes based on participant responses. They identified key phrases used by participants in their responses to the open-ended questions. Once themes were identified, analytic triangulation took place where the principal investigator, worked with two peer debriefers to enhance the accuracy of the findings (Creswell, 2018). Each peer debriefer individually identified key phrases and themes that emerged from data. Then each peer debriefer shared their findings with the principle investigator whereby they collectively discussed and identified the themes and their meaning. This process added trustworthiness to the findings and prevented researcher bias by allowing the researchers the opportunity to critically evaluate their themes and make minor modifications to them as they jointly determined was appropriate (Ritchie et al., 2013). Member checking was used to validate interviews by sharing a brief summary of the interview with the research participants (Singer, 2008).

Responses were examined, interpreted, and analyzed from eight male and female, international student-athletes ( n =8) representing different countries, at a mid-size Division 1 university in the Midwest region of the USA to examine the factors influencing their college choice decision. Two major themes were found (a) the role of the institution and (b) the role of athletics. Each theme is categorized into extrinsic and intrinsic factors. Extrinsic factors meaning external, coming or operating from the institution or athletics. Intrinsic factors meaning internal, belonging or lying from within the student-athlete.

Role of Institution

Extrinsic factors

Prioritizing academics was paramount from all eight the participants in the study. All students interviewed knew the academic major they wanted to pursue in college, which made this institution attractive given that it offered their major of their interest. One participant did not take an offer from a different university because their desired major was not available. The academic majors represented by the participants in the study included Biotechnology, Business Economics, Exercise Science (Pre-athletic training), Hospitality management with minors in Management leadership and French, Sport and Recreation Management.

Scholarship offerings was important in the college choice decision to seven of the participants in the study, with some stating that it influenced them the most. One participant stated that without the scholarship they would not be able to afford to come to the USA for school and athletics. They said, “that was the biggest factor I think because from where I’m from at least our exchange rate is very bad. So, for me it was actually just all about the money basically….. it was one of my highest offers so that was a big thing and also that the tuition in general was a little lower than most other schools.” Another participant stated, “Other schools offered me a scholarship, but this institution offered me the biggest…….So for me, the scholarship was something I really needed.” Similarly stated, “Other schools were all quite similar in degree and the swimming program. So, when the end of May came around the scholarship made a big difference. If I could get more money I would go to that school.”

Touring the institution and athletic program through internet searches mattered to seven of the participants, who did not visit the school prior to their decision. Only one participant had a campus visit. Having the coach verbalize what they saw on the internet mattered to one of the participants. They mentioned, “I didn’t come to visit. The coach showed me everything by internet, but I didn’t come to visit at all. I just came straight from my first semester. I got here like 5 days before start school and then like a small window before that. I trusted him [the coach].” The location of the school was not a major factor in the student’s college choice. Some of the students did not know much about the location and size while others looked it up.

Intrinsic factors

Academic support mattered to seven of the eight participants. Access to academic support services was an important factor in their choice consideration. One participant stated, “It was important for me to like be able to get help in math which the academic advisor told me right away that they had math tutors and everything.” Another participant similarly stated, “I really liked the fact that like my academics would be supported a lot on top of athletics.”

All eight participants knew other international student-athletes from their home country who came or were going to college in the USA. This knowledge influenced the students’ decision to play in the USA but not necessarily to come to this institution. One participant stated, “A lot of my friends are here…..they have talked and said a lot of good things about stadiums.” Another participant said, “There are a lot of Dutch swimmers that go to the U.S. I knew a few of the people on the Dutch team and that they made like really big progress.” This participant also emphasize how social media has helped spread the world. “Just looking at their social media pages like all the fun things they do. It’s just so different from college at home.”

The influence of campus life was not a top factor but was considered from a residential life perspective. Two of the participants mentioned how their living situation mattered. One participant said, “I looked at the dorms.” Another student said, “I liked that the housing required two years of on campus housing and that it’s easy to get around and everything.” Two participants admitted that even after coming to the campus, they did not look up activities outside of athletics but acknowledged that it would be important later on during their academic and athletic career at the institution.

Role of Athletics

All eight participants mentioned that the coach influenced their college choice decision. One participant stated, “I thought like my connection with the coach here was stronger than the others.” Another participant stated, I had a good feeling with coach…. He just made me more confident about coming here.”

Most of the students did not get to tour the campus, they based their opinion of the athletic facilities on what they were told by the coaches or what they were able to see online. The athletic facility did not influence the Swimmer’s decision, but the presence of an indoor facility positively influenced the three Golfers in the study. One participant said, “Because you got indoor facility like the one here where you have 24-hour access to it and you’ve got a top class pitching green up there and you got all the technology you’ve got other got all the hitting bays. It was as a no brainer basically you know.”

The opportunity to compete mattered to five of the participants. Most of the students had the understanding that they were going to be able to compete and this knowledge factored into their college choice decision. The majority students seemed to have the attitude that competing is what their coming to the USA was about. One stated, “It was very important. I enjoy practice but competing is the main thing that keeps me going.” Another said, “I was told that I would be able to compete a lot….. I didn’t really want to come all this way and have to be left behind when I train every day so that played quite a big part.” Another participant said, “I’ve always wanted to play at the top level. And you know when you play against those schools playing, you are playing as the best players in the world, so you want to see how you compare to them.” “Knowing that you can come to a D-one school compete with the best schools in the country especially at tournaments we play which the top 50 countries. Top 50 programs in the country. That’s how you get better compete with the best one and we’re competing with you guys are playing the next few years. So that made me for sure choose this institution.”

Feeling a sense of belongingness with the team was important to seven the participants. This included aligning with the team’s coaching philosophy and values and/or having a strong connection with the coach and team. Fitting in with the team was important. “Felt like it would be a good fit because the swimming program had what I wanted and with my teammates having the same times [schedule] as me.” Another participant said, “I thought like my connection with the head coach here was stronger than the others. I had a good feeling with the coach…. He just made me more confident about coming here.” Another participant appreciated the friendliness from the coaches, “I found some of the other colleges I spoke to the coaches were a bit harsh. The coaches here were friendly and they more open to hearing what I wanted to contribute to the team and do for the team compared to the other universities. They kind of had their idea of what they wanted me to do and some of that was like.” Another participant similarly said, “The coaches were a lot more open to hearing my side of what I want to do and what I’m looking for.

Speaking highly of the program mattered, too. “They [the coaches] also spoke very well about the program. They gave me a good idea. And they kind of made it sound like everything that I wanted.” Having a similar vision was important. One participant shared, “I’ve talked to. 10 plus coaches and he’s so driven so desired like. There’s one thing that he wants. He’ll go get it even if it’s a team or no team he’ll get the best out of the players.” Caring for the whole student was also mentioned. “Obviously you want to be on a team where you can count on your coach you want to coach I want to help you to grow within your golf game. But I also like in your professional career too.”

Their dream of becoming a successful college athlete mattered to five participants. One participant mentioned the importance of being stretched as an athlete. They said, “At other schools I probably would’ve been the fastest in every event, but I want to be pushed. I want to be left behind.” Another participant stated, “This school offered me the opportunity to keep studying and playing golf.” Thus, the importance of adding athletics to academics was highly important.

All eight participants mentioned that the coach influenced their college choice decision. One participant stated, “I thought like my connection with the coach here was stronger than the others.” Another participant stated, I had a good feeling with coach…. He just made me more confident about coming here.”

  Feeling a sense of belongingness with the team was important to seven the participants. This included aligning with the team’s coaching philosophy and values and/or having a strong connection with the coach and team. Fitting in with the team was important. “Felt like it would be a good fit because the swimming program had what I wanted and with my teammates having the same times [schedule] as me.” Another participant said, “I thought like my connection with the head coach here was stronger than the others. I had a good feeling with the coach…. He just made me more confident about coming here.” Another participant appreciated the friendliness from the coaches, “I found some of the other colleges I spoke to the coaches were a bit harsh. The coaches here were friendly and they more open to hearing what I wanted to contribute to the team and do for the team compared to the other universities. They kind of had their idea of what they wanted me to do and some of that was like.” Another participant similarly said, “The coaches were a lot more open to hearing my side of what I want to do and what I’m looking for.

The study included international student-athletes from different parts of the world; developed and developing countries. None of the students articulated push factors as reasons for coming to the USA, but they did have pull factors, the main one being opportunity to pursue both athletics and academics in college. Only the USA offers opportunity for collegiate athletics opportunities (Love & Kim, 2011). Availability of a scholarship was important, several students mentioned that without it they would not have been able to come to the USA. Some students talked about the differences in currency strengths between their country and the USA as contributing to not being able to afford a USA education, but money (economic opportunity) was not cited as a main reason that athletes came to the USA.

-All the student-athletes were influenced by the coach in making the college choice decision. Because most of them did not get a recruiting visit, their school choice depended on how much they felt that they could relate to and trust the coach as well as the clarity of information received from the coach. Unlike the findings by Mazzarol and Soutar, (2002) recommendations from other international athletes did not play a big role in college choice decision. The information obtained from other international student-athletes helped the students to solidify their interest and as a cautionary tale on what to pay attention to in evaluating schools.

Many of the student-athletes in the study were from countries that were not culturally or geographically similar to the USA. In agreement with Pierce et al. (2011), those students struggled to understand the USA academic grading and athletic system, found the weather to be worse than imagined and struggled with the language. This study did not ascertain whether these students from countries dissimilar to the USA had received advanced warning from other international student-athletes from their countries about these issues. One student voiced the need for international student-athletes to integrate with their American counterparts which is difficult because of feeling that they are different.

LIMITATIONS

The data collection method had the advantage of examining different potential reasons for international student-athletes’ college choice, however, having preset questions even though the interviewer could go off the script to gain further insight narrowed the conversation. It is possible that some reasons were not explored because the interview was directed, and the athlete may have felt that they needed to only speak about what was being asked. When asked if there was anything they wanted to add, most students were hesitant, but some came up with different topics which could be additional reasons for school choice by international student-athletes. A study where the interviewer only asks the athlete to tell their story without directing them could uncover more reasons and shed more light on international student-athlete’s college choice.

CONCLUSIONS

The overarching theme identified in this study is that international student-athletes’ choice of school is motivated by a desire to have a great experience: feel a sense of belongingness with the team, connecting with the head coach and coaches, as well as succeeding academically and athletically.

APPLICATIONS IN SPORT

Results indicated that the head coach, availability of the academic major, and the availability of scholarships were the top reasons for choice of school. Seven of the participants did not visit the school prior to their decision but heavily relied on the coach, other international athletes, and internet searches. Coaches will need to take time to build relationships with international student-athletes they are recruiting and provide information to them from a distance may be paramount to their recruitment.

1.Abbey-Pinegar, E. (2010). The need for a global amateurism standard: International student-athlete issues and controversies. Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, 17(2), 341-365. Indiana University Press. https://doi.org/10.2979/gls.2010.17.2.341 2.Arturo R. (2014). International Student-Athletes and Stress: Implications for American Universities’ Administrators. Journal of Academic Administration in Higher Education 10(2), 39-47 3.Chepyator-Thomson R., Turcott R., Smith M.L. (2016). Exploring migration patterns and university destination choices of international student-athletes in NCAA division I men’s basketball (2004-2014). International Journal of Sport Management, 17, 576-592. 4.Creswell, J.W. (2018). Qualitative inquiry & research design: Choosing among five approaches (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. 5.Falcous, M., & Maguire, J. (2005). Globetrotters and local heroes? Labor migration, basketball, and local identities. Sociology of Sport Journal, 22(2), 137-157. https://doi.org/10.1123/ssj.22.2.137 6.Gall, M., Gall, J., & Borg, R. (2007). Educational research: An introduction (8th ed.). Pearson Education. 7.Hossler, D., & Gallagher, K. (1987). Studying student college choice: A three phase model and the implications for policymakers. College and University, 62(3), 207-222. 8.Judson, K.M., James, J.D., & Aurand, T.W. (2005). Building a successful American collegiate athletic program: Recruiting student-athletes from lower-profile sports. International Journal of Sport Management, 6(2), 122-140. 9.Kankey, K. & Quarterman, J. (2007). Factors influencing the university choice of NCAA Division I softball players. The Smart Journal, 3, 35-49. 10.Lee S. (2010). Global outsourcing a different approach to an understanding of sport labour migration. Global Business Review, 11(2), 153-165. https://doi.org/10.1177/097215091001100203 11.Li, M., & Bray, M. (2007). Cross-border flows of students for higher education: Pull-push factors and motivations of mainland Chinese students in Hong Kong and Macau. Higher Education, 53, 791-818. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-005-5423-3 12.Love, A., & Kim, S. (2011). Sport labor migration and collegiate sport in the United States: A typology of migrant athletes. Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics, 4, 90-104. 13.Mazzarol T., & Soutar N. G. (2002). “Push-Pull” factors influencing international student destination choice. International Journal of Educational Management, 16(2), 82-90. https://doi.org/10.1108/09513540210418403 14.Patton, M. Q. (2015). Qualitative research & evaluation methods: Integrating theory and practice (4th ed.). Sage Publications. 15.Pauline J. (2010). Factors influencing college selection by NCAA Division I, II, and III Lacrosse players. ICHPER-SD Journal of Research in Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Sport & Dance. 5(2), 62-69. 16.Pierce D., Kaburakis A., & Fielding L. (2010). The new amateurs: The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s application of amateurism in a global sports arena. International Journal of Sport Management, 11(2), 304-327. https://ssrn.com/abstract=1496644 17.Pierce D., Popp N., & Meadows B., (2011). Qualitative analysis of international student-athlete perspectives on recruitment and transitioning into American college sport. The Sport Journal, 14(1). 18.Weston M.A. (2006). Internationalization in college sports: Issues in recruiting, amateurism, and scope. Willamette Law Review, 42(4), 830-860. 19.Sato, T., Hodge, S. R., & Burge-Hall, V. (2011). International student–athletes’ academic, athletic, and social experiences at a historically Black university in America. Journal for the Study of Sports and Athletes in Education, 5(1), 45–72. https://doi.org/10.1179/ssa.2011.5.1.45 20.Sato, T., Hodge, S. R., & Eckert, K. (2018). Experiences of International Student-Athletes at a Historically Black University. Journal of International Students, 8(2), 696-723. 21.Trendafilova T., Hardin R., Kim S. (2010). Satisfaction among international student-athletes who participate in the national collegiate athletic association. Journal of Intercollegiate Sport. 3(2), 348-365.

Strikes, Pins, Gutter Balls, and…Maps: A Review of the Spatial Geography of NCAA Women’s Bowling

Vandy Pacetti-Donelson 2024-01-25T11:18:15-06:00 January 26th, 2024 | Sports Management , Sports Studies |

Authors: David F. Zinn

College of Business, Lander University, Greenwood, South Carolina, USA

David F. Zinn Assistant Professor of Sport Management Lander University College of Business Carnell Learning Center, M54 320 Stanley Ave. Greenwood, SC 29649 (864) 388-8220 [email protected]

David F. Zinn, EdD, currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Sport Management and the NCAA Faculty Athletic Representative at Lander University. A former NCAA Women’s Basketball Coach and Athletic Director, Zinn’s major research interests include global sport, sport geography, sport leadership, and intercollegiate sport.

Spatial geography is important to the understanding of any human activity as this field helps to determine where and why specific activities occur and flourish. As proximity to campus and access to sport opportunity are important determinants in college choice, the spatial relationship between campuses and hometowns are important components in the marketing of programs to potential recruits. The intent of this study is to examine the geography of Women’s Bowling, a relatively unstudied and newer NCAA championship sport, in terms of the locations of institutions sponsoring the sport and the relationship with hometowns of student-athletes on current rosters.

Rosters for women’s bowlers participating in the 2023 season were downloaded from team athletic websites and distances from reported hometowns and campuses were calculated via Google Maps to provide an approximate distance from a student-athlete’s home to the institution for whom they compete. Distances to hometowns were averaged per team and by NCAA division to determine relative distance to campus and states where bowling recruits tended to originate.

Data from the 2023 season indicated that the sport of Women’s Bowling is highly geographical in nature. While bowlers were willing to attend an institution further away from their hometown at the Division I level as compared to Division II and III institutions, most bowlers tend to commit to programs relatively close to their hometowns. Additionally, data suggests that large percentages of these athletes are from areas located in a relatively small section of the USA.

Spatial geography plays an impactful role in both the sponsoring of women’s bowling and in the recruitment of student-athletes into these programs. Data suggests that, with a few exceptions, the further a school is located from the Great Lakes area, the fewer collegiate programs and the fewer potential student-athletes exist. Additionally, participants in the lower levels of NCAA competition tend to commit to schools much closer to their listed hometown than those who play on an NCAA I team.

Applications in Sport

The findings of this study may prove beneficial to administrators considering adding Women’s Bowling to their offerings and to coaches who are looking for prime recruiting areas to develop their teams. Also, as most of these teams are located at smaller colleges and universities, this data may prove beneficial in considering how limited resources might be best allocated.

Keywords: Bowling, Distance, Geography, Location, Spatial

Line of Efforts: Unity of Purposes for Professionals Working with Elite Athletics

Vandy Pacetti-Donelson 2024-01-19T13:33:18-06:00 January 19th, 2024 | Sports Studies |

Authors: Matt Moore 1 , Keegan Atherton 2 , and Cindy Miller-Aron 3

1 Department of Family Science and Social Work, Miami University, Oxford, OH, USA 2 School of Education and Human Sciences, Campbell University, Buies Creek, NC, USA 3 Ascend Consultation in Healthcare, Chicago, IL, USA

Matt Moore, Ph.D., MSW 501 E. High Street Oxford, OH 45056 [email protected] 317-771-1397

Matt Moore, Ph.D., MSW, is an Associate Professor and Department Chair for the Department of Family Science and Social Work at Miami University in Oxford, OH. His research interests focus on sport social work, sport for development, and positive youth development through sport.

Keegan Atherton is a BSW student at Campbell University in Buies Creek, NC. He has a decorated military career with the United States Air Force.

Cindy Miller-Aron, LCSW, CGP, FAGPA, works for Ascend Consultation in Chicago, IL. She is several decades of clinical social work experience with an emphasis in sport social work and psychiatric care.

The purpose of this commentary is to explore how military practices can help provide holistic care for the biopsychosocial well-being of elite athletes. In particular, authors explore how Joint Doctrine related to Lines of Efforts (LOEs) and Human Performance Optimization (HPO) could provide a model of integrated care for elite athletes. The commentary includes an introduction to factors impacting elite athlete mental health, a review of military LOEs, and how these LOEs could support HPO among elite athletes. This includes a discussion on the inter-professional practice and informational diversity needed to support elite athletes both in and away from competition. The authors also discuss the key stakeholders needed to support elite athlete health and well-being, with an emphasis on full collaboration from professionals to transform practice.

Keywords: elite athlete, military, integrated care, health, well-being

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Research Method

Home » 500+ Sports Research Topics

500+ Sports Research Topics

Sports Research Topics

Sports research topics cover a vast array of areas in the world of athletics, from the physical and psychological impacts of sport on athletes to the social and cultural implications of sports on society. Sports research can include studies on training techniques, nutrition, injury prevention, performance enhancement, and much more. It can also explore the societal impact of sports, such as the role of sports in shaping national identities, gender roles, and cultural values. As a result, the field of sports research provides a unique lens through which to understand the complex relationship between sports and society, and offers insights that can benefit athletes, coaches, and sports enthusiasts alike. In this post, we will explore some of the most fascinating and important sports research topics that are currently being investigated.

Sports Research Topics

Sports Research Topics are as follows:

  • The psychological benefits of participating in team sports
  • The impact of sports on academic achievement
  • The role of sports in promoting physical health and fitness
  • The impact of sports on mental health and well-being
  • The benefits and drawbacks of early specialization in youth sports
  • The relationship between sports and character development
  • The role of sports in building social capital and community cohesion
  • The impact of technology on sports training and performance
  • The influence of gender on sports participation and achievement
  • The impact of culture on sports participation and achievement
  • The economics of professional sports: salaries, revenue, and team valuations
  • The role of sports in promoting diversity and inclusion
  • The impact of sports on political and social change
  • The impact of sports sponsorship on consumer behavior
  • The impact of doping in sports on athlete health and performance
  • The role of nutrition in sports performance
  • The impact of weather conditions on sports performance
  • The influence of crowd behavior on sports performance and player behavior
  • The impact of sports injuries on athlete health and career longevity
  • The impact of sports on tourism and local economies
  • The role of sports in promoting peace and conflict resolution
  • The impact of globalization on sports and their respective cultures
  • The impact of sports on national identity and patriotism
  • The impact of sports media on fan behavior and athlete performance
  • The impact of sports on the environment
  • The influence of sports fans on team strategy and decision-making
  • The impact of sports gambling on sports integrity and athlete health
  • The impact of sports specialization on long-term athlete development
  • The influence of sports referees and officials on game outcomes
  • The role of technology in sports officiating and decision-making
  • The impact of sports on youth development and socialization
  • The role of sports in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment
  • The impact of sports on personal identity and self-esteem
  • The role of sports in promoting physical literacy and lifelong physical activity
  • The impact of fan behavior on athlete mental health and well-being
  • The influence of sports broadcasters on fan behavior and attitudes
  • The role of sports in promoting healthy competition and fair play
  • The impact of sports participation on academic performance in children
  • The influence of social media on athlete behavior and fan engagement
  • The impact of sports on international diplomacy and political relations
  • The influence of coach behavior on athlete mental health and performance
  • The role of sports in promoting cultural understanding and awareness
  • The impact of sports science on athlete training and performance
  • The impact of youth sports on parent-child relationships
  • The influence of sports team culture on athlete behavior and performance
  • The role of sports in promoting environmental sustainability
  • The impact of sports on social mobility and economic inequality
  • The influence of sports on global health issues
  • The impact of sports on regional and national identity
  • The role of sports in promoting positive youth development and resilience.
  • The impact of technology on sports performance
  • The effects of altitude on ball flight in sports like golf and tennis
  • The effects of sports on stress management
  • The impact of COVID-19 on the sports industry
  • The impact of technology on sports officiating and rule enforcement
  • The role of sports in promoting cultural heritage and preservation
  • The impact of sports on mental toughness and resilience among athletes
  • The effects of different types of recovery interventions on sports injury rehabilitation
  • The role of sports in promoting intergenerational connections and social capital
  • The effects of different types of sports psychology interventions on team dynamics and performance in professional sports
  • The role of sports in promoting peacebuilding and conflict resolution in divided societies
  • The impact of sports on career development and job satisfaction among sports journalists
  • The effects of different types of recovery interventions on injury prevention and performance in powerlifting
  • The role of sports in promoting social innovation and entrepreneurship among youth
  • The impact of sports on social identity and community building among refugees and immigrants
  • The effects of different types of sports nutrition interventions on brain health and cognitive function in older adults
  • The role of sports in promoting sustainable urban development and active transportation
  • The impact of sports on social capital and political engagement among LGBTQ+ athletes
  • The effects of different types of training interventions on injury prevention and recovery in equestrian sports.
  • The impact of sports on body image and self-esteem among female athletes
  • The effects of different types of sports equipment on performance and injury risk in extreme sports
  • The role of sports in promoting cultural diplomacy and international relations
  • The impact of sports on emotional regulation and mental health among adolescent athletes
  • The effects of different types of nutrition interventions on injury prevention and recovery in team sports
  • The role of sports in promoting civic engagement and political participation among athletes
  • The impact of sports on cognitive development and academic achievement in early childhood
  • The effects of different types of sports psychology interventions on sports performance and mental health
  • The role of sports in promoting environmental education and sustainability in schools
  • The impact of sports on career development and employability among retired athletes
  • The effects of different types of mindfulness interventions on sports performance and well-being
  • The role of sports in promoting intercultural dialogue and understanding
  • The impact of sports on emotional intelligence and leadership development among coaches
  • The effects of different types of sports supplements on performance and health outcomes
  • The role of sports in promoting disaster risk reduction and resilience in coastal communities
  • The impact of sports on social identity and group dynamics in fan communities
  • The effects of different types of sports training on injury prevention and recovery in power sports
  • The role of sports in promoting digital literacy and technological innovation in youth
  • The impact of sports on social-emotional learning and character development in schools
  • The effects of different types of nutrition interventions on sports performance and cognitive function in older adults
  • The role of sports in promoting gender equity and empowerment in sports organizations
  • The impact of sports on cultural identity and community building among Indigenous peoples
  • The effects of different types of training interventions on injury prevention and recovery in para-athletes
  • The role of sports in promoting global health and disease prevention
  • The impact of sports on social support and mental health among parents of youth athletes
  • The effects of different types of recovery interventions on sports performance and injury prevention in master athletes
  • The role of sports in promoting community-based health education and behavior change
  • The impact of sports on identity development and socialization among adolescent girls
  • The effects of different types of sports nutrition interventions on gut microbiota and health outcomes
  • The role of sports in promoting intercultural communication and language learning
  • The impact of sports on psychological well-being and job satisfaction among sports officials
  • The effects of different types of mindfulness interventions on injury prevention and recovery in endurance sports
  • The role of sports in promoting sustainable tourism and economic development in rural areas
  • The impact of sports on social integration and inclusion among individuals with disabilities
  • The effects of different types of sports equipment on biomechanics and performance in precision sports
  • The role of sports in promoting community resilience and disaster risk reduction in urban areas
  • The impact of sports on social-emotional development and academic achievement among at-risk youth
  • The effects of different types of sports nutrition interventions on immune function and health outcomes
  • The role of sports in promoting social justice and human rights in sport governance
  • The impact of sports on community development and social capital in post-conflict areas
  • The effects of different types of resistance training on injury prevention and recovery in endurance athletes
  • The role of sports in promoting intergenerational relationships and aging well-being
  • The impact of sports on social support and mental health among retired athletes
  • The role of sports in promoting civic activism and social change
  • The impact of sports on sleep quality and quantity in professional athletes
  • The effects of different types of stretching on recovery and injury prevention
  • The role of sports in promoting environmental justice and sustainability
  • The impact of sports on emotional intelligence and social skills among youth athletes
  • The effects of different types of resistance training on sports performance
  • The role of sports in promoting peace and conflict resolution in divided societies
  • The impact of sports on academic achievement and career success among athletes
  • The effects of different types of endurance training on injury prevention and recovery
  • The role of sports in promoting cultural diversity and inclusion
  • The impact of sports on team cohesion and communication
  • The effects of different types of dietary interventions on sports performance and recovery
  • The role of sports in promoting mental health and well-being in marginalized communities
  • The impact of sports on cognitive function and academic achievement in children
  • The effects of different types of cooling interventions on sports performance and recovery
  • The role of sports in promoting community resilience and disaster preparedness
  • The impact of sports on social capital and social mobility in low-income communities
  • The effects of different types of sports nutrition interventions on bone health and injury prevention
  • The role of sports in promoting global citizenship and intercultural competence
  • The impact of sports on personal and professional development among athletes
  • The effects of different types of training programs on sports performance and injury prevention in older adults
  • The role of sports in promoting human rights and social justice
  • The impact of sports on decision-making and risk-taking behavior in adolescents
  • The effects of different types of aerobic exercise on cognitive function and brain health
  • The role of sports in promoting sustainable development and social innovation
  • The impact of sports on social integration and belonging among refugees and immigrants
  • The effects of different types of sports equipment on injury risk and performance
  • The role of sports in promoting gender equality and empowerment in developing countries
  • The impact of sports on academic engagement and achievement among middle school students
  • The effects of different types of hydration interventions on sports performance and recovery
  • The role of sports in promoting community-based tourism and economic development
  • The impact of sports on identity formation and self-concept among athletes
  • The effects of different types of sports training on bone health and injury prevention in female athletes
  • The role of sports in promoting environmental conservation and climate action
  • The impact of sports on personal values and character development among athletes
  • The effects of different types of sports nutrition interventions on cardiovascular health and performance
  • The role of sports in promoting community-based disaster response and recovery
  • The impact of sports on social support and well-being among LGBTQ+ athletes
  • The effects of different types of recovery interventions on injury rehabilitation and return to play in professional athletes
  • The role of sports in promoting social entrepreneurship and innovation
  • The impact of sports on moral reasoning and ethical decision-making among athletes
  • The effects of different types of training programs on cognitive function and academic achievement in children
  • The role of sports in promoting social inclusion and equality in urban settings
  • The impact of sports on social identity and collective action among fans
  • The effects of different types of recovery interventions on sports performance and injury prevention in adolescent athletes
  • The effects of different types of recovery modalities on injury prevention in sports
  • The role of sports in promoting cultural diplomacy
  • The impact of sports participation on academic achievement among college students
  • The effects of different types of hydration strategies on sports performance
  • The role of sports in promoting social cohesion and community building
  • The impact of sports on physical and cognitive aging
  • The effects of different types of warm-down on sports performance and injury prevention
  • The role of sports in promoting positive youth development
  • The impact of sports on crime and delinquency among youth
  • The effects of different types of endurance training on sports performance
  • The role of sports in promoting gender equity and empowerment
  • The impact of sports on mental health among athletes
  • The effects of different types of carbohydrate intake on sports performance
  • The role of sports in promoting international relations and diplomacy
  • The impact of sports on body image and self-esteem among adolescents
  • The effects of different types of sports drinks on sports performance
  • The role of sports in promoting environmental sustainability and conservation
  • The impact of sports on cognitive function and brain health
  • The effects of different types of sports psychology interventions on sports performance
  • The role of sports in promoting social justice and human rights
  • The impact of sports on physical activity levels and sedentary behavior
  • The effects of different types of pre-game nutrition on sports performance
  • The role of sports in promoting economic development and tourism
  • The impact of sports on cultural and national identity
  • The effects of different types of footwear on injury risk in sports
  • The role of sports in promoting civic engagement and democracy
  • The impact of sports on sleep quality and quantity
  • The effects of different types of anaerobic training on sports performance
  • The role of sports in promoting intergenerational relationships and socialization
  • The impact of sports on body composition and weight management
  • The effects of different types of sports psychology interventions on injury prevention and recovery
  • The role of sports in promoting peacebuilding and conflict resolution
  • The impact of sports on self-efficacy and self-esteem among athletes
  • The effects of different types of protein intake on sports performance
  • The role of sports in promoting health equity and reducing health disparities
  • The impact of sports on social capital and community resilience
  • The effects of different types of high-intensity interval training on sports performance
  • The impact of sports on stress and stress-related disorders
  • The effects of different types of dietary supplements on sports performance
  • The role of sports in promoting human development and well-being
  • The impact of sports on emotional regulation and mental health
  • The effects of different types of strength training on sports performance
  • The role of sports in promoting social innovation and entrepreneurship
  • The impact of sports on social identity and belonging
  • The effects of different types of cognitive training on sports performance
  • The role of sports in promoting disaster resilience and preparedness
  • The impact of sports on academic engagement and achievement among high school students
  • The effects of different types of stretching on injury prevention and sports performance.
  • The effects of different types of training on athletic performance
  • The effectiveness of different coaching styles in sports
  • The role of nutrition in athletic performance
  • The psychology of injury rehabilitation in sports
  • The use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports
  • The role of sports in promoting physical and mental health
  • The impact of social media on sports marketing
  • The effectiveness of sports marketing campaigns
  • The effects of gender and ethnicity on sports participation and performance
  • The impact of sports sponsorship on athlete performance
  • The role of sports in promoting teamwork and leadership
  • The effects of environmental conditions on sports performance
  • The impact of sports on community development
  • The psychology of winning and losing in sports
  • The effects of sleep on sports performance
  • The use of virtual reality in sports training
  • The impact of sports injuries on athletes’ careers
  • The effects of altitude on athletic performance
  • The use of data analysis in sports performance assessment
  • The role of sports in reducing stress and anxiety
  • The impact of sports on academic performance
  • The effects of different sports on cardiovascular health
  • The use of cryotherapy in sports recovery
  • The impact of social media on sports fans and fandom
  • The effects of different types of footwear on sports performance
  • The role of sports in promoting physical activity among children and adolescents
  • The effects of different types of stretching on sports performance
  • The impact of sports on social and cultural values
  • The effects of hydration on sports performance
  • The role of sports in promoting global understanding and diplomacy
  • The effects of different types of surfaces on sports performance
  • The impact of sports on economic development
  • The impact of sports on mental toughness and resilience
  • The effects of different types of recovery methods on sports performance
  • The use of mindfulness in sports performance and injury recovery
  • The impact of sports on environmental sustainability
  • The effects of different types of warm-up on sports performance
  • The role of sports in promoting tourism and travel
  • The impact of sports on crime reduction and community safety
  • The effects of different types of sports equipment on performance
  • The impact of sports on job creation and employment opportunities
  • The effects of different types of physical activity on mental health
  • The role of sports in promoting social mobility and equality
  • The impact of sports on identity formation and socialization
  • The effects of different types of pre-game rituals on sports performance.
  • The role of sports in promoting healthy aging
  • The impact of sports on conflict resolution among youth
  • The effects of sports on job satisfaction and productivity
  • The role of sports in promoting environmental conservation
  • The impact of sports on language proficiency and communication skills
  • The effects of sports on the development of social skills
  • The role of sports in promoting peaceful coexistence and tolerance
  • The impact of sports on community building and cohesion
  • The effects of different types of sports on hand-eye coordination
  • The impact of sports on personal growth and self-discovery
  • The effects of sports on cultural competency
  • The role of sports in promoting social and emotional learning
  • The impact of sports on community health
  • The effects of different types of sports on reaction time
  • The role of sports in promoting social justice and equity
  • The impact of sports on academic motivation and achievement
  • The effects of sports on the development of grit and resilience
  • The role of sports in promoting civic engagement and social responsibility.
  • The impact of sports on tourism
  • The role of sports in promoting physical activity
  • The effects of playing sports on cognitive development
  • The impact of sports on political identity
  • The effects of sports on self-esteem and body image
  • The role of sports in promoting teamwork and collaboration
  • The effects of different coaching styles on athlete performance
  • The impact of sports on national security
  • The role of sports in promoting cultural exchange and diplomacy
  • The effects of sports on language acquisition
  • The impact of sports on family dynamics
  • The role of sports in promoting conflict resolution
  • The impact of sports on social mobility
  • The effects of different types of training on injury prevention
  • The role of sports in promoting global health
  • The effects of sports on decision-making and risk-taking behavior
  • The role of sports in promoting physical and mental well-being
  • The impact of sports on social justice
  • The effects of sports on academic achievement among at-risk youth
  • The role of sports in promoting cultural heritage
  • The impact of sports on personal identity
  • The effects of sports on emotional intelligence and empathy
  • The role of sports in promoting gender equality
  • The impact of sports on identity formation
  • The effects of different types of sports on balance and coordination
  • The role of sports in promoting social capital
  • The impact of sports on social integration and inclusion
  • The effects of training at high altitudes on athletic performance
  • The psychological factors that contribute to athlete burnout
  • The relationship between sleep and athletic performance
  • The effects of music on sports performance
  • The effects of caffeine on sports performance
  • The impact of climate on sports performance
  • The use of supplements in sports performance
  • The role of genetics in sports performance
  • The effects of aging on sports performance
  • The impact of sports injuries on athlete’s careers
  • The relationship between sports and mental health
  • The effects of gender on sports performance
  • The impact of social media on sports
  • The effects of sports fandom on mental health
  • The use of technology in sports coaching
  • The impact of team culture on sports performance
  • The effects of sports specialization on athlete development
  • The role of sports psychology in athlete performance
  • The effects of plyometric training on athletic performance
  • The impact of climate change on outdoor sports
  • The effects of team dynamics on sports performance
  • The impact of sports participation on academic achievement
  • The effects of sports sponsorship on athlete performance
  • The role of biomechanics in sports performance
  • The effects of stretching on sports performance
  • The impact of sports equipment on performance
  • The effects of altitude training on endurance sports performance
  • The effects of different types of training on sports performance
  • The role of nutrition in injury prevention
  • The effects of mental preparation on sports performance
  • The effects of climate on indoor sports performance
  • The role of sports in cultural identity
  • The impact of sports participation on youth development
  • The effects of strength training on sports performance
  • The role of coaches in athlete development
  • The impact of sports on national identity
  • The effects of different playing surfaces on sports performance
  • The role of recovery in sports performance
  • The impact of sports on local economies
  • The impact of sports on gender and racial equality
  • The effects of team size on sports performance
  • The role of sports in promoting social inclusion
  • The effects of sports on personal development
  • The impact of sports on conflict resolution
  • The effects of sports on leadership development

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Top 10 Sports Medicine Journals in 2021

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February 5, 2024

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Sticking with sports during school years linked to academic success

by Michelle Blowes, University of Sydney

child sports

As school and summer sports resume, a new study from the University of Sydney finds links between kids' long-term participation in sports and increased academic performance, including impacts on NAPLAN scores, absenteeism and likelihood to attend university.

In the first long-term study of its kind, published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health , the researchers followed the sports participation of more than 4,000 Australian children from age 4 to 13. They then matched this with academic trajectory up to 21 years-of-age.

Overall, they found that continued sports participation during school years was linked to lower absenteeism, better attention and memory, higher NAPLAN and end-of-school scores, and higher odds of studying at university.

Lead author Dr. Katherine Owen said many factors influence a decline in sports participation during adolescence, but this study showed the importance of finding ways to keep young people active and engaged.

"We know all too well the link between educational attainment and improved health status. This study suggests that making sport more of a priority in school could be one way to influence this," said Dr. Owen from the University's Charles Perkins Center and School of Public Health.

"To achieve that we also need to see sports adapt and become more flexible and inclusive to allow more children to play the way that they want to, whether it's just for fun or for social reasons."

Differences between team and individual sports

The authors write that while the beneficial link between sports and academic performance is likely due to sustained physical activity, the study also highlights differences between those involved in individual sports (such as swimming or running) versus team sport.

Those in team sports had better performance on attention and working memory tests, fewer absent days without permission and were more likely to be awarded the HSC or equivalent.

"This is in line with other research that shows team sports develop important social and mental skills in children and teens," Dr. Owen said. "It provides opportunities to work together, which often fosters a sense of belonging. Unsurprisingly, these kids show lower absenteeism, which is also linked to school completion."

In comparison to those who did not participate in any sport, those with ongoing participation in individual sports had higher NAPLAN literacy results and higher academic performance on end-of-school scores (ATAR).

"We suspect this may be because individual sports tend to encourage responsibility, self-reliance, goal setting and a higher level of preparation. On a psychological level, many of these skills also carry over into preparation for school exams," Dr. Owen said.

The study also showed that continued sports participation was beneficial for academic performance for socioeconomically disadvantaged children. However, these children were less likely to continue involvement in sport.

Earlier research, study method and limitations

The results of the new study are in line with an earlier systematic review led by Dr. Owen in 2022. The review analyzed 115 international studies (predominately from the United States) totaling more than one million students and found a positive link between participation in sports and academic performance .

The new study used data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) and included a nationally representative sample of children from throughout Australia.

Sports participation was self-reported from parent and caregiver surveys that identified if children regularly participated in sports for 12 months, as well as whether it was individual or team-based. Sporting codes, and whether sports took place within school or elsewhere, were not accessed. A series of cognitive tests and normal schooling results (for example NAPLAN, HSC, ATAR) were used to record academic achievement.

While the cohort was selected at random, and adjustments were made for factors like private school attendance and previous academic success, the researchers say they cannot claim that sports participation is the direct cause of increased academic success.

They note that some important variables, like mental health data, were not available and that could partially explain the link. It may also be that children who continue to play sports have inherent personality characteristics and motivations that also lead to higher educational attainment.

"There is still much that we don't know. This also includes the role of different types of sport, and the influence of frequency and intensity of sport participation on academic results," Dr. Owen said.

"Ongoing studies will be important to flesh this out and to help us understand how we can tailor educational environments to foster and promote sports participation in a way that might improve young people 's physical activity levels, health and educational success."

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Exercising your way out of depression

Two people, a man and woman, wear exercise gear outdoors in a green park and walk away from the camera.

Exercise can be a powerful tool to fight depression and should be routinely prescribed as part of treatment plans, according to University of Queensland research.

Dr Michael Noetel from UQ’s School of Psychology reviewed more than 200 studies looking at the effect of exercise, psychotherapy and antidepressants in treating depression.  

“We found activities such as walking, jogging, yoga and strength training were extremely beneficial for treating depression,” Dr Noetel said.

“Strength training was found to be an especially effective exercise for younger women, whereas older men received the most benefit from yoga.

“We know people often respond well to medication and psychotherapy for depression, but many are resistant to treatment.

“We found exercise should be considered alongside traditional interventions as a core treatment for depression.

“Of course, anyone getting treatment for depression should talk to their doctor before changing what they are doing, but most people can start walking without many barriers.”

Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and has been found to lower life satisfaction more than divorce, debt or diabetes.

It can also lead to other health problems such as anxiety, heart disease and cancer.

Dr Noetel said exercise should be prescribed as part of a person’s treatment plan for depression.

“As well as improving our physical and cognitive health, exercise is one of the best things we can do for our mental health,” he said.

“Different types of exercise work in different ways – some are social and get us outside while others help us become more confident or get more space from our thoughts.

“But all exercise releases neurotransmitters that can change the way we are feeling.

“If exercise was a pill, it would fly off the shelves.”

Dr Noetel said they found people given a clear and structured program for physical activity did better.

“But no matter how often people exercised, whether they had other health issues or how severe their depression was, in all scenarios, exercise had a meaningful impact on their depression,” he said.

“More support is needed to help people get going with physical activity, and to keep going.  

“Prescriptions for exercise for those with depression also need to be personalised and take into consideration the individual’s circumstances, to ensure it’s the most effective plan for them.”

The researchers noted some of the studies included in their review had limitations, and further high quality studies were needed.

The research paper is published in The BMJ.

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Not long ago, professional sports avoided anything to do with gambling. But today in 2024, the Super Bowl is being played within sight of the Las Vegas Strip, and pro sports leagues and teams are raking in millions of dollars per year in partnership and ad revenue from sports betting companies. Andrew Brandt, director of the Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law, joins John Yang to discuss.

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Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Not so long ago, a Super Bowl in Las Vegas would have been unthinkable. Pro sports avoided anything to do with gambling. As recently as 2015, the NFL made a fantasy sports convention off limits for players because it was held next to a Las Vegas casino.

But tonight The Super Bowl is being played with inside of the Vegas Strip. Not only that pro sports leagues and individual teams rake in millions of dollars a year in partnership and ad revenue from sports betting companies like DraftKings and FanDuel.

Andrew Brandt is director of Villanova University's Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law. He's also a former Green Bay Packers executive and the host of a podcast called the Business of Sports which we should note is sponsored by DraftKings.

Andrew, when you were helping one of the Packers in the early 2000s, could you ever imagine that the NFL would be embracing gambling the way it is now?

Andrew Brandt, Villanova University:

John, I could not there is no area of sports business in sports law that has undergone a sea change like sports betting. We could not get near any kind of bet back in the day, even before it worked for the Packers. Everything about sports betting and sports from leagues, from the NCAA, from teams, from commissioners from owners taboo, it's taboo. You cannot go near there.

And it's mind boggling to me that today we're playing a Super Bowl in the mecca of gambling of this country, Las Vegas, it just shows you how things have changed over the last few years. Something I would have never thought while working for the Packers in the early 2000s.

What's the brief version of how we got here from there?

Andrew Brandt:

State of New Jersey was trying to implement sports betting over a period of time and they were blocked because of some law that was in the books in 1992 that didn't allow states to implement it.

Chris Christie in New Jersey went to court it lasted seven years and all the leagues including the NFL fought it in court spent tens of millions of dollars of legal fees. And lo and behold on May 14 2018, the league's lost, New Jersey won.

The decision from the Supreme Court didn't legalize sports betting John but what it did was allow states to implement sports betting and as of today, there are 38 states and the District of Columbia that are now legalized sports betting.

The other part of it is the lore of Vegas. Vegas is a town that had everything. It had fun. It had shows, it had concerts, but it didn't have sports. And then the NHL went there. Then the Las Vegas Aces of the WNBA went there. And then of course, the Oakland Raiders became the Las Vegas Raiders. The NFL to me lost all their moral high ground when they place a franchise in Las Vegas.

You say they've lost the moral high ground but this week, Commissioner Goodell talked about the integrity of the game working to maintain the integrity of the game. This season they've suspended a number of players for violating gambling rules. And yet they're making money from this revenue from gambling sports betting companies. What do you think of that?

Yeah, well, you mentioned the word integrity that has been the mantra of the NFL since I was working in it. Every time they thought sports betting it's the integrity, integrity, integrity, we've come to a point where monetization has outdueled integrity.

Leagues, teams, owners can embrace sports betting. Their investors in sports betting. FanDuel, DraftKings, they sponsor every team. Some of the NFL owners are early investors with equity portions in those companies, but players can't. And that's really the dichotomy we have here. Do as I say, not as I do.

This past week leading up to the Super Bowl, you have this sort of dichotomy of the obviously the players in the Super Bowl can't even go into casinos. But NFL players who are just visiting for the game can gamble in casinos.

Yeah, of course the players on the teams are way away from the strip but come the end of the game on Sunday night, they can do whatever they want. They can be in casinos, they can do appearances in casinos, of course, they have to walk through casinos to get anywhere.

But they can't do sports betting in the casinos. It's a delicate dance. It's a paradoxical situation. It doesn't seem to make sense to the average person. But that's the way the NFL is trying to sort of thread the needle later.

It used to be the broadcaster's would talk about point spreads in code with a wink and a nod. But now they're talking about it openly on broadcasts on pregame shows, and that sort of thing. Has this changed the way we consume sports?

It absolutely has. I mean, listen, what sports leagues are always trying to do is attract a younger, more technical audience. What brings in a younger, more technical audience, it's gambling, its bets. The average number of NFL games watched by a non-better is 15. Pretty much your home team's games. The average games watched for a better is 50 games, the NFL knows that set.

So it is putting it out there and all the programming you can't watch or listen to a sports program without having that. So it's all around us. It's embedded in our sports consciousness right now.

To what extent is the NFL or can the NFL be seen as encouraging sports betting? And could people get in over their heads?

They rely on this 2018 Supreme Court decision and they're jumping in just like everyone else is because hey, it's legal, and there's monetization from it. And we can't be behind anymore.

The problem is, where is the line as you talked about. We're not allowing players to gamble. We've had players suspended throughout the season for betting. So it is still this, as I keep saying this, do as I say don't do as I do, because then fellas embrace it. They're embedded in, but players cannot steal.

As you point out, we got a couple of NFL owners who are hold stakes in these betting companies in the NBA, you've got the owner of a casino operator about to buy the Dallas Mavericks. What are the dangers and pitfalls in this?

This is something that is fraught with potential problems. I've always said these leagues need to hire gambling czars that really can cut through all of the potential difficulties in dealing with this.

But as I said, once these leaks place teams in Las Vegas, now we have a Super Bowl in Las Vegas. They have embraced the potential for lack of integrity after promoting integrity in everything they do. So this is a dichotomy we have to really assess.

Andrew Brandt of Villanova University. Thank you very much.

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People make their bets at the FANDUEL sportsbook during the Super Bowl LIII in East Rutherford, New Jersey

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John Yang is the anchor of PBS News Weekend and a correspondent for the PBS NewsHour. He covered the first year of the Trump administration and is currently reporting on major national issues from Washington, DC, and across the country.

Andrew Corkery is a national affairs producer at PBS News Weekend.

Winston Wilde is a coordinating producer at PBS News Weekend.

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Google's new Gemini model can analyze an hour-long video -- but few people can use it

Last October, a research paper published by a Google data scientist, the CTO of Databricks Matei Zaharia and UC Berkeley professor Pieter Abbeel posited a way to allow GenAI models -- i.e. models along the lines of OpenAI's GPT-4 and ChatGPT -- to ingest far more data than was previously possible. In the study, the co-authors demonstrated that, by removing a major memory bottleneck for AI models, they could enable models to process millions of words as opposed to hundreds of thousands -- the maximum of the most capable models at the time.

AI research moves fast, it seems.

Today, Google announced the release of Gemini 1.5 Pro, the newest member of its Gemini family of GenAI models. Designed to be a drop-in replacement for Gemini 1.0 Pro (which formerly went by "Gemini Pro 1.0" for reasons known only to Google's labyrinthine marketing arm), Gemini 1.5 Pro is improved in a number of areas compared with its predecessor, perhaps most significantly in the amount of data that it can process.

Gemini 1.5 Pro can take in ~700,000 words, or ~30,000 lines of code -- 35x the amount Gemini 1.0 Pro can handle. And -- the model being multimodal -- it's not limited to text. Gemini 1.5 Pro can ingest up to 11 hours of audio or an hour of video in a variety of different languages.

Image Credits: Google

To be clear, that's an upper bound.

The version of Gemini 1.5 Pro available to most developers and customers starting today (in a limited preview) can only process ~100,000 words at once. Google's characterizing the large-data-input Gemini 1.5 Pro as "experimental," allowing only developers approved as part of a private preview to pilot it via the company's GenAI dev tool AI Studio . Several customers using Google's Vertex AI  platform also have access to the large-data-input Gemini 1.5 Pro -- but not all.

Still, VP of research at Google DeepMind Oriol Vinyals heralded it as an achievement.

"When you interact with [GenAI] models, the information you're inputting and outputting becomes the context, and the longer and more complex your questions and interactions are, the longer the context the model needs to be able to deal with gets," Vinyals said during a press briefing. "We've unlocked long context in a pretty massive way."

Big context

A model's context, or context window, refers to input data (e.g. text) that the model considers before generating output (e.g. additional text). A simple question -- "Who won the 2020 U.S. presidential election?" -- can serve as context, as can a movie script, email or e-book.

Models with small context windows tend to "forget" the content of even very recent conversations, leading them to veer off topic — often in problematic ways. This isn't necessarily so with models with large contexts. As an added upside, large-context models can better grasp the narrative flow of data they take in and generate more contextually rich responses -- hypothetically, at least.

There have been other attempts at -- and experiments on -- models with atypically large context windows.

AI startup Magic claimed last summer to have developed a large language model (LLM) with a 5 million-token context window. Two papers in the past year detail model architectures ostensibly capable of scaling to a million tokens -- and beyond. ("Tokens" are subdivided bits of raw data, like the syllables "fan," "tas" and "tic" in the word "fantastic.") And recently, a group of scientists hailing from Meta, MIT and Carnegie Mellon developed a technique that they say removes the constraint on model context window size altogether.

But Google is the first to make a model with a context window of this size commercially available, beating the previous leader Anthropic's 200,000-token context window -- if a private preview counts as commercially available.

Gemini 1.5 Pro's maximum context window is 1 million tokens, and the version of the model more widely available has a 128,000-token context window, the same as OpenAI's GPT-4 Turbo .

So what can one accomplish with a 1 million-token context window? Lots of things, Google promises -- like analyzing a whole code library, "reasoning across" lengthy documents like contracts, holding long conversations with a chatbot and analyzing and comparing content in videos.

During the briefing, Google showed two prerecorded demos of Gemini 1.5 Pro with the 1 million-token context window enabled.

In the first, the demonstrator asked Gemini 1.5 Pro to search the transcript of the Apollo 11 moon landing telecast -- which comes to around 402 pages -- for quotes containing jokes, and then to find a scene in the telecast that looked similar to a pencil sketch. In the second, the demonstrator told the model to search for scenes in "Sherlock Jr.," the Buster Keaton film, going by descriptions and another sketch.

Gemini 1.5 Pro successfully completed all the tasks asked of it, but not particularly quickly. Each took between ~20 seconds and a minute to process -- far longer than, say, the average ChatGPT query.

Vinyals says that the latency will improve as the model's optimized. Already, the company's testing a version of Gemini 1.5 Pro with a 10 million-token context window.

"The latency aspect [is something] we're ... working to optimize -- this is still in an experimental stage, in a research stage," he said. "So these issues I would say are present like with any other model."

Me, I'm not so sure latency that poor will be attractive to many folks -- much less paying customers. Having to wait minutes at a time to search across a video doesn't sound pleasant -- or very scalable in the near term. And I'm concerned how the latency manifests in other applications, like chatbot conversations and analyzing codebases. Vinyals didn't say -- which doesn't instill much confidence.

My more optimistic colleague Frederic Lardinois pointed out that the overall time savings might just make the thumb twiddling worth it. But I think it'll depend very much on the use case. For picking out a show's plot points? Perhaps not. But for finding the right screengrab from a movie scene you only hazily recall? Maybe.

Other improvements

Beyond the expanded context window, Gemini 1.5 Pro brings other, quality-of-life upgrades to the table.

Google's claiming that -- in terms of quality -- Gemini 1.5 Pro is "comparable" to the current version of Gemini Ultra, Google's flagship GenAI model, thanks to a new architecture comprised of smaller, specialized "expert" models. Gemini 1.5 Pro essentially breaks down tasks into multiple subtasks and then delegates them to the appropriate expert models, deciding which task to delegate based on its own predictions.

MoE isn't novel -- it's been around in some form for years. But its efficiency and flexibility has made it an increasingly popular choice among model vendors (see: the model powering Microsoft's language translation services).

Now, "comparable quality" is a bit of a nebulous descriptor. Quality where it concerns GenAI models, especially multimodal ones, is hard to quantify -- doubly so when the models are gated behind private previews that exclude the press. For what it's worth, Google claims that Gemini 1.5 Pro performs at a "broadly similar level" compared to Ultra on the benchmarks the company uses to develop LLMs while  outperforming Gemini 1.0 Pro on 87% of those benchmarks. ( I'll note that outperforming Gemini 1.0 Pro is a low bar .)

Pricing is a big question mark.

During the private preview, Gemini 1.5 Pro with the 1 million-token context window will be free to use, Google says. But the company plans to introduce pricing tiers in the near future that start at the standard 128,000 context window and scale up to 1 million tokens.

I have to imagine the larger context window won't come cheap -- and Google didn't allay fears by opting not to reveal pricing during the briefing. If pricing's in line with Anthropic's , it could cost $8 per million prompt tokens and $24 per million generated tokens. But perhaps it'll be lower; stranger things have happened! We'll have to wait and see.

I wonder, too, about the implications for the rest of the models in the Gemini family, chiefly Gemini Ultra. Can we expect Ultra model upgrades roughly aligned with Pro upgrades? Or will there always be -- as there is now -- an awkward period where the available Pro models are superior performance-wise to the Ultra models, which Google's still marketing as the top of the line in its Gemini portfolio?

Chalk it up to teething issues if you're feeling charitable. If you're not, call it like it is: darn confusing.

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Sport and Transgender People: A Systematic Review of the Literature Relating to Sport Participation and Competitive Sport Policies

Bethany alice jones.

1 Nottingham Centre for Gender Dysphoria, 3 Oxford Street, Nottingham, NG1 5BH UK

2 School of Sport, Exercise, and Health Sciences, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK

Jon Arcelus

3 Division of Psychiatry and Applied Psychology, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK

Walter Pierre Bouman

Emma haycraft.

Whether transgender people should be able to compete in sport in accordance with their gender identity is a widely contested question within the literature and among sport organisations, fellow competitors and spectators. Owing to concerns surrounding transgender people (especially transgender female individuals) having an athletic advantage, several sport organisations place restrictions on transgender competitors (e.g. must have undergone gender-confirming surgery). In addition, some transgender people who engage in sport, both competitively and for leisure, report discrimination and victimisation.

To the authors’ knowledge, there has been no systematic review of the literature pertaining to sport participation or competitive sport policies in transgender people. Therefore, this review aimed to address this gap in the literature.

Eight research articles and 31 sport policies were reviewed.

In relation to sport-related physical activity, this review found the lack of inclusive and comfortable environments to be the primary barrier to participation for transgender people. This review also found transgender people had a mostly negative experience in competitive sports because of the restrictions the sport’s policy placed on them. The majority of transgender competitive sport policies that were reviewed were not evidence based.

Currently, there is no direct or consistent research suggesting transgender female individuals (or male individuals) have an athletic advantage at any stage of their transition (e.g. cross-sex hormones, gender-confirming surgery) and, therefore, competitive sport policies that place restrictions on transgender people need to be considered and potentially revised.

Introduction

Transgender people are those who experience incongruence between the gender that they were assigned at birth (based on the appearance of their genitals) and their gender identity/experienced gender. Gender identity, or experienced gender, can be defined as a person’s internal sense of gender, whether this be male, female, neither or somewhere along the gender continuum. Some transgender people, but not all, will choose to affirm their gender identity by socially transitioning (i.e. living as their experienced gender socially, at work or at an educational institution, with friends and family, outside the home) and some, in addition, will choose to medically transition with cross-sex hormones and gender-confirming surgeries [ 1 , 2 ]. Although over time various different terms have been used, the term ‘transgender female individual’ will be used to describe individuals assigned male at birth, based on their genital appearance, but who later identify as female. ‘Transgender male individual’ will be used to describe people who are assigned female at birth, based on their genital appearance, but later identify as male. ‘Cisgender’ will be used to describe people who do not experience incongruence between their gender assigned at birth and their gender identity.

Recent reports indicate that the number of transgender individuals who attend transgender health services has increased substantially over the years in many European countries [ 3 – 5 ]. There has also been a significant increase in the number of people who self-identify as transgender and do not necessarily attend transgender health services [ 6 ]. For example, Kuyper and Wijsen [ 6 ] found that 4.6 % of people who were assigned male at birth and 3.2 % of people who were assigned female at birth in their Dutch population sample reported an ambivalent gender identity (equal identification with the other gender as with the gender they were assigned at birth). The authors also reported that 1.1 % of the people who were assigned male at birth and 0.8 % of the people who were assigned female at birth identified as transgender. It remains unknown how many of these people will seek treatment through a transgender health service. The increase in people who identify as transgender may be at least partly explained by the increase in visibility of transgender people within Western society [ 4 , 5 ]. For example, Caitlin Jenner, a former athlete and current television personality, recently came out as transgender during a television interview that was viewed all over the world [ 7 ]. Increases in visibility may have prompted some people to reflect and question their gender identity [ 8 ].

Some transgender people experience stigma, transphobia, prejudice, discrimination and violence as a consequence of their gender identity [ 9 – 11 ]. Ellis et al. [ 12 ] found that transgender people were more likely to avoid situations when they were afraid of being harassed, identified as transgender or ‘outed’, such as in clothes shops, public toilets and gyms. Gyms are a popular outlet to engage in sport-related physical activities (i.e. gym fitness exercises) and therefore it is important to create an inclusive environment given the established mental and physical health benefits of physical activity and sport [ 13 , 14 ]. This is particularly important for transgender people as they have been found to report a high prevalence of depression and anxiety [ 15 , 16 ], which could be managed with physical activity. Furthermore, physical activity and sport can also contribute towards maintaining the appropriate weight necessary to undergo gender-confirming surgery, acknowledging that not every transgender person will wish to do so [ 1 , 2 , 17 ].

The premise of competitive sport is fairness (i.e. inclusion in the absence of advantage) and, owing to fears surrounding the perceived athletic advantage of transgender people, the question of whether transgender people should be permitted to compete in accordance with their gender identity has been raised and greatly contested within the literature, among sport organisations, fellow competitors and spectators. It is a commonly held belief that androgenic hormones (especially testosterone) confer an athletic advantage in competitive sport. Therefore transgender female individuals, because of high endogenous testosterone levels, are perceived to hold an advantage in sport (when testosterone has not been blocked to a cisgender female level). Transgender men are not thought to possess an athletic advantage, despite being injected with testosterone if they chose to medically transition with cross-sex hormones. However, there has been a paucity of research that has directly explored how androgenic hormone levels are associated with athletic competence in both cisgender and transgender populations (e.g. running time).

To facilitate the inclusion of transgender competitors, in 2004, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) [ 18 ] announced that transgender people could participate in all future Olympic games providing they had fully medically transitioned (i.e. had been prescribed cross-sex hormone treatment for 2 years and undergone gender-confirming surgery). Although the requirements of this policy appear to concur with the commonly held belief that transgender people hold an athletic advantage, they have been criticised for not being underpinned by an evidence-based rationale [ 19 ]. The IOC [ 20 ] has recently updated its policy to be more inclusive of transgender athletes (i.e. fewer restrictions); however, the 2004 policy has been extremely influential on other sport organisations’ policy development. The new (2016) IOC policy will be considered in Sect. 3 .

In an attempt to draw a consensus as to whether transgender people should be able to compete in accordance with their gender identity, in 2005 Reeser [ 21 ] conducted a review of the literature pertaining to gender identity issues in competitive (elite) sport. Reeser paid particular attention to the evolution of gender verification in competitive sport and whether current competitive sport policies for transgender people are fair. He concluded that, while gender verification has made significant advances, there is a lack of physiological performance-related data in transgender people. This is preventing an overall consensus from being made as to whether transgender sport policies are fair or not (i.e. fairness in the absence of advantage). Reeser’s review, although important, has some limitations. He did not adopt a systematic methodology and therefore did not include the majority of transgender sport policies. Additionally, Reeser only considered the implications of such policies in relation to elite competitive sport and did not consider the experiences of transgender people who engage in sport or sport-related physical activity for leisure or fitness (e.g. gym fitness activities, jogging).

With the intention of addressing the limitations of the previous literature review, this systematic review has two aims. First, to systematically analyse and critically review the available literature regarding transgender people’s experiences in relation to competitive sport (elite and recreational) and sport-related physical activity participation (e.g. jogging, gym fitness activities). Second, to systematically review the available transgender competitive sport policies with regard to their fairness (i.e. competition in the absence of advantage). It is hoped that this systematic review will further enhance the understanding of sport participation and competition amongst transgender people. It may be expected that as more people define themselves as transgender, the issues that transgender people experience in competitive sport and sport-related physical activity will become more pronounced. It is therefore important that those who work to facilitate and promote sport and develop policies for their own sport organisations (e.g. sport medicine specialists, sport policymakers) are informed about the issues that this vulnerable population face. This will allow for a non-discriminatory atmosphere in sport, whilst ensuring a fair system for all participants and competitors (regardless of their gender identity).

Search Strategy

Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines were followed to undertake this systematic review [ 22 ]. To obtain relevant peer-reviewed articles, an electronic search of literature published between January 1966 and August 2015 was conducted using the following search engines: ScienceDirect, Web of Science, Scopus and PubMed. Within each search engine, the following search terms were entered: gender dysphoria, gender identity disorder, trans people, trans individual, transgender and transsexual. These terms were combined with three terms relating to sport (physical activity, exercise and sport) using the “AND” operator. The reference lists of eligible papers were searched for potentially relevant publications. Sport policies were obtained through a Google search using the above search terms with the addition of “policy” at the end of all sport-related terms.

Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria

To address the first aim, articles that were selected were concerned with the experiences and issues surrounding physical activity and sport participation for transgender people. This systematic review only considered articles eligible if they were research articles, as opposed to discussion papers. Case studies were also considered eligible, as research articles were limited. Peer-reviewed articles that were written in English only were included. For the second aim, all available national and international policies on competitive sport in transgender people were selected and reviewed.

Study Selection

Thirty-one research articles were considered potentially relevant to the remit of this review. The search also identified 31 competitive sport policies for transgender people. After screening the abstracts, ten research articles were excluded as six were concerned with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender sport, one was a Scottish non-academic survey, one was a book chapter, one was concerned with an irrelevant topic and another focused on cisgender participants. The remaining 21 articles were downloaded for full-text review and 13 papers were excluded as they were discussion papers, as opposed to research articles. Therefore, eight research articles fulfilled the inclusion criteria and were consequently included within this systematic review (Fig.  1 ). All 31 competitive sport policies for transgender people were reviewed and included within this systematic review.

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Process of identifying eligible research articles. LGBT : lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender

This section presents the findings from the research articles and sport policies included within this systematic review. First, the findings from the research articles that explored participation in sports (both elite and recreational standards) and sport-related physical activities (i.e. gym fitness activities, jogging) are provided. Second, findings from the reviewed competitive sport policies relating to transgender inclusion are given.

Transgender People and Sport Participation

Characteristics of the eligible research studies.

The oldest research article included was published in 2004 [ 23 ] and the most recent publication was from 2015 [ 24 ]. The majority of the studies were qualitative in nature, all of which employed interviews [ 24 – 29 ]. The remaining two research articles included an experimental study [ 23 ] and a cross-sectional survey [ 30 ]. Most of the studies were concerned with transgender people who participated in sport competitively, at an elite or recreational level [ 21 , 23 , 25 – 29 ]. Some authors focused on a specific sport; ice hockey, netball and softball [ 26 , 28 , 29 ] while others were concerned with transgender people engaging in any sport [ 25 , 27 , 29 ]. Broadly, across all sports, Gooren and Bunck [ 23 ] explored whether transgender athletes have a physiological advantage in competitive sport. One study explored participation in competitive sports and sport-related physical activity [ 24 ] and another study discussed participation in sport-related physical activity only [ 30 ]. Details of all of the research articles included within this systematic review can be found in Table  1 .

Table 1

Study characteristics of research articles included within the review

Review of Transgender People and Competitive Sport Participation (Elite and Recreational): Research Articles

The same data were extracted from all research articles reviewed (Table  1 ). Below, we provide the most prominent findings in relation to competitive sport participation from each of these articles. Six research articles were concerned with competitive sport participation within this systematic review [ 23 , 25 – 29 ]. The only experimental study was by Gooren and Bunck [ 23 ] who aimed to explore whether transgender people taking cross-sex hormone treatment can fairly compete in sport. The authors measured transgender people’s muscle mass (via magnetic resonance imaging) and hormone levels (via urine and blood analyses) before and 1 year after cross-sex hormone treatment. They found that 1 year after transgender male individuals had been administered cross-sex hormone treatment, testosterone levels significantly increased and these levels were within a cisgender male range. They also found that 1 year after cross-sex hormone treatment, transgender male individuals’ muscle mass had increased and was within the same range as transgender female individuals (assigned male at birth) who had not been prescribed cross-sex hormone treatment. In relation to transgender female individuals, Gooren and Bunck found testosterone levels had significantly reduced to castration levels after 1 year of cross-sex hormone treatment. Muscle mass had also reduced after 1 year of cross-sex hormone treatment. However, muscle mass remained significantly greater than in transgender male individuals (assigned female at birth) who had not been prescribed cross-sex hormone treatment.

Therefore, Gooren and Bunck concluded that transgender male individuals are likely to be able to compete without an athletic advantage 1-year post-cross-sex hormone treatment. To a certain extent this also applies to transgender female individuals; however, there still remains a level of uncertainty owing to a large muscle mass 1-year post-cross-sex hormones. While this study was the first to explore, experimentally, whether transgender people can compete fairly, the sample size was relatively small ( n  = 36). Additionally, they did not explore the role of testosterone blockers and did not directly measure the effect cross-sex hormones had on athletic performance (e.g. running time). Many, but not all, transgender female individuals are prescribed testosterone blockers to help them to reach cisgender female testosterone levels, when administration of oestrogen alone is not enough to reduce testosterone levels. This is particularly important if the person aims to undergo gender-confirming surgery, as 6 months of testosterone suppression is a requirement for such procedures. However, if a transgender woman does not wish to undergo surgery or does not wish to have their testosterone blocked to cisgender female levels (e.g. as they wish to use their penis), their testosterone levels will be above cisgender female levels. Differentiating not only between those taking cross-sex hormones and not taking cross-sex hormones, but also transgender female individuals taking testosterone blockers, may be necessary when discussing an athletic advantage.

The remaining studies considered within this section are qualitative, and although they have provided insight into the experiences of transgender people participating in competitive sport, the findings cannot be generalised. Semerjian and Cohen’s [ 27 ] narrative account provides a good overview of how diverse and individual the issues and experiences of transgender people participating in competitive sport can be. Some participants felt anxious when engaging in sport because they felt their genitals may be revealed (e.g. when changing). In contrast, one participant used sport as a safe space to escape from the harassment he received at school. It must be considered though, that participants within the study engaged in different sports and their experiences could therefore be associated with the specific sport (i.e. some sports could be more inclusive then others).

Three qualitative studies described the implications that sport policies had on the experiences of transgender people who engaged in sport [ 26 , 28 , 29 ]. Cohen and Semerjian [ 26 ] published a case study about a transgender woman (pre-gender-confirming surgery) who was playing in the women’s national ice hockey tournament, but who was eventually banned from playing in the tournament because it was felt she had an athletic advantage. She described how she felt under constant surveillance when she was playing and at times felt ambivalent about what gendered team she should play on. It was apparent that although teammates were supportive, the issues she experienced in relation to inclusion in the tournament were primarily related to constraints put in place by competitive sport policies. Similarly, the discussions held by two former New Zealand transgender female netball players in Tagg’s [ 28 ] study gave the impression that although transgender sport policies were supposedly implemented to increase the inclusivity of transgender people, this was not always the case. They discussed how policy would allow a pre-gender-confirming surgery transgender woman to compete in a male or mixed-gender netball team only and they must obey male dress codes. However, the participants in this study were former netball players and therefore their discussions may not have been based on the current state of netball in relation to transgender participation. In contrast to the previously mentioned studies, the majority of participants ( n  = 12) in Travers and Deri’s [ 29 ] study discussed the positive experiences they had in relation to transgender participation in competitive sport. However, some of the transgender men did discuss how they had hostile experiences (e.g. incorrect pronoun use). Several of the participants in this study also felt that testosterone gave transgender women (endogenous) and men (when injected) an athletic advantage.

For the two young transgender male individuals in Caudwell’s [ 25 ] study, the stage of transition appeared to be instrumental in disengagement from participation in competitive sport. The discussion held by the participants highlighted how accessing sport during their transitional period was difficult as they would not be accepted or feel comfortable on either a male or female team during this period. However, this study again discussed sport very broadly and therefore it is unknown whether the participants’ experiences were associated with specific sports or whether they are generalisable across other sports.

In summary, there is limited research from which to draw any conclusion about whether transgender people have an athletic advantage in competitive sport or not. The limited physiological research conducted to date has informed the development of transgender sport policies that are implemented by sporting organisations all over the world. It is these sport policies that appear to be instrumental in transgender people’s experiences with competitive sport, most of which are negative.

Review of Transgender People and Sport-Related Physical Activities: Research Articles

Within this systematic review, only two studies explored sport-related physical activities [ 24 , 30 ]. Muchicko et al. [ 30 ] set out to quantitatively explore the relationship between gender identity and physical activity. They compared levels of physical activity between cisgender and transgender people. The study found that self-identified transgender participants ( n  = 33) reported engaging in less physical activity than cisgender participants ( n  = 47). Social support and self-perception were found to mediate the relationship between gender identity and physical activity. The authors suggested that their study highlights how leisure centres need to be more inclusive, and transgender people need to be given more social support to encourage physical activity. However, this study was limited by the sampling methods employed. The cisgender participants were recruited from a university campus where they potentially had more opportunity to walk around campus, and opportunity for discounted gym memberships, whereas the transgender participants were recruited from a support group for transgender people and were not associated with the university.

As with transgender people who engage in sport at a competitive level, transgender people who engage in sport-related physical activity also appear to experience a range of different barriers. Hargie et al. [ 24 ] found in their qualitative study that transgender people prefer to engage in individual, as opposed to group, sport-related physical activities. This was reportedly owing to their fear of being ‘outed’. Regardless of whether sport-related physical activities are engaged in individually or in a group, changing rooms appeared to be a significant barrier. Being excluded from sport-related physical activities was distressing for participants, as they could not maintain physical fitness, which they felt was important in preparation for gender-confirming surgery. Despite these interesting findings, the study is limited by the lack of sociodemographic information provided about participants. Within qualitative research, because of the small sample size, it is often desirable to provide a large amount of sociodemographic detail about participants so that the findings can be interpreted in relation to this information. For instance, in the context of sport-related physical activities, the stage of transition may be an important factor when interpreting the individuals’ current experiences of sport-related physical activities.

The limited research studies concerned with sport-related physical activities suggest that inclusive environments are not created for transgender people engaging in such activities, which may deter engagement.

Transgender-Inclusive Sport Policies

Characteristics of the eligible sport policies.

Of the 31 transgender inclusive policies reviewed, 13 were from the USA [ 31 – 43 ]. Ten of the policies reviewed were from the UK [ 44 – 53 ]. One policy was from Australia [ 54 ]. The rest of the policies ( n  = 7) were international [ 18 , 20 , 55 – 59 ]. Details of all of the sport policies included within this review can be found in Table  2 .

Table 2

Transgender-inclusive sport policies included within this systematic review

GCS gender-confirming surgery, CHT cross-sex hormone therapy, IOC International Olympic Committee, TUE therapeutic use exemption, n.d. no date

a Gender dysphoria is the diagnostic name included within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders , Fifth Edition, for people who experience an incongruence between their gender assigned at birth and gender identity [ 60 ]

Review of the Sport Policies

Policies within this section were systematically reviewed in relation to their inclusiveness of transgender competitors (i.e. maintaining fairness in the absence of advantage for all competitors). The fairness of the policy requirements was judged against the available physiological research that has explored athletic advantage. The time restrictions associated with each requirement were also reviewed (e.g. cross-sex hormones must have been administered for at least 2 years prior to competition). The requirements from each policy are summarised within Table  2 and the most salient points of these policies are then presented in the section that follows.

In 2004, the IOC [ 18 ] announced that transgender people who transition after puberty are permitted to compete in sport in line with their experienced gender identity providing they have had gender-confirming surgery, can provide legal recognition of their gender, have been prescribed cross-sex hormone treatment for at least 2 years and have lived in their experienced gender for the same amount of time [ 18 ]. Additionally, transgender people who had undergone gender-confirming surgery pre-puberty are eligible to compete in sport in line with their experienced gender identity [ 18 ]. This is an international policy and has been adopted by sport organisations all over the world.

While the 2004 IOC [ 18 ] policy has been praised for its efforts to address the inclusion of transgender athletes [ 61 ], several flaws have been identified [ 61 ]. First, the policy excludes transgender people who choose not to have gender-confirming surgery owing to a lack of genital dysphoria (distress), medical reasons, fears about risk during operations, and/or because of other personal reasons [ 28 , 62 , 63 ]. The 2004 IOC [ 18 ] policy also excludes transgender people who are in the process of transitioning. For instance, a transgender athlete may be prescribed cross-sex hormone treatment, but be yet to undergo gender-confirming surgery. The 2004 IOC policy [ 18 ] therefore adopts a very narrow definition and excludes a large proportion of transgender people [ 19 ]. In addition to this, the policy appears to have been developed with only transgender female individuals in mind, possibly as transgender male individuals are not thought to possess athletic advantages in the majority of sports, and therefore the policy discriminates against transgender male individuals [ 21 ]. Moreover, the 2004 IOC [ 18 ] policy fails to take into consideration the regional, national and international differences in accessing cross-sex hormone treatment and gender-confirming surgery [ 18 , 63 – 65 ]. Within this policy, there also appears a lack of an evidence-based rationale as to why a period of 2 years was chosen as the length of time cross-sex hormone treatment must be administered prior to sport competition and why individual differences in blood hormone levels are not considered [ 66 ]. As mentioned previously, the role of testosterone blockers in transgender women is also not considered. Although the rationale for the 2-year time period is not made explicit, it may be related to the fact that this time period was imposed by the IOC in 2004, when banning athletes from competitive sport to discipline them for doping violations. The evidence-based rationale for gender-confirming surgery is also not clear [ 61 ]; whether an athlete has a penis or vagina appears irrelevant, as this will not change the physiology of the body or the physiological advantage of the person [ 63 ].

Approximately 200 days before the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, the IOC announced changes to their competitive sport policy for transgender people. The new 2016 IOC [ 20 ] policy suggests that transgender male athletes are able to compete in a male category without any restrictions. Transgender female athletes may compete in a female category if they have declared their gender as female for at least 4 years and their blood testosterone levels are below 10 nmol/L for at least 12 months prior to competition. However, the latter requirement is a general guideline, and each case will be reviewed individually to determine whether 12 months is a sufficient amount of time to suppress testosterone levels to an appropriate level. If transgender female athletes do not meet these requirements, they will be able to compete in a male category. This is a great improvement in sport policy, which considers gender assigned at birth and individual difference in relation to bloody hormone levels and moves away from the requirement of surgery to compete in their experienced gender category. However, we could not find any evidence to support the requirement for testosterone levels to be below 10 nmol/L for at least 12 months.

Despite its flaws, the 2004 IOC policy [ 18 ] has been adopted by several other sport organisations. Within this systematic review, 11 sport organisations adopted the policy outlined by the IOC in 2004 [ 33 , 36 , 38 – 40 , 45 , 46 , 48 , 49 , 51 , 57 ]. All but one (the International Tennis Federation) of these sport organisation policies are employed at a national level. Not only is it problematic that other sport organisations adopted the 2004 IOC policy, but elements of the 2004 IOC policy concerning children pre-puberty are not applicable to sport organisations in the UK and many other countries. Within the UK (and many other countries), children presenting with gender incongruence cannot undergo gender-confirming surgery before the age of 18 years, by which time puberty has usually started.

Three policies stated that it is only necessary to provide legal recognition of gender and to be prescribed cross-sex hormone treatment for a ‘sufficient amount of time’ (international policy) [ 56 ] or so that hormone blood levels are within cisgender female or male ranges (national policy) [ 44 , 52 ]. Policies from the National Collegiate Athletic Association [ 32 ] and British Rowing [ 50 ] also state that only cross-sex hormone treatment is required; however, the specifics of this requirement differ for both transgender male and female individuals. With both of these policies, transgender female individuals have to provide more evidence of cross-sex hormone treatment and their blood hormone levels in comparison to transgender male individuals. Similarly, the Association of Boxing Commissions [ 31 ] in its national policy has different cross-sex hormone treatment requirements depending on gender assigned at birth and how the athlete identifies themselves (transgender or transsexual). The language used within the Association of Boxing Commissions’ policy [ 31 ] may be seen as offensive by some transgender people and the difference between “transsexuals” and “transgender” people remains unclear. Policies held by the Ladies Professional Golf Association (international policy) [ 43 ] and the International Association of Athletics Federations [ 55 ] differ dramatically in relation to gender and gender-confirming surgery as a requirement. In both cases, it is necessary for transgender female individuals to have undergone this procedure, but not for transgender male individuals. Although some of the requirements of these policies are unreasonable and not evidence based (e.g. gender-confirming surgery), the gender difference in relation to the amount of evidence that is required about their gender change seems acceptable considering that only transgender female individuals (and not transgender male individuals) are currently seen to potentially have an athletic advantage [ 23 ].

The more inclusive sport policies reviewed here only required legal or medical recognition or do not ask for any evidence of gender; thus they encourage competition in line with the experienced gender (five were national policies and two were international) [ 34 , 35 , 41 , 42 , 53 , 54 , 59 ]. The Fédération Internationale de Volleyball [ 58 ] had the most invasive policy considered within this systematic review; they ask players to provide a birth certificate to verify gender. Additionally, female players may be asked to provide a gender certificate or submit themselves to a medical examination if the medical evidence is not sufficient. Both British Universities & Colleges Sport [ 47 ] and USA Triathlon [ 37 ] do not have their own policies, but suggest the adoption of other policies (i.e. those relevant to the sport in question or guidelines of the US Anti-Doping Agency, respectively).

Currently, the majority of sport policies unfairly exclude transgender people from competitive sport, as the requirements they place on them are not underpinned by evidence-based medicine. Until (and if) there is consistent and direct evidence to demonstrate transgender people have an athletic advantage, it seems unreasonable to exclude them on any basis.

The first aim of this systematic review was to explore the experiences of transgender people in relation to competitive sport participation (elite and recreational) and sport-related physical activity. The majority of the studies within this body of literature are qualitative in nature, which may be at least partly a reflection of the low numbers of transgender people in the general population. It is therefore difficult to draw any definite conclusions because of the lack of quantitative research. By its very nature, the findings from qualitative research cannot be generalised but the findings can be used to form a platform from which generalisations can be made. The research articles reviewed here described a generally negative experience of sport participation and sport-related physical activity for transgender individuals. It was evident from these studies that transgender people are facing barriers when engaging in competitive sport and sport-related physical activity. In relation to sport-related physical activity, lack of accessibility to an inclusive and comfortable environment appeared to be the primary barrier to participation. Charities and support organisations working with transgender people should consider developing campaigns to raise awareness about different gender identities. Leisure centres should also be made more aware of potential gender differences (i.e. via training and greater information provision) and be given advice on how to make such environments more inclusive of transgender people (e.g. gender neutral changing facilities with cubicles). In relation to competitive sport participation, the findings from this systematic review suggest that the requirements that transgender competitive sport policies place on competitors were instrumental in transgender athletes’ negative experiences.

While a distinction needs to be made between the issues and experiences transgender people have with regard to participation in sport and competitive sport, it also needs to be acknowledged that there is an overlap. Transgender male and female individuals have anecdotally discussed that access to sport participation (such as becoming part of the local football team) is restricted as even community and local sport organisations who play at a recreational level implement transgender competitive sport policies.

The second aim was to review the available sport policies regarding the fairness for transgender people in competitive sport (i.e. fairness in the absence of advantage). Owing to overinterpretation and fear of the athletic advantage in transgender athletes, the majority of the policies reviewed were discriminatory against transgender people, especially transgender male individuals (i.e. exclusion in the absence of advantage). Although the updated IOC policy may be perceived as more inclusive then the 2004 version, there are still flaws. The requirement for a transgender female individual to have declared their gender as female for at least 4 years is excessive. In the UK and many other countries, once a transgender person has accessed a transgender health service, it is likely to be less than 4 years before a person legally changes their name, undergoes irreversible treatments and, hence, fully commits to their experienced gender. There appears to be a lack of rationale regarding the 4-year time period for transgender athletes, although this time restriction is consistent with the current disciplinary action for cisgender athletes when a doping incident occurs [ 67 ]. The 2016 IOC policy [ 20 ] also states that to avoid discrimination against transgender female individuals, they are allowed to complete in a male category if they do not meet the requirements for transgender female athletes. For most transgender female individuals, competing in a male category, when their experienced gender is female, would be distressing and may deter engagement in competitive sport altogether. This particular requirement may be promoting exclusion of transgender female individuals in competitive sport, rather than avoiding discrimination.

Several sport policies, including the recently updated IOC 2016 [ 20 ] policy, have based their requirements for transgender competitors on indirect, inconsistent and unambiguous evidence. Physiological research involving cisgender people has shown that testosterone deficiency in young men is associated with a decrease in muscle strength [ 68 ] and testosterone injections in cisgender men are associated with an increase in some aspects of muscle strength [ 69 ]. However, this research did not determine whether these decreases and increases in muscle mass are within ranges for cisgender female and male individuals and the time required to reach cisgender male or female levels. Elbers et al. [ 70 ] expanded on this research by exploring the effects of oestrogen supplements and androgen deprivation on fat distribution and thigh muscle mass (by using magnetic resonance imaging) in 20 transgender female individuals. They found that 12 months after cross-sex hormone treatment, transgender female individuals had a more feminine pattern of adiposity and their thigh muscles had decreased. Other research has found that transgender female athletes who have hormonally and surgically transitioned have reported feeling weaker and their testosterone levels tend to be lower than average compared with cisgender women [ 19 , 71 ]. However, this research does not tell us anything about the relationship between androgenic hormones and athletic ability.

To date, Harper’s study [ 72 ] is the only one to directly explore androgenic hormones and athletic ability. The aim of the study was to explore the long-distance (5–42 km) running times of eight transgender female individuals pre- and post-testosterone suppression. It was found that post-testosterone suppression running times were significantly slower in comparison to pre-testosterone suppression. Harper stated that owing to reductions in testosterone and haemoglobin, transgender female individuals post-transition would have the same endurance capabilities as a cisgender female individual. However, the sample size was very small ( n  = 8) and participants were asked to self-report their race times, which might have been subject to recall or social desirability bias.

On average, men perform better than women in sport; however, no empirical research has identified the specific reason(s) why. Based mainly on indirect research with cisgender people, it is commonly believed that androgenic hormones (specifically high testosterone levels) confer an advantage in competitive sports (i.e. enhance endurance, increase muscle mass) and, while this belief has informed several sporting policies, testosterone may not be the primary, or even a helpful, marker in determining athletic advantage [ 73 ]. Karkazis et al. [ 73 ] have argued that there is no evidence to suggest that endogenous testosterone levels are predictive of athletic performance (apart from doping), as there is variation in how bodies make and respond to the hormone. Testosterone is only one part of a person’s physiology and there are other important factors (both biological and environmental) that should be considered if fairness (the absence of advantage) is the aim in competitive sport. For instance, having large hands is key for manipulation in some sports (e.g. basketball), but this is not seen as an unfair advantage. Establishing what an athletic advantage is in competitive sport would facilitate inclusion of all athletes (regardless of their gender identity) on the premise of fairness.

The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport [ 74 ] recently released a document offering guidance to sport organisations on how to develop inclusive competitive sport policies for transgender people. An expert panel maintained the viewpoint that everyone has the right to compete in accordance with their gender identity at a recreational and elite level. Cross-sex hormones and gender-confirming surgeries should not be a requirement at any level of sport. If any sport organisation requires transgender competitors to take cross-sex hormones for a specified time, they will have to provide evidence to support that this is reasonable. The panel suggests that when sporting organisations are concerned about safety, based on the size or strength of competitors, such organisations should develop skill and size categories, such as in wrestling.

The issues and challenges that transgender people experience when engaging in competitive sport and sport-related physical activity will undoubtedly become more prominent as the visibility and prevalence of transgender people become more pronounced. Consequently, health professionals working in sport will need to become more familiar with the specific issues and challenges that a transgender person may experience when engaging in sport. By doing this, these professionals will be able to ensure transgender people can start or continue to engage in sport in a safe and inclusive manner. The most common question of people working within the sport domain will likely be: When it is safe and fair to permit a transgender person to compete in sport in line with their experienced gender? At the current time, this is a difficult issue to address considering that there is a lack of direct and consistent physiological performance-related data with transgender people, which is preventing a consensus from being made as to whether transgender people (especially transgender female individuals) do or do not have an athletic advantage. It may be sensible to suggest that until there are direct and consistent scientific data to suggest that transgender competitors have an advantage, transgender people should be allowed to compete in accordance with their gender identity with no restrictions (e.g. no requirement to have cross-sex hormones, gender-confirming surgery). The athletic advantage transgender female individuals are perceived to have (based on indirect and ambiguous evidence) may be no greater than widely accepted physiological (e.g. large hands) and financial (e.g. training opportunities) advantages that some cisgender people possess in competitive sport. Sport organisations wanting to exclude a transgender person from competing in their experienced gender category would need to demonstrate that the sport is gender affected and that exclusion is necessary for fair and safe competition [ 74 , 75 ]. At the current time, this would be difficult considering there is no evidence to suggest that androgenic hormone levels consistently confer a competitive advantage [ 74 , 75 ].

Limitations of the Area and Directions for Future Research

Within the area of sport, physical activity and transgender individuals, research is limited and mainly qualitative. More quantitative research needs to be conducted to increase the applicability and generalisability of the research findings and so that conclusions about transgender people and sport can be drawn. At a medical level, more physiological research is needed with the transgender population to accurately determine whether transgender people have an advantage in competitive sport or not. Future studies should investigate when a person can be considered physiologically as their experienced gender. This in turn should aid more inclusive (i.e. inclusion in the absence of advantage) sport policies for transgender individuals and a fair system for all. To date, the few studies exploring the experiences of transgender people have mainly been concerned with exploring experiences in relation to competitive sport. This research now needs to be extended to those who participate in sport-related physical activity for leisure and fitness. It is also important to understand transgender people’s experiences in the context of different sports. The barriers to, and facilitators of, football participation, for example, may greatly differ to those experienced when engaging in gymnastics, athletics, swimming or aquatic activities. For the latter four sports, clothing may be revealing and an indication of one’s gender. For example, feeling comfortable in swimwear may be an issue for transgender people, especially when they are in the process of transitioning, as the body is often more exposed than in other sportswear (e.g. a football kit) and swimwear is heavily gendered (i.e. swimming trunks are worn by male individuals and swimming costumes by female individuals). In light of this, it would be interesting to explore the experiences of transgender people who have previously participated, or are currently participating, in aquatic activates, gymnastics and/or athletics.

Overall, it appears that the majority of transgender people have a negative experience of competitive sport and sport-related physical activities. Accessibility to sport-related physical activity needs to be improved. Within competitive sport, the athletic advantage transgender athletes are perceived to have appears to have been overinterpreted by many sport organisations around the world, which has had a negative effect on the experiences of this population. When the indirect and ambiguous physiological evidence is dissected, it is only transgender female individuals who are perceived to potentially have an advantage as a result of androgenic hormones. Within the literature, it has been questioned as to whether androgenic hormones should be the only marker of athletic advantage or, indeed, if they are even a useful marker of athletic advantage. Given the established mental and physical health benefits of engaging in physical activity and sport [ 13 , 14 ], the barriers transgender people experience are a significant limitation to the promotion of healthy behaviours in transgender individuals. There are several areas of future research required to significantly improve our knowledge of transgender people’s experiences in sport, inform the development of more inclusive sport policies, and most importantly, enhance the lives of transgender people, both physically and psychosocially.

Acknowledgments

We sincerely thank Prof. Barrie Houlihan for his helpful advice and feedback on an early draft of this systematic review.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Bethany Jones was supported by a PhD studentship co-funded by Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust and Loughborough University. No other sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this article.

Bethany Jones, Jon Arcelus, Walter Bouman and Emma Haycraft declare that they have no conflicts of interest relevant to the content of this review.

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Google’s Gemini is now in everything. Here’s how you can try it out.

Gmail, Docs, and more will now come with Gemini baked in. But Europeans will have to wait before they can download the app.

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In the biggest mass-market AI launch yet, Google is rolling out Gemini , its family of large language models, across almost all its products, from Android to the iOS Google app to Gmail to Docs and more. You can also now get your hands on Gemini Ultra, the most powerful version of the model, for the first time.  

With this launch, Google is sunsetting Bard , the company's answer to ChatGPT. Bard, which has been powered by a version of Gemini since December, will now be known as Gemini too.  

ChatGPT , released by Microsoft-backed OpenAI just 14 months ago, changed people’s expectations of what computers could do. Google, which has been racing to catch up ever since, unveiled its Gemini family of models in December. They are multimodal large language models that can interact with you via voice, image, and text. Google claimed that its own benchmarking showed that Gemini could outperform OpenAI's multimodal model, GPT-4, on a range of standard tests. But the margins were slim. 

By baking Gemini into its ubiquitous products, Google is hoping to make up lost ground. “Every launch is big, but this one is the biggest yet,” Sissie Hsiao, Google vice president and general manager of Google Assistant and Bard (now Gemini), said in a press conference yesterday. “We think this is one of the most profound ways that we’re going to advance our company’s mission.”

But some will have to wait longer than others to play with Google’s new toys. The company has announced rollouts in the US and East Asia but said nothing about when the Android and iOS apps will come to the UK or the rest of Europe. This may be because the company is waiting for the EU’s new AI Act to be set in stone, says Dragoș Tudorache, a Romanian politician and member of the European Parliament, who was a key negotiator on the law.

“We’re working with local regulators to make sure that we’re abiding by local regime requirements before we can expand,” Hsiao said. “Rest assured, we are absolutely working on it and I hope we’ll be able to announce expansion very, very soon.”

How can you get it? Gemini Pro, Google’s middle-tier model that has been available via Bard since December, will continue to be available for free on the web at gemini.google.com (rather than bard.google.com). But now there is a mobile app as well.

If you have an Android device, you can either download the Gemini app or opt in to an upgrade in Google Assistant. This will let you call up Gemini in the same way that you use Google Assistant: by pressing the power button, swiping from the corner of the screen, or saying “Hey, Google!” iOS users can download the Google app, which will now include Gemini.

Gemini will pop up as an overlay on your screen, where you can ask it questions or give it instructions about whatever’s on your phone at the time, such as summarizing an article or generating a caption for a photo.  

Finally, Google is launching a paid-for service called Gemini Advanced. This comes bundled in a subscription costing $19.99 a month that the company is calling the Google One Premium AI Plan. It combines the perks of the existing Google One Premium Plan, such as 2TB of extra storage, with access to Google's most powerful model, Gemini Ultra, for the first time. This will compete with OpenAI’s paid-for service, ChatGPT Plus, which buys you access to the more powerful GPT-4 (rather than the default GPT-3.5) for $20 a month.

At some point soon (Google didn't say exactly when) this subscription will also unlock Gemini across Google’s Workspace apps like Docs, Sheets, and Slides, where it works as a smart assistant similar to the GPT-4-powered Copilot that Microsoft is trialing in Office 365.

When can you get it? The free Gemini app (powered by Gemini Pro) is available from today in English in the US. Starting next week, you’ll be able to access it across the Asia Pacific region in English and in Japanese and Korean. But there is no word on when the app will come to the UK, countries in the EU, or Switzerland.

Gemini Advanced (the paid-for service that gives access to Gemini Ultra) is available in English in more than 150 countries, including the UK and EU (but not France). Google says it is analyzing local requirements and fine-tuning Gemini for cultural nuance in different countries. But the company promises that more languages and regions are coming.

What can you do with it? Google says it has developed its Gemini products with the help of more than 100 testers and power users. At the press conference yesterday, Google execs outlined a handful of use cases, such as getting Gemini to help write a cover letter for a job application. “This can help you come across as more professional and increase your relevance to recruiters,” said Google’s vice president for product management, Kristina Behr.

Or you could take a picture of your flat tire and ask Gemini how to fix it. A more elaborate example involved Gemini managing a snack rota for the parents of kids on a soccer team. Gemini would come up with a schedule for who should bring snacks and when, help you email other parents, and then field their replies. In future versions, Gemini will be able to draw on data in your Google Drive that could help manage carpooling around game schedules, Behr said.   

But we should expect people to come up with a lot more uses themselves. “I’m really excited to see how people around the world are going to push the envelope on this AI,” Hsaio said.

Is it safe? Google has been working hard to make sure its products are safe to use. But no amount of testing can anticipate all the ways that tech will get used and misused once it is released. In the last few months, Meta saw people use its image-making app to produce pictures of Mickey Mouse with guns and SpongeBob SquarePants flying a jet into two towers. Others used Microsoft’s image-making software to create fake pornographic images of Taylor Swift .

The AI Act aims to mitigate some—but not all—of these problems. For example, it requires the makers of powerful AI like Gemini to build in safeguards, such as watermarking for generated images and steps to avoid reproducing copyrighted material. Google says that all images generated by its products will include its SynthID watermarks. 

Like most companies, Google was knocked onto the back foot when ChatGPT arrived. Microsoft’s partnership with OpenAI has given it a boost over its old rival. But with Gemini, Google has come back strong: this is the slickest packaging of this generation’s tech yet. 

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