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The Positive Effects of Sports-Themed Video Games

New research finds sports-themed video games actually encourage some kids to get onto the field.
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Madden NFL 15. (Photo: EA Sports)

Madden NFL 15. (Photo: EA Sports)

It’s widely believed that video games are partially responsible for the childhood obesity epidemic, since they encourage kids to sit in front of screens rather than go outside and play. If that’s your worry, you might want to ... buy your kid a new video game.

Just make sure its title contains the acronym NFL, NBA, or MLB.

Newly published research suggests adolescents who play more sports-themed video games are more likely to get involved in real-life sports activities over time.

What’s more, playing these games appears to enhance kids’ self-esteem by allowing them to develop and master sports-related skills and knowledge.

Brock University psychologists Paul Adachi and Teena Willoughby followed 1,492 students from eight Ontario, Canada, high schools for four years, from grade nine to 12. As part of a larger annual survey, they were asked how often they had played organized sports during the past month.

Their self-esteem levels were measured through a questionnaire given during ninth and 10th grades. On the 11th- and 12th-grade surveys, they were asked how frequently they played sports video games.

“We found support for a long-term, bidirectional association between sports video game play and involvement in sports,” the researchers report in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture.

Not surprisingly, they discovered adolescents who played sports more frequently were also more likely to play sports-themed video games. More importantly, they also found “sports video game play predicted greater involvement in sports over time.”

In other words, playing sports-themed games actually encouraged some kids to turn off their computers and get onto the playing field. But precisely what inspired them to suit up?

At least part of the answer, it appears, is “confidence.” The researchers found that “playing sports video games predicted higher self-esteem, and in turn, self-esteem predicted greater involvement in (actual physical) sports.”

“This finding suggests that sports video games may provide a safe environment for adolescents to develop sport-related skills and knowledge, and experience the thrill of victory, which over time may enhance their self-esteem, and, in turn, encourage them to participate in real-life sports," Adachi and Willoughby conclude.

We’ve long known that sports can help youngsters develop useful habits by linking hard work with the rewards that come with victory. This research suggests that, for kids too shy or uncertain to learn the basics of a sport in front of their peers, the video-game console can serve as a safe space to develop their abilities and self-confidence.