Neurological changes for children in team sports

By Emily Taketa

This study associates children’s participation in team sports to larger hippocampal volumes and decreased rates of depression in boys. Previous research has correlated a smaller hippocampus, the region in the brain thought to influence memory and stress responses, with adult depression, but the researchers at Washington University in St. Louis recently published pioneering data suggesting the same relationship in preteen children.

This paper, published in the Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging journal, analyzed the parental reports of their children’s sports and behavior with supplemental brain scans to observe hippocampal volume of over four thousand children between the ages of 9-11 years. The findings reveal that involvement in sports is correlated with an increase in the volume of the hippocampal region and team sports will generally lead to a more significant increase. The researchers also found that for boys specifically, team sports appeared to have an antidepressant effect that follows the known trend of increased hippocampal volume with decreased adult depression. However, this trend was not observed in girls from this sample which researchers suggest may indicate that other factors contribute to their depression or that associate in team sports may influence girls in later years.

These findings support positive impact team sports have on neurological development and mood and urge more children to participate in these activities. Furthermore, the differences between the preteen female and males suggests the role of gender in cognitive and behavioral development. Overall, these fascinating association between team sports and increased hippocampal region and decreased male depression hold important implications for further memory research and future treatment of childhood depression.


Washington University in St. Louis. (2019, March 21). How team sports change a child's brain: Team sports associated with less depression in boys as young as 9. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 27, 2019.