As you clicked into this article, I’m 99.9 percent sure you already had a biased idea formed in your mind that you were just looking to affirm regarding football and mental health.
The answer to the question, ‘can playing football affect your mental health’ is a resounding yes. But that doesn’t mean it always impacts people’s mental health in a negative fashion.
CTE is a real concern. Repeat concussions can cause severe disruptions to mental health. But football is safer than ever before. When I was a child, we were often taught to lead with the head. Spearing opponents was just a tackling ‘technique’ that the only real reason it was avoided was that you were not effectively wrapping up the ball carrier’s legs. Now, young athletes are taught to keep their heads up and tackle with their shoulders or chest. So, they learn a safer method from the beginning. To add to this, all levels of play have instituted severe penalties for targeting, spearing, and helmet to helmet contact on a defenseless player.
Even with proper technique, incidental contact or impacts with the ground are still a risk during high-level play. The Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs of the SEC have three players out on concussion protocol. The No. 6 ranked team in the nation, Florida Gators, are the odds favorites over Arkansas. However, they are likely to head into Saturday’s game without their star Tight End, Kyle Pitts.
Ok. So, you already know that severe or repeated head trauma can adversely impact your mental health, but what about the positives?
A recent study recently proved that engagement in team sports helps kids and young adults avoid anxiety and depression. Kids who experienced adversity through childhood but played team sports are reported to be better adjusted with better mental health as adults than those who did not participate in team sports. It also helps them learn positive life skills associated with teamwork and problem-solving. The game of football is far from the dumb jock game it is often stereotyped by people who’ve never played. It’s basically chess in action. Two commanders on opposite sides of the field, positioning 11 pieces and looking for a strategic edge through varied formations, adjustments, and deception. A sport like football gets young minds activated with new neuron pathways forming as they not only learn the complex motor functions required of the game and study tape and learn formations and the multitude of different plays that come out of the various formations. They learn how to read the defense and anticipate it. Conversely, defensive players learn how to read the offense.
Exercise has also been proven to assist with mental health as a de-stressor. However, it goes much further beyond getting rid of excess energy or taking out negative emotions in a constructive manner. Sports like football literally get the blood pumping, which is critical for transporting more oxygen and essential nutrients to the brain. According to a 2006 study, exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal.
Frequent exercise is also one of the best immune boosters that exist. There are also secondary factors such as the positive aspects of fatigue. An adolescent doing two-a-days is likely to sleep more soundly for better mental (and physical) recuperation. One thing researchers have realized lately is that many children, especially teenagers, do not get adequate sleep. Proper sleep helps to regulate stress hormones, such as cortisol, and also gives the mind a chance to recharge all of the neurons that were firing all day long. Adequate rest plays a significant role in cognition as well as memory retention and acuity.
So, could football affect your mental health? Yes. But it may affect your mental health in a positive way instead of adversely. If you take precautions and focus on safe tackling fundamentals, one could argue that playing a team sport like football is more beneficial both physically and mentally than a sedentary lifestyle.
 “Team Sport Athletes May Be Less Likely To ….” 1 Aug. 2019, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6683619/. Accessed 12 Nov. 2020.
 “Exercise for Mental Health – NCBI – NIH.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/. Accessed 12 Nov. 2020.