Extra-curricular sport participation: A potential buffer against social anxiety symptoms in primary school children

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Objectives:Social anxiety (SA) is characterized by high anxiety in social situations and can be significantly debilitating in its long-term duration. In the case of children it additionally has a negative impact on the child’s social and cognitive development. As reported in Wipfli, Rethorst, and Landers’ (2008) meta-analysis, exercise does have an anxiolytic effect. In this study, the role of sport as a mediating variable in the onset or development of SA symptoms is investigated, where a similar effect on this specific anxiety-type is expected.Design:This repeated-measures cohort study includes two data collections. The first data collection was carried out in 2007 and the second a year later in 2008.Method:Two hundred and eight 7- to 8-year old Swiss primary school children participated in structured interviews. Parents and teachers completed questionnaires regarding children’s SA symptoms and classroom behaviour respectively. Parents also provided information about their children’s extra-curricular sport activities. The same information was gathered a year later.Results:Although most differences were not statistically significant a pattern emerged: children practising sport tended to score lower on all instruments in both 2007 and 2008. Repeated-measures analysis of variance indicated a reduction in social anxiety over time in children practising a team sport.Conclusion:These results are interpreted in reference to a potential positive effect of team sport on a child’s experience of anxiety in social situations based on Antonovsky’s (1997) salutogenesis model and Bandura’s (1977) social learning theory.

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