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Sports-Related Video Games Linked to Children's Participation in Athletics

It turns out all those years of playing "Madden" and "NBA2K" video games might have beneficial effects after all.

High schoolers who play sports-related video games are significantly more likely to participate in sports, according to a study published online last week in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture.

For the study, the authors tracked 1,492 students from eight high schools in Ontario, Canada, over four years, from grades 9 through 12. During each of the four years, the students revealed how often they had played organized sports both in and out of school. In grades 9 and 10, they answered questions about their levels of self-esteem, while in grades 11 and 12, they described their frequency of sports video game play (ranging from "not at all" to "five or more hours on an average day").

After analyzing the survey data, the authors "found support for a bidirectional association between the frequency of sports video game play and involvement in sports over time." In other words, students who played sports video games were significantly more likely to participate in real-life sports, too. The same was true in reverse; those who played sports in real life were much more likely to play sports video games as well.

The authors then drew upon self-esteem data to determine whether sports video game play "indirectly predicted involvement in sports." As it turned out, playing sports video games in 9th grade "predicted elevated levels of self-esteem in grade 10," which "predicted elevated levels of involvement in sports in grade 11." The same was not true in reverse, however; participation in sports in 9th grade "did not significantly predict self-esteem in grade 10."

That bolstering of self-esteem "suggests that sports video games may provide a safe environment for adolescents to develop sport-related skill 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," the authors write.

Frankly, given how advanced video games have become in recent years, these findings shouldn't come as a total surprise. The days of "Tecmo Bowl" are a thing of the past; these days, sports games often require learning a significant amount of strategy. To succeed in a basketball game, for instance, you'll have to be able to execute a flawless pick and roll, or in a football game, you'll have to know the difference between a nickel defense and dime defense or figure out how to choose between a 4-3 and a 3-4 alignment.

The authors acknowledged that youths who play sports more frequently could simply have a higher interest in sports, which would thus make them more likely to play sports-related video games, too. They called for further research to investigate exactly why sports participation predicted higher levels of sports video game play and vice versa.

So, the next time your teenager asks you to shell out $60 for a new PlayStation 4 or Xbox One game, rest assured that a sports-related video game could actually encourage them to make their way out to a real-life playing field.

Want all the latest K-12 sports news? Follow @SchooledinSport on Twitter.

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