Study: Early Sports Participation in Girls Show Improved Attentiveness

A new Canadian study suggests that girls — and not boys — who participate actively in school sports in middle childhood show improved behavior and attentiveness in early adolescence.

The study was published in “Preventative Medicine” and led by Linda Pagani, from the Universite de Montreal’s School of Psychoeducation, and her students — Marie-Josee Harbec and Genevieve Fortin — and McGill University associate medical professor Tracie Barnett, according to an article published on

Photo: Jon Marshall / Creative Commons

“Girls who do regular extracurricular sports between ages 6 and 10 show fewer symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at age 12, compared to girls who seldom do,” Pagani said of the study’s results. “Surprisingly, however, boys do not appear to gain any behavioral benefit from sustained involvement in sports during middle childhood.”

ADHD harms children’s ability to process information and learn at school, Pagani explained. Sport helps young people develop life skills and supportive relationships with their peers and adults. It offers a chance to get organized under some form of adult influence or supervision.

“Thus, from a public-health perspective, extracurricular sport has the potential to be a positive, non-stigmatizing and engaging approach to promote psychological well-being and could thus be viewed as behavior therapy for youth with ADHD,” Pagani said. “Sports are especially beneficial if they begin in early childhood. And so, since using concentration and interpersonal skills are essential elements of the sport, in our study, we undertook to examine whether it would result in reductions in ADHD symptoms over the long term.”

And as for the boys?

“In childhood, boys with ADHD are more impulsive and more motor-skilled than girls — as a result, boys are more likely to receive medication for their ADHD, so faster diagnosis and treatment for boys in middle childhood could diminish the detectable benefits of sport,” Pagani said. “They might be there; they’re just harder to tease out. In girls, on the other hand, ADHD is more likely to go undetected — and girls’ difficulties maybe even more tolerated at home and in school. Parents of boys, by contrast, might be more inclined to enroll them in sports and other physical activities to help them.”

To read the full story from on the importance of early athletic activity in young boys and girls, click here