Mental Health, Physical Activity, and Quality of Life of US Adolescent Athletes During COVID-19-Related School Closures and Sport Cancellations: A Study of 13 000 Athletes

J Athl Train. 2021 Jan 1;56(1):11-19. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-0478.20.


Context: In the spring of 2020, US schools closed to in-person teaching and sports were cancelled to control the transmission of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). It is critical to understand the mental and physical health of adolescent athletes during this time.

Objective: To describe the health of athletes during COVID-19-related school closures and sport cancellations.

Design: Cross-sectional study.

Setting: A national sample recruited via social media.

Patients or other participants: A total of 13 002 US adolescent athletes (age = 16.3 ± 1.2 years, females = 52.9%, males = 47.0%) completed an anonymous online survey.

Main outcome measure(s): Demographic information collected was sex, grade, sport(s) played, and zip code. Assessments used were the General Anxiety Disorder 7-Item for anxiety, Patient Health Questionnaire 9-Item for depression, the Pediatric Functional Activity Brief Scale for physical activity, and the Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory 4.0 for quality of life. Mental health, physical activity, and health-related quality-of-life variables were compared among sex, grade, sport(s) played, and poverty level using means and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) from the survey-weighted analysis of variance.

Results: Females reported a higher prevalence of moderate to severe anxiety symptoms (females = 43.7% versus males = 28.2%). The Pediatric Functional Activity Brief Scale score was highest (best) for grade 9 (mean = 14.5, 95% CI = 14.0, 15.0) and lowest for grade 11 (mean = 10.9, 95% CI = 10.5, 11.3). The prevalence of depression symptoms was highest in team sport (74.1%) and lowest in individual sport (64.9%) participants. The total Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory score was lowest (worst) for athletes from counties with the highest poverty levels (high: mean = 74.5, 95% CI = 73.7, 75.3; middle: mean = 78.9, 95% CI = 78.0, 79.8; and low: mean = 78.3, 95% CI = 77.4, 79.1).

Conclusions: The health of US adolescents during the COVID-19-related school closures and sport cancellations varied to differing degrees depending on sex, grade level, type of sport participation, and level of poverty. Health policy experts should consider these findings in the future when creating and implementing policies to improve the health of adolescents in the United States.

Keywords: anxiety; depression; disparity; public health; socioeconomic status.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety / epidemiology
  • Athletes
  • COVID-19*
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Quality of Life*
  • Schools
  • Youth Sports*