For sports fans, a favorite part of attending a sporting event may be the game or the atmosphere. However, even the most die-hard fans may be interested to know that a new study suggests that attending sports as a spectator could lead to an improvement in mental health. Yuhei Inoue, Ph.D., assistant professor of sport management, received the Janet B. Parks NASSM Research Grant last spring from the North American Society for Sport Management for a study investigating the influence of sport spectating on promoting social connections for older adults. With one-fifth of adults aged 65 years and over experiencing some type of mental health problem, identifying avenues to promote their mental health and well-being has become an important research agenda. Spectator sports provide a way for older adults to engage in an activity and develop a sense of connections that may decrease the risk of mental health problems.
Working with Chris Moore, a graduate assistant and sport management M.A. student, Inoue recruited 50 study participants from Minnetonka Senior Services and randomly placed these participants into two groups. The first group was used to gather benchmark data on individual mental health status, and the second group was invited to attend three U of M Women’s Volleyball home games during the 2016 season. The bus ride from Minnetonka Senior Services to and from the volleyball games was coordinated by the research team to provide transportation for the participants. With the Gophers reaching the Final Four in the past two seasons, their highly successful on-court play made for a rare and exciting research opportunity. After attending each home game, participants were asked to fill out a brief questionnaire and write about their experience. During the volleyball games and bus ride to and from the games, it was clear that camaraderie between participants was building. One member of the study described an event as,
“Exciting game! Fun! Very impressed by the athleticism of these young women! Fun to go as a group and share the experience.”
The analysis is still underway, but the initial results of this research project showed that the older adults who attended the sporting events saw an increase in perceptions of emotional support from other Gopher fans, including those from Minnetonka Senior Services who attended the events together. The study also found that the enhanced perception of emotional support was positively associated with a stronger sense of connection with the senior services. These findings imply that sporting event attendance provides an outlet in which older adults feel emotionally supported by their peers. This increase in perception of support, in turn, promotes older adults’ social connections and well-being. Senior services and centers could utilize sport spectating activities in the future to connect with their members and help the members further engage in program activities.
The study by Dr. Inoue and Mr. Moore provides the initial step of examining the positive mental health benefits of spectating sports. Based on this study, future studies could examine how spectator sports positively enhance the mental health of individuals who have limited social connections and are at high risk for depression and other mental health problems.
Story by Chris Moore, M.A. student, Sport Management