Researchers at the University of Alberta in Edmonton claim that theirs is the first study which looks at the connection between athletic skill and social acceptance among school children.
The study, led by Janice Causgrove Dunn, from the Faculty of Physical & Recreation at the University of Alberta, examined the relationships among perceived athletic competence, peer acceptance and loneliness in elementary school children.
The study involved responses from 208 children in Grades 4 through 6 at seven different elementary schools in a western Canadian city. 99 boys and 109 girls completed questionnaires used to measure children's loneliness levels in school, as well as self-perceived athletic ability.
The research team also asked participants to rate the athletic ability of their classmates and identify the classmates who they most liked and who they least liked in order to assess peer rejection and peer acceptance.
Their findings therefore confirmed that kids, who are seen as athletic by their classmates, are also better liked and less likely to feel lonely, while un-athletic children experience the opposite. "For both boys and girls, we found that popular children reported less loneliness and received higher athletic ability ratings from their peers than rejected children," Dunn said.
"Conversely, the kids who reported higher levels of loneliness tended to receive lower athletic ability ratings and lower social acceptance ratings from their peers," Dunn added. Previous studies have shown that loneliness in childhood and adolescence is linked to many psychosocial and emotional problems, and prolonged loneliness has the potential to seriously undermine an individual's psychological, emotional and physical well-being.
Lonely children are often less physically active and less fit, and more likely to experience tension and anxiety than their non-lonely counterparts. In adolescence and early adulthood, loneliness has been linked to behaviours including cigarette smoking, marijuana use and alcoholism, as well as an increased risk of school drop out and depression.
"Given the proven negative impact of loneliness on a child's well being, this kind of research is an important endeavour," Dunn said. "It's important to identify and understand the factors that might increase a child's likelihood of being accepted by the peer group, because this, in turn, decreases the likelihood of that child experiencing the destructive psychosocial and emotional problems that often come with rejection," Dunn added.
The new study is published in The Journal of Sport Behaviour.