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Student Researches Connection Between Playing Sports and Self-Esteem

Sandra Purcell ‘18
Sandra Purcell ‘18

Does participating in team sports at a young age have an impact on self-esteem as you get older? That is the question Sandra Purcell ‘18 hopes to answer in her Academic Excellence Conference (AEC) presentation “The Effects of Youth Sport Participation on Self Esteem in Adulthood,” on Saturday, April 14. The AEC, which is free and open to the public, offers attendees an opportunity to experience the academic research and other forms of scholarship that Keene State students are conducting.

A psychology major with a minor in sociology, Purcell has always known that exercise has an effect on mental health. “I’m a student athlete, playing on the College’s women’s basketball team, so sports have been a big part of my life. I wanted to see if there is long-term influence of playing sports when you’re young, and if being in a team atmosphere at a young age affects self-esteem later in life.”

Purcell submitted her research to AEC as part of the Psychology Honors Program, where students participate in an advanced program pursuing supervised research. She developed her abstract with faculty advisor Dr. Gary Bonitatibus, a psychology professor, along with two committee members: Dr. Susan Menees, chair of the Psychology Department, and Dr. Fitni Destani, physical education associate professor.

“I think self-esteem and mental health as a whole are very relevant today, especially in college students,” Purcell said. “Self-esteem in our age group is one of the biggest parts of our development. We do so many things because we’re worried about what others think of us or what we think of ourselves.”

Purcell is in the process of completing her study, which involves between 40 to 60 Keene State Students who either did or did not participate in youth sports between ages six to 12 years of age. Each will complete the Coopersmith Self Esteem Inventory, a 25-item questionnaire to quantify self-esteem levels. Once all data is collected and analyzed, Purcell expects to find that those who participated in athletics as a child will have a higher level of self-esteem than those who did not.

“It’s important to have high self-esteem,” added Purcell. “If we can find something that traces back to when we were six to 12 years old that can help us acquire more self-esteem, then that’s huge. It would be wonderful to be able to say that getting young kids involved in athletics will mean they struggle less with self-esteem as they get older.”

As Purcell looks back on her AEC project, she noted, “You have to be passionate about it. It’s a lot of work, but going through the honors program and submitting to AEC is the best thing you can do. It’s just such an awesome experience to do something you love and get recognized for it. I would recommend it to everybody.”

After Purcell graduates in May, she will attend Rivier University in the fall where she will pursue her master’s in school psychology in hopes of becoming a high school psychologist.

The 18th Annual Academic Excellence Conference will take place Saturday, April 14 from 9 a.m. – 5:15 p.m. View the schedule of more than 100 presentations, panels, posters and performances.

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