Relief in the Game: Basketball brings Mental Healing to a Moroccan Orphanage

Majid Khatabi, athletic director at Dar Al-Atfal orphanage in Essaouira, Morocco, is onto something. He has dedicated his life to uplifting and inspiring children in orphanages through his love of basketball. Institutionalized kids, including those residing at Dar Al-Atfal face increased risks of mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression and PTSD. In fact, children that grow up in orphanages are 500x more likely to die by suicide. It is a harrowing statistic that inspires Coach Majid’s work every day.

Playing sports has numerous benefits to a child’s physical health, but also has an enormous impact on their mental well-being.

When children exercise, whether running, shooting hoops, or even swimming, their bodies releases endorphins, which reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) and stimulate production of hormones that improve the mood. Studies have shown that 20 to 30 minutes of exercise each day can make people feel calmer. This calmness continues several hours after exercise.

Sports are a positive outlet for kids struggling with anxiety, depression, and other behavioral problems. Researchers studied 9,688 children who had bad childhood experiences, such as physical and sexual abuse, or emotional neglect. They found that children who took part in team sports had better mental well-being as adults.

Here are some reasons why children who play team sports have better mental well-being:

1. A Support System

Structured sports provide a safe, fun, and nurturing environment. Playing team sports instills a sense of community where children feel supported by their peers and adults. The routine helps children cope with everyday stress, and gives them an opportunity for relief from other daily pressures.

2. Socialization

Sports require face-to-face interaction and foster relationships. The positive social experiences that happen between teammates on and off the field can relieve social anxiety.

3. Confidence

Scoring a goal in soccer, winning a basketball tournament, or even just making a shot into a hoop — successes in a game can boost a child’s confidence and self-esteem. The exhilaration that comes from dedication and challenging work can set them up for other successes in life.

4. Resilience

Through the wins and losses of playing sports, children learn how to cope with disappointment. In turn, it teaches them how to bounce back from difficulties in life. Building resilience can be a key to maintaining mental health and can serve young players well for their entire lives.

World Mental Health Day is observed on October 10 every year, to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to support mental health initiatives. Today, we celebrate Coach Majid’s initiatives to bring hope and healing to the athletes at the Dar Al-Atfal. He trains institutionalized children on a broken court every day and he recognizes the many benefits of team sports to their mental well-being. Coach Majid teaches discipline, resilience and empathy — values that led Dar Al-Atfal’s athletes to becoming the winning team in Morocco’s National Basketball Championships.

This year, BLOOM Charity is raising money to build a new basketball court for these deserving kids. 

Help support a future of winning athletes at Dar Al-Atfal.