We all know the physical benefits of participating in sport – increased cardiovascular fitness, stronger muscles and bones, lowered blood pressure and cholesterol, improved coordination and balance – the list goes on. But have you ever really considered the positive affect that sport, particularly organized team sport, can have on our mental health? For instance, sport is a proven de-stressor. It forces you to apply yourself fully to the task at hand, leaving behind thoughts and worries you may have had beforehand. In their place, sport stimulates the release of endorphins, which are your body’s natural happy chemicals.
Over the past few months, we’ve all been dealing with restrictions to our normal lifestyles, courtesy of the coronavirus pandemic. For many of us, stress levels have raised considerably during this time – loss of community connection, financial concerns and, perhaps, even a fear of getting sick with the virus. To top it off, all organized sport has been cancelled/suspended meaning that one of the greatest relievers of stress, and a chance for greater community connection, hasn’t been allowed to happen. So, it’s no wonder that our stress levels have gone through roof!
Playing sport alongside others also teaches us the value of teamwork. Instead of reading about it or being lectured about it, sport forces you to put it into practice. And, participating in sport teaches you how to deal with setbacks. No team wins all the time. Dealing with a loss or a poor performance, learning from it and trying again is all part of the journey. Setbacks build resilience and this can be carried over into everyday life, helping you to navigate the tough times and find a way through them. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly put us through hard times; does that mean that those people who participated in sport prior to the pandemic were in a better mental space to deal with the effects of the pandemic? Evidence would seem to suggest that yes, it did!
Additionally, the social aspect that comes with being part of a team is fantastic for your wellbeing. Even if you join a team not knowing anyone on that team, sport has a funny way of fast-tracking friendships, and human connection is such an important factor in maintaining good mental health. And, being part of a team also adds a support network that you wouldn’t otherwise have. Self-isolation, over recent months, has restricted our ability to socialize with people other than our immediate family members &/or house-mates, meaning we have effectively lost that human connection and support network. Many of us have turned to media platforms, such as zoom and teams, in an attempt to maintain that connection. This has proven to be an effective means of staying connected, to an extent. Nothing, though, can match the personal connection that you receive through organized sport, or other face to face gatherings.
The good news is that many State Sporting Associations, have recently released their return to play guidelines which can hopefully pave the way for many of us to get back into organised sport and enjoy the benefits that it brings. The COVID-19 pandemic, and associated restrictions, won’t last forever so it is time to plan a return to sport now. Even if it has been a while since you have participated in organised sport, I would encourage everyone to start thinking about getting back into it. The physical benefits alone are enough to warrant consideration but it is perhaps the mental benefits which we could all really benefit from right now.