Taking part in team sports offers a multitude of mental health benefits. The stats prove that lots of good stuff happens when you get moving. Physical activity lowers stress by stimulating the release of those feel-good endorphins and is a great way to shake off the stressors of the day. Quality sleep is also paramount for mental wellness, and engaging in team sports facilitates better sleep patterns, ensuring optimal brain function and mood stability. In essence, participating in sports can be a powerful ally for maintaining good mental health.
Sport can also lead to improvements in your body composition and overall fitness. This positive transformation can significantly impact how you perceive your body. Feeling healthier and more in control of your physical well-being can lead to a more positive body image, which in turn, bolsters self-esteem.
It’ll also give you something to strive for, a reason to get out of bed, and a sense of accomplishment when you make progress. Overcoming challenges, no matter how small they may seem, builds confidence in your abilities. Each milestone achieved serves as concrete evidence of your progress and determination. These achievements contribute to an increased sense of self-worth and accomplishment.
Being part of a team, whether that’s at a pro athlete level or just playing for fun at the weekend offers a social connection that gives a sense of belonging, often friendships and bonds for life are made within team sport. The interactions and bonds formed with teammates create a supportive network, reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness. Teammates give you a shoulder to lean on during both the good and bad times on and off the field or court. Talking through feelings with teammates can mean coping with stress, anxiety, depression, and more feels that little bit more manageable, it’s likely others have experienced something similar, or perhaps are going through the same thing, so connecting with others really brings value and perhaps a different perspective.
Wearing a team kit can also help with the sense of belonging. Donning the team colours and logo symbolises solidarity, it serves as a visible reminder that you are part of a team, a community that shares common goals and supports one another.
For those struggling with their mental health, feeling tired and lacking energy means committing to a sport can be difficult or there may be physical symptoms that make it tough to get into the game. Lacking confidence, feeling isolated, and negative self-talk can all hold an individual back from attending training, games, or taking that step to get involved. It’s important for all involved in team sports to encourage and support others with overcoming these obstacles, this support can be in the form of -
Open communication: Create a safe and non-judgmental space for the club community, from staff to teammates to fans, to express feelings and concerns. Simply lending a listening ear can make a world of difference.
Encouragement: Offer words of encouragement and praise good efforts, positive feedback can boost confidence and motivation. Understand that there may be days when others are not up to participating fully, be flexible and supportive, allowing them to engage at their own pace.
Inclusivity: Make a conscious effort to include others in team activities, both on and off the field or court. Social connections can be a powerful antidote to feelings of isolation.
Educate yourself: Learn about common mental health conditions and how they can impact individuals. This knowledge will help you empathise and provide better support.
Check-in: Regularly check in with others to see how they're doing. A simple "How are you feeling today?" can show that you care about their wellbeing.
Offer resources: Many local professional clubs are playing their part in raising awareness of how engaging with sports can boost mental well-being. Community programmes, that encourage fans and the wider community to prioritise their mental fitness, are powerful and drive change. Wigan Warriors, for example, have relaunched their men’s mental fitness programme Engage. Following on from its earlier successes, the programme offers weekly sessions exploring a range of mental health topics, collaborating with guest speakers, and providing practical coping strategies to support local men to feel empowered around their own mental well-being. Wigan Warriors aren’t stopping there. They have also opened their club to being an Andy’s Man Club centre. Andy’s Man Club is a UK-wide male suicide prevention charity offering free mental health support groups.
Promote self-care: Encourage healthy habits, like proper nutrition, regular exercise, and adequate sleep, as these can positively affect mental health.
Be patient: Understand that recovery and progress may not happen overnight. Patience and consistent support are key.
Lead by example: Demonstrate empathy, kindness, and a positive attitude towards mental health. Your actions can inspire others to do the same.
In an increasingly interconnected world, the importance of fostering community through sports cannot be overstated. It not only benefits athletes individually but also contributes to a more inclusive and harmonious society. So, whether you're on the field or cheering from the side lines, remember that you are a part of something bigger—a supportive, welcoming, unified sports community that should serve to uplift others to be at their best, mentally and physically.