As the days are finally growing longer and the sunshine feels warmer, many of us turn our thoughts to outdoor recreation, which for many means team sports. Here in the Fox Valley area, we are blessed with an abundance of options for all ages to get involved on an athletic team. And if you’re still considering whether adding another commitment to your spring calendar is right for you or your family, let’s take a minute to appreciate the mental health benefits of athletics.
If you played sports as a child, do you remember the joy when you celebrated victory after a win with your teammates? How about when you pushed yourself to and past your limits in countless workout sessions? Or do you recall when your coach or teammate gave you advice and encouragement just when you needed it most? For a lot us, sports has made up a significant part of our childhood experiences and the lessons we have learned from them had an impact on who we were back then and they still can have a huge impact on the type of person that we are today.
Playing sports builds value for teamwork, resilience and selflessness. The fast nature and strategic elements develop problem solving and critical thinking skills, as well as the value of goal development. And well into adulthood, the habits developed during youth athletics of doing the work even when you’re not feeling up to it can make the difference in whether you choose to hit snooze and skip that early morning run, or get out the door before most people have even woken up.
Sports can impact the way we view life and ourselves. In order for athletes to be successful, they not only compete against their opponents, they also have to conquer their self-defeating thoughts. Getting out the door early in the morning for a workout or to your local recreational league after work is impacted by the way we talk to ourselves about those activities. As most of us are aware, thoughts are powerful and sports can help people learn to talk to themselves in a way that is encouraging and truthful. They not only help with the encouragement aspect, but also help us see that even challenging emotions like failure can have a purpose. Failing can teach us how to successfully navigate disappointment and bounce back so we can keep moving forward.
Research from sources like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that adults that are active not only have a lower chance of developing physical health diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes, but also display reduced stress and symptoms of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Playing sports as an adult can make you feel empowered and more confident about yourself, just the same as it helped to build those critical qualities in the child athlete.
Raliat Queenie Adeboyejo is a therapist with the Geneva-based Action Consulting and Therapy.