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The benefits of playing team sports as an adult

Playing team sports as a kid is a rite of passage engrained in Aussie culture. We’re an outdoorsy nation, and most parents understand the wide-ranging health and fitness benefits associated with encouraging their child to take up an after-school sport or activity.

However, as adults, our participation in team sports tends to drop off. Other things come on to the radar: study, travel, relationships. Playing sport all too often gets pushed down the list of priorities.

According to Dr Fraser Carson, a lecturer in coaching at Deakin’s Faculty of Health, that’s a great shame, because there are numerous health and social benefits to participating in team sports as an adult.

‘There is considerable evidence to show recreational activity can improve your time management skills, boost confidence, increase discipline, stabilise emotions, and alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression,’ he says. ‘Even an hour a week can really help.’

Why we stop playing team sports

During primary and high school, it’s hard to get away from team sports and group activities. From football and netball to cricket and hockey, team sport plays a major role in our educational experience that goes way beyond weekly PE classes.

However, as teenagers, ‘elite’ players tend to get separated from everyday ones – and unless you’re super athletic, there might not be as much playing time for you. Research from Western Australia’s Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries shows that the emphasis from peers and parents on winning rather than participating for enjoyment can lead teens to become disengaged and quit sports.

Sadly, this is especially true for girls, particularly after completing high school. Dr Carson believes that a lack of self-confidence causes many to miss out on a valuable opportunity to develop skills and build friendships.

It’s not all about winning

One of the major benefits of playing a team sport as a post-school adult is that it helps to put winning into perspective. The experience of coming to terms with a loss or disappointing game can build the resilience and self-awareness needed to deal with other social and academic challenges.

‘Aside from being a stress reliever, playing a sport as part of a team gives you a keen understanding of both winning and losing,’ Dr Carson says. ‘It’s the mental, emotional and social skills that you gain through playing any type of team sport that are so important.

‘There’s a sense of connection and belonging associated with being in a team – even if your team isn’t winning all the time, playing sport can reinforce a personal growth mindset that helps you learn and study better.’

'There is considerable evidence to show recreational activity can improve your time management skills, boost confidence, increase discipline, stabilise emotions, and alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression.'

Dr Fraser Carson,
Faculty of Health, Deakin University

Participating in team sports can also help you manage stress and do wonders for your mental health and self-esteem. Some of the other short and long-term psychological benefits include learning to trust and depend on others, accepting and giving help, setting goals and sticking to them, and working together towards a common goal.

Chasing the mental and psychological perks

Aside from the numerous psychological advantages to getting your heart rate up in a team setting, there are also clear fitness benefits to be had from playing team sports. Plus, being in a team automatically expands your social network, and makes you accountable.

‘You get all the benefits of exercising alone as well as social interaction and the ongoing development of communication skills,’ Dr Carson says. ‘Being part of a team means you’re committed to regular exercise and have exterior motivation to keep going.

‘It’s also a great way to meet new people, especially if you’ve moved to a new area, and it teaches you how to take constructive feedback.’

Tackling your fear of judgment

Reconnecting with sport and regaining control of your fitness can seem daunting but it doesn’t have to be a big deal. Dr Carson recommends choosing a sport that plays to your strengths and fits your individual needs.

‘Find the “tribe” you want to hang out with. If you want to play recreationally, don’t get involved with a competitive team who are heavily focused on results. There will be similar-minded people to you who want to participate in team sports for social reasons. Don’t be afraid to let people know that you haven’t participated before or are nervous to do so. Everyone was new once.’

If you’re a woman who’s keen on a sport that was traditionally male-dominated, be aware that there are many more team sports options for women now, often set up and run by other women. There are also a heap of great opportunities to advance and, for those interested, to participate in coaching, officiating and administration roles.

Win, lose or draw – it’s all good

The more regularly you play sport in a team setting, the better you’ll get and the more confident you’ll feel. Playing a team sport can have a hugely positive impact on your quality of life so check out the Social Sport website, find the sport that best suits you and get active.

Considering studying sports science or playing sport at Deakin? Find out more about your options.

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Dr Fraser Carson
Dr Fraser Carson

Lecturer in Coaching, Faculty of Health, Deakin University

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