Sport doesn't just have physical benefits. It's also a great way to socialise, have fun and improve your wellbeing. Joe Gorman talks about the richness of the sporting experience.
There are few better ways to put the mind at ease.
A famous American footballer once said, “you know what my favourite part of the game is? The opportunity to play.” These days, we are fed with more sport than ever. Television stations devote lots of time to covering the cricket, the NRL and the AFL, while there are countless ways to talk or read about sport on the internet. We can even ‘play’ sport on the X Box or the computer, taking the reins of Manchester United on the virtual football field, or being Tony Hawk on the skate park.
But all of it is, in the end, just a distraction from the real fun of actually playing sport. Whether it is part of an organised team on the weekend, on the oval during lunch breaks at work or school, or even on your own, nothing beats the simple pleasure of it. It’s also a chance for us to compete, to bond with friends and family and to get active.
More than just being good for your physical health, the unpredictability of sport is also great for building character. It’s said that to know how to win, you must first know how to lose. Anybody who has lost a grand final, missed an open goal, or gotten out for a duck will know how deeply sport can affect you on an emotional level.
It’s not just about winning
Still, temporary setbacks only make participating in sports a richer experience. I remember my soccer team going through a long losing streak. What started as a miserable experience ended up bringing the team closer together, as we fought to win just one game.
As we were just kids, our coaches decided the best way to keep our spirits up was to give us a humourous incentive. If we won, they promised, we’d be allowed to throw water bombs at them after the game. Week after week, a packet of water bombs would be brought to the game just in case we won. But we still kept losing. Even so, at the end of the season we hurled the water bombs at our two coaches, and eventually at each other.
It might have been a strange kind of bonding experience, especially during a cold winter, but it was a great reminder that losing doesn’t need to be the end of the world. It was great fun. I remember that season more fondly than all the others, even though we finished last on the table.
Stress less off the field
But playing sport can also be an individual pursuit. Sometimes, going for a jog, doing laps at the pool, playing a round of golf or riding your bike can be a way of setting your mind free. Once you get into a rhythm, all of the stresses of work, school or university fade away. There are few better ways to put the mind at ease.
Psychologists talk about ‘flow theory’, which is when you totally immerse yourself in something. The benefits of concentration and focus that come from playing sport are immeasurable. Whether you are part of a team trying to win a football match, or on your own trying to beat your personal best score on the golf course, all of life’s other stresses seem to slip away.
We all have to deal with our own personal pressures, anxieties and setbacks. When we can, it’s good to talk about these things with friends and family. But sometimes, it’s also nice to just free our minds and do something that makes us all happy, like kick a ball around.