Rediscover the athlete within
Brendan Rolfe, CPHR, BA, DipA
You're never too old to take up a team sport. No matter your skill or activity level, check out the offerings at your local rec centre.
Are you an armchair athlete? Are your glory days behind you? Perhaps your childhood was filled with movies, board games, and drama classes. Whether your shot at the pros was cut short by an injury or you never considered yourself an athlete, you need to play team sports as an adult.
An oasis in the desert of life
Bills, cooking, cleaning, yard work and house maintenance, driving and commuting. Just writing this list has me tired, stressed out, and a little bit bored.
The adult reality involves the responsibilities of parenthood, home ownership, and being a functional member of society while suppressing our self-indulgent tendencies and taking care of the needs and desires of others.
Let’s try a visualization exercise: close your eyes, take a deep breath, and remember a warm sunny day when you were a kid without all of these responsibilities. Remember how you used to hang out with your friends and kick a ball around, go biking, swimming, rolling in the grass? Just memories, you say?
Not necessarily so. For the hard-working lot, the benevolent and altruistic mass in need of fun and fitness, there is an oasis in the desert of life: team sports. They’re fun, they’re recreational, and they’re for adults. Best of all, they’re also great for our physical and mental health.
It’s more than just fun!
What are some of those physical and mental health benefits? Children learn many important societal values from playing team sports, such as teamwork, fair play, and relationship development and maintenance. Participating in team sports also keeps them engaged in positive pursuits with like-minded individuals—and out of trouble.
Team sports can do the same for you. While the physical benefits of sports are more overt and clearly important, the psychological, neurological, and soulful benefits of team sports are less obvious—but easily as impactful.
This just in: physical activity directly correlates to greater physical well-being, more robust heart health, and added functional longevity to your life. I know: it’s not exactly breaking news. But what you may not know is that the physical interaction we know as “touching” alleviates stress and increases physical performance.
The kicker? This touch can be as brief as the common sport phenomenon known as the high five. Team sports are the perfect way to get your fill of high fives, fist bumps, chest bumps, and full on hugs.
It’s psychological and neurological
Adults who participate in team sports as well as individual activities are less likely to develop mood disorders in their later years. You not only will have a thriving social life, but also won’t be on an emotional rollercoaster, which is good for your own sanity and the sanity of those around you.
In addition, the adaptive requirements of team sports (both reactively and emotionally speaking) will force your brain to strengthen and create new neural connections that will keep you sharp both mentally and physically. Remember, your brain and your body both adhere strictly to the use-it-or-lose-it principle.
What do Bob Marley, chicken soup, and team sports have in common? They’re good for the soul. Along with providing the opportunity to belong and serving our innate need to identify with a group, participating in team sports offers a sense of collective achievement.
You work as part of a whole toward the achievement of a common goal. Winning is not necessarily the object; it also involves the cooperative evolution of the team into a functioning unit. The added bonus: you make a few friends and share a few laughs.
Just do it—participate!
According to a 2010 survey, overall Canadian sport participation dropped by 17 percent over the previous 18 years. But it’s not due to a lack of resources that participation is falling.
Most cities have community centres that offer affordable social recreation at reasonable prices. For instance, in Vancouver, one can drop in to the West End Community Centre and pay only $3.50 for an hour and a half of badminton, volleyball, or basketball action.
Or hit a racquetball at the H.G.R. Mews Community Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland, for a mere $7.50 for both players. Similar pricing is seen across the country, since it’s a civic mandate to have a healthy and active population.
No experience? No problem.
For those of you who are less athletically gifted, I acknowledge your concern about being skilled enough to participate or not wanting to be embarrassed. This has been taken into consideration! While open gym times where anyone can participate are offered, times for various skill levels, from absolute beginner to competitive, may also be designated.
I can hear grumblings of “sure, they say beginner, but they haven’t seen the likes of my beginnings.” Well, let me tell you, when they say beginner, they mean beginner. I took a beginner’s dance class, and while I was no Fred Astaire (more like Mr. Bean covered in fire ants), I actually felt quite comfortable.
All you need is a smile
Along with a multitude of skill levels, community centres and companies who provide adult recreational leagues offer an astonishing variety of team sports: basketball, volleyball, indoor soccer, floor hockey, badminton, pickle ball, squash, and ice hockey are just a few examples.
The great thing about dropping in for team sports is that you don’t need to organize a team beforehand. You simply show up and make teams at random with others who are participating.
For athletes with physical impairments and those looking for something new to try, I highly recommend wheelchair sports. Many community centres offer wheelchair basketball and rugby (known as murder ball), as well as sit volleyball. Ambulatory people are encouraged to participate with wheelchairs provided by the community centre at no extra cost.
Whether visiting your local community centre or contacting a private purveyor of adult recreational sports leagues in your area, choosing to play team sports just makes sense. It will give you a sense of belonging, a sense of achievement, and the opportunity to meet like-minded people. There is a sport and a level of ability for all participants, so get out there and bump a few chests!
By the numbers
In February 2013, the Canadian government published a research paper called Sport Participation 2010 in which levels of participation in sport were measured. For the purposes of their survey, sport was defined as “an activity that involves two or more participants engaged for the purpose of competition.”