Sport plays a major role in helping people enjoy a physically healthy life, but it also has incredible benefits for strengthening our mental fitness.
UK Active’s recent report revealed that physical inactivity causes 370,00 premature deaths and costs the system £200bn every 10 years. Poor mental fitness is impacted too, however social sport can help provide a solution.
The value of sport for social and camaraderie
Playing group sports can give people a sense of belonging and a chance to make friends. These friendships can start afresh or be reaffirmed over many years. In my own case, I have been playing in the same 5-a-side football group for almost ten years and it has introduced me to lifelong friends. The game is almost secondary to the weekly catch-up and shared experiences after a runabout, especially as we move through our 30s when life throws up challenging obstacles.
Sport has a fantastic way of breaking down barriers. Work environments usually have well-defined divisions or silos, and sport can remove these boundaries by making it all about what happens on the court or pitch - whether good or bad!
In fact, for one of our Humans of Grassroots Sport series interviews, we spoke with a teaching assistant who through netball had suddenly opened up her school social group as the team included different year group teachers and even the deputy headmaster.
Group sports are wonderful for developing good character traits. There is a fine line between being competitive and expressing emotions in the right manner. Defeat handled magnanimously is better than winning by immoral means and then gloating about it. A fist-pump, hug or high-five from a teammate after a game builds character, while learning to smile and shake a hand gracious in defeat encourages the same.
We know from the workplace that teams which don’t work together well, tend not to perform well either. Individual talent is important but can only take you so far. Communication is vital in group sports and understanding what it takes to be part of a team is embedded, adding learning to the value of teamwork. This is an invaluable lesson for all of us to carry into adult lives and the workplace.
Need for places to play and better access
Running around on a badminton court, netball court or football pitch is of course excellent for physical fitness too. Being fit and healthy improves mental fitness by giving us confidence in our self. This is reflected in work, family and social life. But fitting in sport around hectic lives isn’t always easy, so removing those barriers to entry must be the first step, and finding practical places to play removes one of those obstacles.
UK Active’s report highlighted there is huge opportunity for schools to help get more people active, and their facilities must be made readily accessible, and with the aim of improving mental fitness. In fact, schools own 35% of the facilities in England, the greatest share of any other operator type, and 40% of these are currently inaccessible to the public.
Thankfully, technology delivers a solution to make finding and booking places to play much simpler and MyLocalPitch is seeing the positive results in the number of people playing and in five years have helped over 1.5 million people in the UK play sport.
It’s important for all of us to remember the benefits of social sport. It strengthens mental fitness and it gets people playing with friends, family and colleagues. Technology plays its part in opening up access to sports facilities and then we must all work together to encourage more people to engage with social sports to boost mental fitness in the UK.
Jamie Foale is the CEO at My Local Pitch.