General Research Therapies — 26 October 2018

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“Participating in sport helps to keep you alert, engaged and fulfilled, while providing opportunities to meet new people and form close and lasting friendships,” says Amberlee Nichols, Act-Belong-Commit campaign manager. “These all contribute to good mental health by improving quality of life and mood, while reducing depression and anxiety. Sport also contributes to building stronger, healthier, happier and safer communities.”

Chief executive of the WA Sports Federation, Rob Thompson, says the physical benefits of taking part in sport are well accepted but less articulated are the mental health benefits and wellbeing that come from joining clubs and being involved in sport.

“In terms of mental health, particularly where people join community groups or clubs, participants start to extend the social connections they may already have,” he says.

“These friendships that originate from sporting clubs can last a very long time and we’ve seen plenty of evidence of that. Community sport provides meeting places for people, bringing local neighbourhoods together and giving an opportunity to make new friendships by meeting others from a diverse range of backgrounds.”

The benefits of these networks are not exclusive to those on the field, says Mr Thompson. They can apply to all members of a club, including coaches, umpires, administrators, parents and people helping to make the club run smoothly.

“One thing we hear many times is the story of people being assisted through difficult periods of their lives, whether that is bereavement in a family or when challenged due to a major injury, and club members willingly give support,” he says. “That is a great advantage of being involved in a community-based activity of any kind. Generally people can access a bigger network of support within their local community.”

Life after sport

We know sport can be good for us physically and mentally but for some young people aspiring to perform at an elite level, it can be a cause of distress when their sporting career plans don’t pan out as hoped.

Mr Thompson says it’s important to encourage young people but also ensure there are support people around them, such as parents and coaches, to help them maintain perspective.

“Only an exclusive number of people achieve a very high level in sport. It is important to explain that without dimming the dream,” he says.

“Equally, we don’t want young people to value themselves as people by what they might achieve in sport alone. We want them to pursue other interests as well… education, music or other pastimes, and to maintain friendships and relationships outside their sport. You can get caught in a bubble resulting in an over-focus on sporting achievement. ”

Getting started in sport

You don’t have to be “sporty” or involved in a sport previously to get involved.

“We recommend starting simple and setting yourself some small, achievable goals,” says Amberlee Nichols, Act-Belong-Commit campaign manager. “You will feel a real sense of achievement from achieving your goals and it will motivate you to strive further.”

Nichols offers some ideas to help get you started:

Try before you buy: register for some trial sessions before you commit to a new sport or activity. Most places offer these.

Wherever you can, challenge yourself to get active. Take the stairs, go for a walking meeting, or hop off the bus or train a few stops early and walk the remainder of the distance.

Get involved in a social sport. It’s all about having fun and a run around with others rather than competition!

Check out the Act-Belong-Commit Activity Finder for a sporting club to join.

How to be resilient

Top tips for building resilience in young male athletes

For young athletes especially, it can be a good idea to have other areas of interest in your life aside from sport. For example, studying part-time will give you options later in life.

Look at how you can use your strengths and skills in other work/training settings, for example, physical fitness, leadership, teamwork, determination, focus or training.

Set yourself small goals for the next stage of your life. One of the benefits of being young is that you don’t have to make big decisions about your future straight away.

Find ways to maintain your connection with the people you have met through sport — friends, teammates, mentors — so that these relationships don’t cease when your time in the sport does.

Make an effort to link in with mentors/peers — others who have successfully transitioned from a life in sport to another career.

Set yourself a daily routine — keeping fit can still play a significant role in your life but make time to do a variety of other things each day that both challenge you and bring you pleasure.

Source: Beyond Blue

This piece by Brooke Evans-Butler was seen on ‘The West Australian‘, 25 October 2018. 

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