For many women, the words ‘team sports’ send a shiver down the spine. School-era memories of hockey stick-bruised shins, violent netball matches and playing tag rugby in the freezing rain are enough to make anyone see group games as a trial at best, and downright traumatic at worst.
But while the thought of competitive, collective exercise might make you shudder, research suggests that playing team sports can actually be hugely beneficial to our mental and emotional wellbeing – and even boost our careers.
Research by Sport Scotland suggests that team sports can enhance feelings such as social connectedness, social support and peer bonding, all of which are crucial to social and mental wellbeing. In turn, these feelings may reduce stress, anxiety and depression.
Journalist Ella Braidwood joined women’s 11-a-side football team Tower Hamlets WFC after going through a break-up in 2016. While she appreciates the physical benefits of playing sport regularly, she says the experience has had a much more important effect on her mental health and social life.
I get a huge amount from being at my club,” she says. “Although fitness is a part of it, I’ve also made a whole new network of friends, and it’s really boosted my emotional wellbeing.”
Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign has been widely credited with encouraging more women to get involved in sport. Kate Dale, who leads the initiative, points out that team sports are a great idea if you tend to struggle to maintain the motivation to exercise: “If you’ve made a commitment to other people it’s much harder to decide you’re too tired and not bother going.”
There’s also the fact that most people don’t take up sports such as netball, football, basketball, rugby, volleyball and tennis out of a desire to lose weight. They do it because they want to have fun. In a world that still often presents exercise as something women only do begrudgingly when they want to tone up or drop a dress size, there’s something refreshing – and psychologically healthy – about that.
So why not join in? Keep active during the Coronavirus outbreak.