Sport, you just can't beat it. Sometimes it can be difficult to put your finger on just what you love about playing your chosen discipline.
Maybe the thrill of scoring a last-minute winner sparks your competitive side. Perhaps the hard exercise is what you need after a tough day or week at work.
Nevertheless, performing well in sport requires dedication. It can be tough to motivate yourself to go for that early morning run or get down to training in the winter when it’s cold, dark and pouring with rain.
Most of us have bailed on sport once or twice in our time. If you need some extra motivation to make it down to your club session this evening, or if you need to recruit some new players, then read on.
How do sports benefit humans?
Humans are naturally active beings, having evolved to run after animals to obtain their food. Humans are also sociable creatures, and much of human progress has taken place due to communication and exchange.
Sport, with its combination of physical exercise and the process of working in a team provides a whole host of benefits.
This is more relevant than ever before, as more and more of us are living sedentary and solitary lifestyles, communicating online, with our only exercise being a walk from the car to the front door.
Look no further than these health, social, cultural and economic benefits of sport.
What are the 10 benefits of playing sports?
We'll start with probably the most obvious benefit. Sport and physical activity can have many benefits on health – and you should make the most of them at every stage in your life.
According to Sport England, physical activity is directly linked to reducing the risk of a number of illnesses, including some serious chronic diseases. These include:
cardiovascular diseases such as coronary heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, liver disease, mental health problems and musculoskeletal conditions.
The body of scientific research supporting the link between poor health and inactivity is unanimous and handily explained in this resource created by the British Heart Foundation.
2) Mental wellbeing
It's not just your body that will thank you for taking part in sport – your mind will as well. There are plenty of mental health benefits of being more active.
For children, adolescents and adults, physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of issues such as depression, anxiety, and in later life, dementia.
For children, the impact of sport on confidence and self-esteem can be significant. Thanks to a better body image, various studies have found more active adolescents have greater confidence in their health, and a reduced chance of drug use.
Sport is a competitive, goal-setting process that rewards hard work. The process of challenging yourself and achieving your goals is exciting and injects confidence into all who embrace it.
3) Stress relief
You'll likely see a significant reduction in stress levels as a result of regular exercise. Physical activity gives your mind a chance to get away from the strains of modern life as levels of stress hormones decrease in your body.
This comes about in a few different ways. Your mood is boosted by the release of endorphins in your brain, giving you a buoyant feeling, more energy and better focus. Blood vessels relax and your heart rate and blood pressure drop - all signs of less worrying.
In addition to the scientific benefits, playing sports can be a welcome distraction. Life entails a number of pressures and sport can take your mind off these issues for several hours a week.
4) Better sleep
Research shows sport can improve both the quality and quantity of sleep. Aerobic exercise increases the amount of deep sleep people get in a night, so the brain and body have a chance to rejuvenate.
The improvement in stress levels and better mental health are also conducive to better sleep. Your mood is stabilised and your mind is decompressed, which is important for the process of actually falling asleep. The earlier you fall asleep, the more sleep you are likely to get.
The benefits run both ways, because if you get a better night’s sleep, your performance in sport is likely to improve. Sleep is also important as it allows your body to recover and avoid ill health.
With that being said, the endorphins released by sport can keep some people awake with the extra brain activity. Exercise also increases the core body temperature, which tells the body it should be awake.
It’s important to take this into consideration and find what works best for you. It might be a good idea to do your training at least an hour or so before you go to bed.
Parents looking to boost their children’s performance in school should definitely consider the benefits of sports participation.
In a study published by the BBC in 2013, teenagers were found to perform better in exams in Maths, English and Science after just 17 minutes of exercise for boys, and 12 minutes for girls.
One explanation for such a trend is brain function and this is improved by physical exercise. Executive functioning (i.e. the brain organising and then acting on information) can also benefit from the problem-solving nature of sport.
For this to reap rewards, schools and coaches should design activities appropriately. An option trialled by some schools is shifting PE lessons to the morning, boosting engagement and energy levels in lessons throughout the day.
More good news for parents. Not only could your children perform better academically, they might behave better if they play sports.
A number of studies and surveys have found a direct correlation between physical activity and good behaviour. In a 2014 survey, The Guardian reported 70% of schools felt sport participation made a positive contribution to behaviour and resulted in fewer children skipping school.
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence for team sports helping keep children on the straight and narrow. It's a welcome distraction for kids, introducing them to adult role models such as coaches and members of the senior team, and requiring motivation and determination to excel and succeed.
With so much competition for kids’ attention online, sport is a great way of keeping kids away from the screen and contributing to the success of a team.
7) Social skills
From a social perspective, sport brings with it a bucket-load of benefits that build a strong and healthy mindset.
Sport delivers key character-defining attributes that can hold children in good stead going into adult life. One of these is teamwork. Most of us work in teams every single day. Some are better at handling it than others, but it can affect aspects of our professional and sporting lives.
Sport thrusts people, kids and adults alike, into team environments. To succeed, they'll need to learn to work together, listening to other team members and coming up with solutions to problems. Exposure to this sort of environment early will mean kids are able to fall back on those experiences in later life.
Another valuable aspect of teamwork is communication skills. Learning to communicate ideas to teammates and listening to what others have to say will be vital in life as they get older.
Sport is inherently competitive. The aspirational side of sport can be an excellent motivational tool for people who want to focus their mind on something and achieve it. Competition and the desire to be the best fuel these ambitions.
It's rarely a bad thing to inflame these characteristics in kids or adults. Children are going to be thrust into these competitive environments at all stages of life: in education, in the workplace, in their social life.
Some say youth sports are getting a little too competitive and this holds back technical improvement in any given sport. Coaches need to provide a balance to ensure competition is used to drive improvement without diminishing the social benefits.
8) Other social aspects
Team sports can have a great social aspect off the pitch. As part of a team, you develop a bond with your teammates based on a shared ethos. As friendships develop, team social events are commonplace at sports clubs across the country.
This is another reason to introduce kids to team sports. Encourage them to make friends with teammates, and their ability to engage socially with people will be a handy tool they can use their whole lives.
Sport England have outlined a number of cultural benefits of team sports. Crime is one example - investment in youth sport programmes has reduced the likelihood of criminal behaviour.
One example given is Kickz, a London-based football programme that delivers coaching and advice workshops on issues such as healthy eating and drug use. The programme has made a significant contribution to crime reduction in North London.
Public spending in projects like these has been proven to provide long-term savings to public services. According to Sport England, for every £1 spent in these sport-related programmes, £7.35 is saved in areas such as policing, criminal justice and community spending.
From a wider societal perspective, sport is an inclusive, barrier-breaking tool that brings us all together. Enthusiasts from all backgrounds and cultures come together to play team sports every single weekend, providing a sense of social cohesion that is often lacking elsewhere.
Thinking bigger, elite sporting competitions often fuel a positive trend in attitudes at a national or even global level.
Take the Olympics for example. Hundreds of countries, cultures and languages take part in one elite sporting competition, creating heroes and distracting from negative issues that contribute to divisions in society.
It also allows countries to showcase a city to the world, educating others and encouraging progressive and inclusive behaviour.
We'll round off with the economic contribution made by sport. The London 2012 Olympics were estimated to have boosted the UK's economy by £9.9 billion.
In 2010, sport contributed £20.3 billion to the economy in England. There were over 400,000 full-time jobs filled in the sports industry. That amounts to 2.3% of the country.
As well as bringing in money, sport also helps take the pressure off the health service. One key finding from a 2014 study by the British Heart Foundation was a £5 billion NHS bill for overweight or obesity-related illnesses (in 2006/2007).
Similarly, type 2 diabetes brought on by physical inactivity was said to have cost a staggering £158 million in the same period.
Given sport's link to reducing the risk of these health problems, promoting a fit and healthy lifestyle full of physical exercise can contribute to significant savings for an already stretched public health service.
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