Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sport: What is it Good For?

Sports and exercise have been a significant part of my life since I was very young. I began gymnastics training when I was in Year One, or five years old, to counter a low muscle tone problem (call me the runt of the herd) and soon my sister and I were both training as competitive gymnasts. I continued gym until my last year of school, when I was nearly seventeen, at times training up to twenty hours per week and competing in regional and state competitions.

Of course growing up, then, my family were big into watching gymnastics on television, and went to a few national and international competitions to watch as well. It wasn’t just gymnastics, though, that we took part in; we were big cricket watchers, tennis fans and Brisbane Lions (a team in the Australian Football League) supporters. Sport was a big part of our lives, whether we were cheering for a team or competing as part of one.

Now that I’m older I’m noticing a big difference in the way that my peers and I relate to sport. None of my friends play sport in terms of being part of a team and attending training or games, instead they exercise solo in pursuit of increased fitness, health and physical attractiveness. We take yoga classes, head to the gym with music player and headphones in tow, go for morning walks and afternoon jogs. Of course, these activities are very beneficial, but I wonder if by separating exercise and sport in such a way we are missing out on something.

When sport is played in teams, or even when a solo pursuit, like running or swimming, allows a person to be part of a track team or swim team, a large proportion of the benefits of playing come from the social aspect as well as the exercise. There is the feeling of being united toward one common goal, the knowledge that everyone needs to help each other to do their best and work together, that brings people together and is a bond unique to sporting activities. The dichotomy of sport, the idea that, even though it may be ‘all about having fun’, at the end of the day you will either win or you will lose, is a much more simple environment than we normally operate in. In sport there is a clear goal, an obvious desired outcome, and everyone is on the same page as to what’s trying to be achieved. This can bring people together in such a way that work situations or general ‘socialising’ activities doesn’t. It is a bond that can overcome economic, racial and ‘life experience’ type boundaries, and allows people of differing backgrounds to unite in a common cause.

When I say that I and my friends no longer participate in group sport, it should be said that most of my friends come from my school or university days. Because I don’t regularly mix with people outside of these groups, I often think that perhaps my social circle is quite small, after all these people are mainly my friends because they are like me; we have similar opinions on most matters, we like roughly the same music and movies and we do the same sort of things on the weekend. When it comes to sports, though, much like neighbours or family, you rarely get to pick your fellow team members. Instead you are placed among people who have, in the least, one thing in common; the physical activity you have chosen to be involved in. Sure, you may have other common interests, in fact I’d guarantee that you would, but sport can act as the catalyst for the meeting of people more varied than in other situations.

Not only does sport unite participants, but it has a similar effect on supporters as well. To give a little bit of history, the Australian Football League used to be the Victorian Football League before it expanded and became national, and while there are supporters in Queensland (we now have two whole teams after all) the sport is crazy big in Victoria. When I travelled down south recently, it was comforting and exciting to be amongst the die-hard fans, to be asked everywhere I went if, being from Queensland and all, I supported the Lions. Fans wore their team’s scarves, the more bold dyed their hair team colours (I should point out that this was much more rare). There was a sense of community, again a sense of everyone working towards the same goal, which was really nice to be a part of, and made me wish I shared that bond with people more back home.

For friends who have never been to big live sporting events, the best I can liken the experience to is live music. The atmosphere, the tension, the enjoyment of seeing someone you admire do their thing in the flesh; it’s exciting. It’s fun. As much as advertising and marketing and publicity and ‘celebrity’ tries to encroach upon the sporting world, in the end that’s still the crux of it for me; it’s fun. And while fun, just plain and simply having it, isn’t promoted as being the most important life priority these days, I feel that it is very important. Perhaps if more of us started focussing on injecting a bit of good ol’ fashioned fun into our lives, we would be less stressed, tired, anxious and depressed, and perhaps we would be happier and achieve more in our lives in general.

All in all, I’m thinking that I would like to make an effort for sport to be a bigger part of my life. I’ve been thinking for awhile about sport’s importance, thinking spurred on by last year’s Queen’s Christmas Message, of all things, when Elizabeth spoke about the significance of sport and community (you can watch the speech below, skip to about 3:10 for the sporting section). I think about the people I could meet, connections I could make, skills I could learn and fun I could have, and it seems a win/win situation for me. Obviously made more win if whatever team I was on won the game, but it’s not about that (but it would be nice).

So, how about you? Does sport have a place in your life, are you part of or do you support a team, or do you turn your nose up at the whole idea?

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