Updated: May 21
I’m going to let you answer that question. But first, let’s take a look at some facts and arguments.
“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” ― Phil Jackson
Before we begin, I owe a huge thank you to Jenna Storey for requesting this topic, and another one to Oskar Shorthose for being today's article contributor.
All you have to do is type ‘sports’ into google to find a complete list of reasons as to why we should all be playing sports. But, to get to the really interesting – and probably more beneficial facts – one has to dig a little deeper. When I attempted this, I was surprised to find that there are huge benefits to playing sports, but they’re not exactly what we thought they were. More so, there are an intrinsic amount of negatives for playing sports too.
This article has not been written in an attempt to promote exercise and sport, or in opposition to it. Due to the values of Interconnected, I’m here to promote the facts, the real science, the arguments and the counter-arguments. Where possible, I testify to these facts from personal stories of myself and others, to really gauge how reliable the science is. I am here to give you the truth. With the help of Oskar Shorthose, let’s begin.
We'll be nice and begin with the positives.
Hopefully, most of know the obvious benefits that exercise has in store for us; for example, it’s good for your muscles and bones; increases your overall energy levels; it improves your skin health; it can improve your memory; reduces your stress levels; decreases likelihood of diabetes and arthritis (so says the US department of health); and best of all – improves your sleep . Most importantly, “Exercise is one of the best-illustrated things we can do for our hearts, and this includes markers like blood pressure and cholesterol, in addition the physical structure of the heart itself, and blood vessel function” .
But we’re not here to talk about exercise, we’re here to talk about it’s close sibling – sports.
There are obvious benefits for playing sports too; including one’s sense of belonging and identity, improvement in strategic abilities, communication and social skills, time management, team work, reaction time, judgment abilities, goal setting and achieving, and so much more . Stephen Baddeley states that “Their weeks are very pressurised, so top sportspeople are extremely organised, disciplined and efficient with their time, which are useful skills in the academic side of their lives” . In relation to academia, Oskar states that playing sports had always helped him to forget about school, let his mind be consumed by something else, and then return “refreshed and a bit more energised.” However, in relation to grades, he states that “playing sport didn’t make my grades go up, I just got my homework done faster and studied a little harder – nothing that can’t be done in the absence of sport and with the right motivation.” Interestingly, this testimony directly contradicts many research papers that state a direct link between playing sport and an increase in school performance and results .
One study, examining 3668 people (who both played sports and didn’t), researched the psychological and social health benefits of participating in sports. Their results suggested “There were many different psychological and social health benefits reported, with the most commonly being improved self-esteem, social interaction followed by fewer depressive symptoms.” But, allow me to be sceptical… everyone examined was under 18 years old (which was one of the objectives of the study). Surprisingly, there was also no control group. However, one positive is that anyone and everyone (under 18) was selected to take part if they wished – allowing as much variability as possible. Altogether, the study was limited in its “capacity to attribute causality of participation on health outcomes” . Are these results reliable? Yes. Why? Because they correlate to many other studies – studies that can be found pretty much everywhere. However, there are counter-arguments. Let's take a look.
“While the physical act of playing sports helps reduce stress, the mental act of placing too much emphasis on winning may create it. This stress, induced by pressure and expectation, may in turn lead to fatigue – known specifically as athletic burnout – or even depression” .
This is a quote I took from healthyliving.com. To take it even further, a study from 2011 in the University of California at San Diego managed to find a correlation between stress-induced sports and home abuse, saying that “upset losses led to a 10 percent increase in at-home violence committed by football players against their significant others.” The researchers David Card and Gorden B. Dahl, had studied the “link between family violence and the emotional cues associated with wins and losses by professional football teams” . They studied police reports of violent incidents during the football season, and came to conclude that “upset losses have a large effect on family violence, where as losses in games that were expected to be close have small and insignificant effects” . This is the extremity of the competitiveness that can be involved with sports.
On a broader scale, Oskar makes a rather relevant argument in relation to the competitiveness - why we might have so much of it, and the reality of it. He states that “The ‘spiraling’ usually occurs between two opposing teams, especially if there is an embedded rivalry in the teams.” However, he adds that it “is often ego as much as anything else,” which can be seen in both males and females. In reality, “it’s hard not to get passionate and competitive, and I think it’s perfectly healthy to do so.” But a problem is created when “some don’t know when to stop.” This is absolutely crucial when we’re dwelling on the research paper I mentioned above. The problem is not the competitiveness of the sport, but rather the lack of self-control of the fans and participants. Does this, therefore, remain as an argument against sport? I think so, because the problem is directly correlated to playing.
I must mention that there aren’t an abundance of studies in relation to the downside of playing sports. This is probably because, for the majority, playing sports is good thing and plays a vital role in a healthy lifestyle. But I knew there was more than this. To find them, I sought more personal experiences and statements (aside from our contributor) from coaches, parents and others .
Many of the arguments include the following; too much competitiveness can lead to fights (especially on the rugby pitch); sports has become all about money, creating many issues that come with it; we can become complacent with our diets due to exercising so much; there are numerous occasions and examples of neglected kids on the sports ground; and obviously, injuries.
I’ve only touched on some of the problems people can have with sports – there are so much more. What am I trying to say? There are serious benefits to playing sports, benefits that no one can argue with. But I think, sports isn’t as wonderful, perfect, and straightforward for every individual as we are all led to believe. You can call this nit-picking, and to a degree it is, but I’m tying to make a point.
Lastly, I left the best until last: sports, exercise and weight loss.
According to Alice G. Walton on Forbes.com (a website backed by TrustArc and is therefore highly trustworthy), “A growing body of evidence has shown that it’s not all that good for weight loss, which was probably many people’s reason for doing it in the first place” . I’m sorry if I just burst your bubble, but we’re here to talk truths.
Sports and exercise is known to be better to stabilize one’s weight, as opposed to decreasing it. Generally, a small amount can be lost, and the more excess weight you have, the more you will loose. But once you reach a certain point, something else has got to come into play – diet. This brings us back to an earlier point on the complacency towards diets, and why that can be quite dangerous. When we’re exercising, and therefore seem to be rather healthy, but eating all sorts of bad food, you are living in denial, without even knowing. So be careful. If you’re not really seeing results, maybe you have to look at something else to couple with sports. Oskar words it best when he states:
“I never played sport to lose weight, nor did I ever see much difference in it through playing sports. I think people almost always see results when they pair sports/exercise with a properly controlled diet and sleep schedule, as well as adequate rest.”
In total, Oskar summed up his experience playing sports and with sports teams, which might be relatable to many reading this; “Whenever I’ve joined a team, it’s been a hugely nerve racking experience, especially being socially awkward myself. Some teams have been welcoming, some haven’t. In the end, I believe the love for the sport is what keeps me there and a friendly and supportive team can do a great deal to make the process of acclimatisation much easier. A toxic team dynamic can make you fall out of love with a sport you once were so passionate about.”
To finish with a little bit of advice from today’s article contributor, and a little summary; Oskar states, “I can’t honestly think of too many negatives that can’t be easily resolved in sports, other than perhaps a toxic team/team member, but even this can and should be addressed if identified.” In relation to contact sports, “as long as you know what you’re getting into, you’re taught well, and you’re confident, then I think the positives far outweigh the negatives.” And as there are negatives to gauge in sports, “they shouldn’t hinder somebody’s ability to play any and every sport should they wish to.”
Altogether, “playing sports can be a brilliant lifestyle for many, if not all.”
I’m going to leave you with one quote, possibly serving as the ultimate argument for anyone who can play sports, to do so, “Researchers have pointed out that if people exercised more, this change could reduce a huge number of deaths worldwide—for instance, they’ve calculated that over half of all deaths from cancer might be prevented with regular exercise.” 
(To clarify what that quote means: half of all cancers are related to symptoms which arise as a result of a lack of exercise. So, should one exercise more, they significantly reduce their likelihood of a cancer diagnosis, as well as many, many other health problems. The quote is NOT saying that you can escape cancer by exercising, nor is it saying that all cancers can be avoided by regular exercise. It is most definitely not suggesting that any one person who has cancer could have avoided being ill by exercising more. The direct link to the study - where 334, 161 people where examined for more than 12 years, throughout 10 European countries - you can find here.)
Jack, in collaboration with Oskar Shorthose, at Interconnected.
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