Two-thirds of Americans said they “often” or “always” felt lonely in 2019. That report was completed prior to the coronavirus pandemic, but research has found that ‘risk factors for loneliness were near identical before and during the pandemic.’ One of the ways you can combat loneliness is by joining a recreational sports team.
“It is all about you creating a personal connection with other people,” Robert Herzog, CEO & founder of the social sports company ZogSports, says in The New York Times “In Social Sports, It’s About Camaraderie, Not Competition” article.
A Harvard University study of adult development that followed over 700 men for 75 years found that good relationships keep us happier and healthier.
“We’ve learned three big lessons about relationships,” says Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist, professor, and the adult development study’s director, in a TED talk. “The first is that social connections are really good for us, and that loneliness kills. It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, community, are happier, they’re physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected.”
So, whether you’re a former Division I athlete, gym class hero, or someone who hasn’t played recreational sports since you were a little kid, there may be no better time to sign up for a rec league than today.
WHY PLAY RECREATIONAL SPORTS?
“By now the evidence is abundant and decisive: social connection significantly affects health,” according to a Scientific American article. “When you believe that you have people in your life who care about you, and you interact with them regularly, you are better off.”
Recreational sports offer a number of additional benefits in addition to social connection.
“The most basic benefit of team sports for adults is exercise,” according to Apex Indoor Sports. “Especially for those who do not enjoy running or going to the gym, joining an indoor soccer team or softball league is a great way to get some exercise while having a good time.”
Apex Indoor Sports says that playing on a team can improve your motivation, boost your confidence in your abilities, and allow you to have fun with others.
“Many adults have weeks full of stress and deadlines,” according to Apex Indoor Sports. “Everyone needs a way to escape the pressure of daily life. Team sports can be a great way to take a break. Commitments that do not involve work or family pressure can be a relief for many and serve as a needed breath of fresh air during the week.”
Playing rec league sports will also positively influence other areas of your life, as well.
“Teamwork on the court teaches us how to work together off the court,” Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show tells Mic. “As much as these may be ‘game skill,’ they are critical goal attainment skills that we need in work, in relationships, and in life.”
WHERE CAN YOU FIND TEAMS?
One of the easiest ways to find a team is to ask your friends if any of them are on a recreational sports team. If they are, see if their team has an opening, and if they do ask to join. It’ll make the transition onto the team a lot smoother and less nerve-racking since you already know someone there on your first day.
The next quickest way to find a team is to search for recreational sports leagues near you on the web. There are usually two types of leagues you can join – leagues organized by your city or county recreation department, or leagues organized by a standalone business, according to The Denver Post. Just make sure not to get discouraged if you come up with a lot of potential options.
“There are so many options for rec league sports that it can be overwhelming at first,” according to The Denver Post.“The best advice? Just do it. You’re likely to have a good time, no matter which league or sport you choose. At the very least, you’ll get outside of your comfort zone and stretch yourself, which is something worth celebrating all on its own.”
A lot of the leagues usually have free agent or solo player options in which you’ll be able to join a team without knowing anyone if you’re new to town, or it’s your first time playing rec league sports. Sometimes leagues even create teams with all the new players who sign up, which works out really well for everyone involved since you don’t have to worry about being the only new person on an already established team.
You can also look into whether your job has a workplace sponsored team that you can become a part of, or even consider posting on social media and asking whether anyone has recommendations for leagues you should join, or knows of any openings on a team. Who knows, maybe you’ll find out that you have a lot of friends who are interested in playing a rec league sport with you, which will allow you to start a team of your own.
HOW DO THE TEAMS WORK?
Usually, there’s a captain or a team leader who’s in charge of working with the league and then passing all of that information along to the rest of the team. The captain is often the person responsible for collecting team dues from each player and making sure the team is paid in full (if there are league fees), sending out weekly messages to the team letting them know when games are, and making sure there are enough players for each game.
If you’re a member of the team, you’re expected to make it to as many games as possible since you’re a valuable part of the team, and everyone else is counting on you to show up and do your job. It’s also your responsibility to reply to your captain’s e-mails, possibly replying all to your entire team letting everyone know whether you’re ‘in’ or ‘out’ for a scheduled game. It’s usually the captain’s responsibility to find replacements (if the league allows fill-in players) to play the game if your team won’t be able to field enough players for a particular date. But if you know anyone interested in playing, you can let your captain and your team know. This is a perfect opportunity for friends of yours who have been looking for a team to join, but haven’t found one yet. You’ll be able to see if they’re a good potential fit to join the team in the future, or not. And if you still haven’t found a team, it’s not the worst idea to ask if you can be a fill-in player, which can lead to a full-time position on a team the following season.
When signing up for a league, make sure that the team you’re joining plays games on days that you’re available. A lot of times teams will have specific days that they’ll play like Wednesday nights or Sunday afternoons. If a certain day of the week doesn’t work for you, make sure not to sign up for a team that plays on that day.
WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?
“Bigger, more urban cities will have much more variety and options of sports to try, while smaller, rural areas will be a little more limited,” according to Pro Rec Athlete. “Either way, there will be some fun options.”
Before joining a league, it’s important to know the competitiveness of the league, as well as the skill level of the team you’re joining. Many leagues will have different divisions for teams based on overall skill levels. Usually, the highest level is made up of former pros or athletes who were D-I college athletes, and the lowest level is for beginners looking to learn the game and just have some fun. Most of the athletes playing on rec league teams will find themselves somewhere in the middle of those two skill levels. But don’t sweat it. If you find yourself playing on a team in the wrong level, you can usually switch to a different team that’s more appropriate for your athletic level. The key when it comes to rec league sports is making sure that you’re getting out, having fun, and meeting new people while exercising.