The benefits of playing team sports

Improved fitness, agility and stronger bones are just some of the benefits of playing regular team sports. But the advantages are more than just physical. From helping you beat loneliness to scoring goals at work, being part of a sporty squad can be a winning move.

Team sports were once the domain of sweaty schoolkids and elite athletes. But no longer. More and more people of all ages and abilities are embracing the benefits of being part of a sports club or team. In 2020-21 more than 80% of Aussie adults took part in some type of sporting activity.

Alongside the physical benefits of staying active, being part of a team can help us feel happier, stay connected and even achieve goals at school, work and in our personal relationships.

So, why wouldn’t you join a team sport?

How will a team sport make me healthier?

If you’re looking to increase physical fitness and support your overall good health, committing to a team sport has many advantages.

General health recommendations for optimum health and fitness are between two-and-a-half and five hours of moderate intensity physical activity per week, ideally with some form of activity every day. But research by Finder shows that of the 6.2 million Australians who have a gym membership, 50% attend less than once a week.

Being part of a team sport involves fixed training and game times each week, which can act as a great motivator and help you keep your physical fitness goals. “During COVID-19 when we were training alone at home my motivation really dipped,” says Sunshine Coast Lightning Captain and Australian Diamonds Vice-Captain, Steph Wood. “But knowing that you’re accountable to other people means you show up on time, every time, for your team.”

What team sport is best for my physical fitness?

One of Australia’s most popular team sports with both children and adults is netball, which involves lots of jumping, landing, changing direction and footwork. All of these movements help to increase your strength and agility, and build muscle, and they also help to make your bones stronger. Osteoporosis Australia ranks netball, along with basketball and tennis, as one of the best activities for increasing bone density.

The most popular sport in Australia is swimming, with many adults and children taking part in team competitions and training year-round. Swimming is effective at improving cardiovascular fitness, which is important for supporting the heart and lungs. Other sports that are strong in cardio fitness include cycling and rowing, as well as anything involving running such as marathon or trail-running clubs.

However, most experts agree that the best sport for enhancing and supporting your physical health is anything that you really enjoy and is achievable.

“In terms of fitness, if it’s not enjoyable or realistic, it’s not going to be achievable or meaningful for the individual. This is why we are less interested in making people active, and more about helping people want to be active,” says Dr Oscar Lederman, Clinical Lead and Exercise Physiologist at Keeping The Body In Mind, an integrated physical health and lifestyle program that aims to improve the physical health of people living with severe mental illness.

Are team sports good for improving my mental health?

Research shows there are many mental health benefits attached to team sports, with some studies revealing that team sport players may be less susceptible to anxiety and depression compared to those who compete in isolation.

In additional to the physiological advantages that exercise creates by releasing feel-good chemicals in the brain and body, there are also what the experts call 'psychosocial benefits' to being part of a team.

“Social connectedness is a huge advantage,” says Dr Lederman. “As a team player, you’re part of a community, which can provide a sense of usefulness and purpose. You may also feel very accepted and supported by your teammates, both of which can impact how you feel.”

For children and young adults, being part of a team can help to broaden the number of significant connections they have outside their family and school, which may help increase their confidence and resilience, as well as their ability to form meaningful relationships.

“At Lightning we always talk about how we’re a family. And it’s not just the players – it’s all the support staff and even the fans,” says Steph. “Because we all experience the same highs and lows, we know there is always someone who understands whatever it is we’re going through. There’s a common ground that you share and a common goal to work towards. Especially with your team mates – you can lean on each other when you need support.”

Learning how to commit to a common goal, such as mastering a set play or aiming for a big match win, can also translate across other parts of life and increase our sense of confidence.
“So many of the values and behaviours I’ve learned from being part of a team are translatable to daily life,” says Steph, who sees some of her teamwork traits helping her succeed in relationships and at work. “I’m always 20 minutes early to everything!”

Even losing as a team can help aspects of our mental health, says Dr Lederman. “Learning that failure is part of life and is okay can be really important for young people, especially if they don’t have a supportive home life. Your team can support you and normalise winning and losing as part of life, which can help [you] build resilience around school, work and relationships.”

How can I get involved in a team sport?

If you haven’t played sports since high school, don’t panic. There are many different options for players of every age and ability.

  • Just Play is a national service that can put you in touch with local teams in netball, soccer, basketball, cricket and more.
  • Check out notice boards at local sports clubs, swimming pools and community centres for updates on what’s happening in your area.
  • Contact the local sports association for your sport of interest. Netball Australia has links to associations in all states and territories, as do most other popular team sporting bodies.
  • Ask fellow parents of your kid’s sports team if any of them play or would like to form an adult’s team. Chances are you’re not the only one who’s keen to give it a try.

Before leaping back into a sport, remember that you may need to pace yourself, especially if you haven’t played since high school.

“I know when I’ve come back from an injury, I’m not in the same place on the court that I was before,” says Steph, who insists people who haven’t played in a while need to be realistic and pace themselves. “Just be nice to yourself. You don’t have to go out there and save the world your first game. Set small goals so you can see you’re progressing, but be kind and remember the main goal is to enjoy it.”

Consider alternatives to strenuous sports at the beginning. Choosing walking or hiking clubs over running clubs are a great place to start, and if you haven’t played netball for a while there are national Walking Netball teams that play a slower-paced version. You can also talk to your GP, who can refer you to an exercise physiologist to help you stay injury free.

United by Uncommon Care

HCF is a proud partner of Netball Australia, supporting more than 1 million players across the country, from grassroots to elite levels. We meet top netballers and Aussies across the country who love the game at our HCF Netball Hub.

At HCF we’re united by Uncommon Care and united by netball. To stay on the ball with the latest netball tips, tricks, news and competitions, sign up for our free monthly netball newsletter.

Words by Kerry McCarthy
First published July 2022


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