Sport and Mental Health – Reasons to play sport if you struggle with mental health
Admittedly, I cannot say that sport solves all my problems, but playing both a winter sport and a summer sport definitely provides both internal and external benefits that help me with my mental health. Take cricket for example. Although I by no means love the game unconditionally, the feeling you get on match days does help me to take me out of myself and my own head space, with all the thoughts, feelings and emotions that can ensue daily.
For example, once you arrive at the ground, be it home or away, you know you’ve entered a space that is structured both physically and mentally, in that the game follows a specific pattern, and all engaged are involved and included in that pattern. This structure to a day can in itself help you to rise above any feelings of self-doubt you might have, because once at the ground, something switches inside yourself and you automatically switch mental states, where suddenly you have to be focussed and alert, thus transcending any pre-game anxiety and self-doubt.
Then there is your personal role within the game, which can be nerve racking, but can also give feelings of joy and jubilation. Cricket is unique in that some of the grounds can feel almost like amphitheaters, and any spectators that come to watch, add to the feeling of being involved in a drama or a sporting play. Perhaps, it could be said that a lot of the feelings you get playing cricket are ego based, and ego driven, nonetheless for that period whilst you’re in the middle, you feel as though you’re centre stage, and any personal success definitely improves mood and makes you feel like you’ve helped the team you play for triumph in the sporting cauldron that is cricket.
Ultimately for me though, it is the feeling of comradery you get when playing cricket, which is most rewarding. You often form new relationships with people you may not ordinarily click with, but because you have something in common; you are on the same team, with the same goals and the same ambitions, you form new friendships that in themselves can make you feel part of a social group or body. Consequently, feeling part of a community definitely helps to alleviate feelings of isolation and loneliness, as well as low self-esteem that anyone can suffer with, whether diagnosed or undiagnosed.
Football is a different ball game. Whilst cricket can feel like an elongated play that bubbles to the surface as it reaches its’ crescendo, football for me is like a 2 hour war, played at a much higher intensity than cricket, that culminates in feel-good emotions fueled most probably by endorphins. Playing football for me is most definitely enhanced by it being a winter sport. The atmosphere in the air, the temperature, the surroundings of autumn and winter, all lend themselves to playing Football. You want to breathe the cool air and feel it leaving and entering your lungs as you run. This is all part of the feel good factor that can come from playing football.
Arguably football is a much more aggressive game than cricket, and for me, winning your personal battles on the pitch can help you feel better about yourself, because you have to work for it, and often when we have to work for things to get them, the feeling of success and happiness is enhanced. This then is the essence of why I play football in winter. It is the mental and physical battles you put yourself under, that results in a sense of happiness and achievement, which for me is worth all the self-doubt, nerves, low self-esteem that may come before you play sport, yet get defeated more often than not, when you play sport. Therefore, to conclude, I urge you… if you can, get out there and play sport!!!