Sports Clubs – The Healers Our Communities Need

Right now (end November 2020) there have been almost 1 million confirmed cases of coronavirus here in the UK, and over 50,000 deaths. Even if we have managed to stay safe and healthy, It is impossible not to have been affected by COVID-19. For many of us, our mental health and well-being has suffered.

According to Vicktor Frankl, our mental health is based on the tension between what one has achieved and what they think they ought to have achieved. No wonder people are feeling the strain when the way we live and work has been so disrupted.
Ignoring this tension is just as bad. 

Research shows that when an emotionally upsetting event happens (lockdown, redudancy, general day-to-day disruption, etc) we feel WORSE if we try not to feel the negative emotions. This is White Bear Syndrome – we can’t NOT think about all the things we are currently not allowed to do.

Travel restrictions, changes to the way we work and the difficulty in engaging with family and friends have left many of us struggling. It is predicted that the mental and emotional well-being of our communities is going to suffer long after we emerge from this pandemic, if it is not already. 

I believe community sports clubs have a vital public health service role to fulfill.

The link between sport and psychological and mental health is strong. At elite levels of sport, athletes openly use experts to improve their mental well-being, including psychologists, psychiatrists and other therapists. Athletes understand that you don’t need to be sick to get better. For the rest of us, the link between staying active and improved physical and mental health is clearly evidenced and widely accepted. 

We know that many young people now prefer non-oral communication, such as texting. In my experience, it has been the younger members of sports clubs who have grasped the shift towards ZOOM sessions, probably because they are technically literate. However, when it comes to emotional support, research shows that texting is comparable to not speaking to anyone at all.

Of course, it is not just younger club members that might be struggling. For many people, even without COVID-19 lockdowns, well-being sags in middle life. Being a part of a sports club, and the connection to others that brings, has massive upside for our mental health.

To control your mind, you must first control your body. Poor mental health is not environmental, and you cannot run away from something that is within yourself… but perhaps running (or any other physical activity) can you feel better.

This is where our local sports clubs come in.

Due to the significant challenges COVID-19 has brought to grassroots sport, many clubs are restricted in what they can offer and where they can offer it. However, waiting until “things go back to normal” should not be an option, because it might never happen. In the meantime, there are people who RELY on the club, perhaps more than they even know. 

Grassroots sports clubs are facing many tough problems right now, but there is still so much that they can do. We have seen some excellent examples of clubs running sessions over ZOOM, and using tools such as Discord or Kahoot to organise fun, social activities. 

Organise these activities at normal club time. If people have been used to attending club on a Wednesday night at 7pm, start the session then. We are all creatures of habit and are more likely to engage with new club activities if they fit into our routine.

Where possible, arrange to meet up in real-life. Go for walks around the local area, or for coffee in small groups when you would normally be travelling to a competition. If small groups is too much to pull together, what about organising a buddy system, where members are responsible for checking in with one another and doing something fun, or social.

One thing is for sure – the countless advantages of modern living have done little to lift our collective mood during this pandemic. Sports clubs, please do something – ANYTHING – for your members.

The potential for our clubs to impact the health and well-being of our communities right now cannot be underestimated.

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