Are you in the exercise doldrums? Maybe your old, reliable Zumba class has grown stale or doing miles on the treadmill has lost its luster. Frankly, you’re having a hard time drumming up any enthusiasm at all about hitting the gym. What to do?
Perhaps the cure is some good old-fashioned teamwork and the thrill of competition. Joining a recreational sports team can enhance your leisure time in several ways, from raising your level of fitness to providing a new outlet for socializing.
After Work Warriors
You can find a variety of sports leagues from the esoteric (kickball) to the every day (soccer). Whether workplace softball or city-sponsored flag football, team sports can help you spice up your fitness routine and your social life. And you don’t have to be able to bend it like Beckham or dunk the ball to join a team—most recreational leagues welcome beginners. “I think any time you’re active, it’s always a positive physical thing,” says Peter Kramer, recreational clubs coordinator at Portland State University. “But there are mental health benefits as well that come from being part of a community, being part of a group of people.”
Dawn Bauman, who started playing recreational soccer at age 48, agrees. “I really like the interaction [between teammates],” she says. “I just like more of a group thing. I go to the gym, but it’s different, and I’ve made some new friends playing soccer.”
The friendship component was also a plus for Amy Boyd, who played intramural flag football in college in her early 20s. “I liked being part of a team,” she says. “It just felt good.”
Indeed, the mental and physical benefits of playing in rec leagues are great and almost immediately noticeable. “I got leaner,” Boyd says of her flag football time. “I also enjoyed the mental health benefits of going out and exercising every day,” Bauman says being on a soccer team has upped her desire to work out, even when she’s not playing. “I just want to do much better for the team, so if we go for a walk, I walk much faster, or may say ‘let’s run a bit.’”
Finding a League: Start With Your Workplace
Most places, from small towns to big cities, have a variety of leagues and experience levels to choose from. To find one, start with your workplace: Is there a company-sponsored softball team? Or maybe a coworker busts out her lacrosse stick every weekend; see if there’s space on her team. If that doesn’t pan out, the next place to try is your local parks and recreation department. Even if it doesn’t sponsor leagues, it should have information about leagues that use city fields. You can also scour bulletin boards at local markets, check out the listings on your local craigslist or Meetup.com website, or head over to your nearest soccer field on a Sunday morning to see who is playing.
Four Tips on Joining a Team
Whether you’re a lifelong athlete or you’ve never set foot on a field or a court, here are some things to keep in mind if you’re considering joining a team:
- Don’t be afraid to try something new. Most local leagues are divided into teams of varying skill level, from the first-time beginner to advanced. Seek out the one that feels right for you. And remember, if you hate it, there are always other sports to try out. “I kind of take the approach that I can’t be that bad,” Bauman says. “And if I suck that bad, then I’ll just stop.” Kramer points out that your skill level matters less than what you get out of participating. “Sometimes you won’t be the best athlete at a certain sport, but you might like the community more,” he says.
- Find a sport you like. It may seem obvious, but it’s also vital: You’re more apt to stick to something you like. “Find what makes you tick,” Kramer says. “Do what you enjoy and also find a group of people who you enjoy as well.”
- Don’t over-commit. Remember, this is supposed to be fun, not a burden! So make sure you find a group that matches with your schedule. “Some people can practice three times a week, some once a week,” Kramer says. “It’s all about where you’re at in your personal life, in your career, so if you can’t commit to a team that practices every day, look for another club or group.”
- Just try it! When asked what they might say to someone who is considering checking out a sports league or team, Kramer, Bauman, and Boyd all agree that the main thing is just giving it a go. Chances are, they say, you’ll get hooked on something, and the fitness benefits will follow. “I would say if you’re even slightly thinking about it, just give it a try,” Bauman says. “You might really like it, even if you didn’t play before. And you might hate it, but then you can try another sport.”
Jonanna Widner lives in Portland, OR, where she writes about sports, music, travel, and fitness.