Get involved – Get healthy

Local community activists Abid Khan writes about the benefits of sports initiatives amongst young people.

Participation in community sport can greatly improve health, both physically and mentally. But for young people especially, community sport programmes can promote a sense of belonging, have a social and cultural impact, develop social capital and help reduce anti-social behaviour.

To gain that extra fitness every week, you do not have to join a team; simply meeting with your friends regularly to do exercise can be considered a form of sport!

However, community groups such as the Birmingham Youth Sports Academy allow members to allocate a certain number of hours a week to concentrate solely on playing football, whilst hanging out with their friends and briefly escaping from problems they may have on the outside.

But what are the other benefits of joining a community sports initiative?

Physical Health
One of the most obvious benefits of sport is it can help you stay in shape. Worryingly, recent research states that British children are among the unhealthiest in Europe due to high levels of obesity and a lack of exercise.

With community sporting efforts, you won’t be alone as you will have others to lean on whilst you participate. Interestingly, reports show that we should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise each week to help avoid chronic diseases such as diabetes, arthritis and heart disease.

It goes without saying that participating in a sport can reap massive amounts of health benefits. For those not wanting to join the gym out of fear for doing it alone, sport is a great alternative to help improve your fitness whilst hanging out with your friends.

Making Friends
It goes without saying that joining a youth sport programme can help to form friendships and build a great social outlet.

Even if it is to spend more time with old friends, or to make new friends, sport is one of the most common motives for participating in sports for all young people.

The relationships that people can develop during sport can lead to a lot of different outcomes. For example, when people feel accepted by their peers, they report higher levels of self-esteem, more enjoyment of activities and are less likely to want to avoid participating.

Joining a programme is a great way to meet people that you wouldn’t necessarily meet in a school environment, or even those who are new to the area; it provides a unique opportunity to build a supportive network of people that you can rely on and rely on you in return.

Mental Health
Another great benefit of playing sport is the advantages it can have on your mental health.

A recent survey revealed that out of 1.2 million adults [including various ages, genders, education status and income], the people who exercised regularly reported fewer days of bad mental health than those who didn’t. In addition, those who played team sports reported the fewest.

The benefits of sport or general physical activity on our mental health are endless: improved mood, decreased chance of depression and anxiety, and a better and more balanced lifestyle. This isn’t just the case for adults either, teenagers have seen lasting effects of bettering their mental health through increasing their physical activity.

For most of us, commitment to getting up and going to the gym can be somewhat fickle. However, people state that being in a team gives them the kick they need, as they’re not only letting themselves down, but their team mates too. Having a number of people relying on you can be a great solution to making sure you get down to the playing field!

Academic Achievement
The benefits of having a sport that you have been committed to on your CV can put you above the rest when it comes to job applications.

Sport participation shows a dedication to potential employers that can’t fail to impress. Whether you’re the captain of your local football or netball team or an active member of the team, it will all contribute to a great conversation opportunity within your interview.

In addition, initiatives like the Birmingham Youth Sports Academy can open doors to programmes that invite sporting coaches, mentors or even scouts from around the UK and could potentially give you chances to further your career in your chosen sport. You never know, there may even be the next regional star within your team!

Tackle diversity
In team sport, everyone is on the same playing field.

A regular club sport can benefit individuals and communities for the long-term and contribute to a range of positive outcomes, bringing together people that wouldn’t necessarily have mixed if they hadn’t been given that opportunity.

Offering a community initiative can benefit the area by instilling local communities with pride for their team and a reason to come together, showing an increase in respect for culture and tolerance among peers.

Reduction in youth offending and anti-social behaviour
Sadly, with increasing number of reports of violence this year alone, many of these incidents involve young people and a myriad of reasons have been suggested for this climate of volatility.

The reasons range from a rise in gang culture, lack of opportunity within disadvantaged or isolated communities to the impact of policing cuts and changes in policing tactics. As a whole, if we took a microscope to look closer at the young people who most often find themselves interacting with the justice system, it is clear that the environment around them has a major impact.

If school or homelife isn’t serving them with a greater purpose, it can be hard for young people to try and remove themselves from that lifestyle. However, as stated above, encouraging them to try and join a sports team within their community can provide them with an alternative focus and drive them to want to do better for their team, but most importantly, themselves.

For example, the Premier League’s ‘Kicks’ programme aims to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour in crime hotspots through sport and development sessions and has seen a reduction of up to 60 per cent in anti-social behaviour in areas it operates in.

This is an astounding number and significantly highlights the benefits that team sports can have on a community as a whole.

More information on the BYSA can be found here.

The writer is vice-president of Birmingham Youth Sports Association and an active member of the Selly Park Community Hub Initiative.