The Hard Facts: If You Let Me Play Sports

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“A 2003 Sport Canada survey of 1005 Canadian youth found that 87 percent of children who participated in sports made more friends. This is especially beneficial for children who feel like they don’t fit in, or who are introverted. Sports gives them common ground with other children and fosters a feeling of teamwork between children, making it easier to become friends.” (“Social Effects of Sports on Young Children”; Livestrong.com 8/11/2011)

Saturday is the 40th anniversary of Title IX. As a one-time self-proclaimed tomboy who hung Sheryl Swoopes Nike ads on her teenage bedroom bulletin board, I feel pretty indebted to those who paved the way for me to play basketball, field hockey, and softball in school.

Playing sports was, of course, great exercise and a valuable lesson in teamwork and strength and confidence. But it was also great for making friends. I started playing on a basketball team when I was in third grade, and I still feel a special bond with the old friend who played alongside me through 8th grade, and then coached with me in high school.

As a teenager, I became pals with teammates who were in different “cliques” than I.  We would have never otherwise gotten to know each other, but we were on the same team, and that was a serious bond.

I used to think that making friends through sports was strictly a kids and student thing, but these days every city has a Sport & Social league where friend-seekers can play soccer/softball/kickball/bowling/etc and then go out and hang over beers or pizza. According to a 2009 story in The Oregonian, Sport & Social leagues are “now found in nearly every decent-size city from Philadelphia to Pasadena. Chicago, birthplace of the concept, has two competing sport and social clubs that total about 100,000 members plus satellite clubs in 13 cities nationwide.”

Chicago! You’ve done it again! A regular trailblazer in the world of friendship.

So, in the spirit of Title IX, and friendship, and summer, join a team! Or at least watch this ad, which was probably tbe best Nike ad ever ever ever.

What’s your sports and friendship story?

7 Comments

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7 responses to “The Hard Facts: If You Let Me Play Sports

  1. Christina

    Hi Rachel, have you ever thought of joining a women’s roller derby league in Chicago? That looks like it would be a great blast. Seems to be pretty popular in the windy city too.

  2. Kristen A.

    I probably have no idea what I’m talking about, since I was never interested in sports as a participant or even an observer as a kid and the closest I get is shooting archery now, but I wonder if the draw for introverts is that it gives us something to do with people that doesn’t necessarily require making a lot of conversation. I mean, sure, the team might go out and do something after practice or the game, but while you’re actually playing, you can do something with people without the pressure, and when it does get to be hang-out time, you’ve got a ready made topic of conversation that everybody knows something about.

  3. fauwl

    I joined a running group and a kickball team and they have both been great ways to meet new people and people from different backgrounds. You already have something in common (your team) which makes it easy to start a friendship. I was never atheletic in school, but that shouldn’t hold people back. Join a team, even if you are a bench warmer, you’ll make some great bench warming buddies.

  4. In the area of sports, it’s truly VERY important to allow a child to try both team and solo sports. The sport has to fit the child’s/adult’s personality tendencies to be most enjoyable…for life. This is very critical for long-term health and fitness for life.

    I”m less of team oriented sport person. However I loved playing softball with the girls as a young teenager. Then tried field hockey. I wasn’t good in sports.

    But I enjoy bicycling. And returned to it in my early 30’s. So 20 yrs. later I’m still at it, cycling to work, for fitness, vacation trips… I ride with 1 person occasionally but do cycle solo at times. I’m not a regular group rider since I feel hemmed in. However among cyclists there is camaderie and respect, a common language and sharing of cycling through all sorts of weather and terrain. Cycling is a solo sport which can be group/team, but achievement rests heavily on the individual. Hence a child that is introverted but confident, might enjoy wheeling around on bike with a pal or on their own.

    Give them that freedom of choice …team or solo sports and celebrate it.

  5. When I hear of adults wanting to lose weight, having problems with motivation for fitness, I think half of the problem is them not finding and clicking with a particular type of sport/exercise that fits their personality. Once you find it, you fall in love with it, make new friends that like that sport and ..it becomes part of person’s lifestyle/habits.

  6. I hope parents don’t take this research and your comments to justify pushing their children into sports. This research makes me cringe because sports made me feel more isolated and less confident in myself. Your worth and likability as a person become dependent on your ability to perform in the sport. If you are lousy, this is a recipe for disaster. I think you need to add a qualifier to caution parents that sports aren’t for everyone. With something that can be potentially so detrimental, you really need to recognize and note the other side of the story.

  7. Laura G

    I think this research really is true, but for some people, it’s not as easy as “join a sport.” I *hate* most sports, I suck at the few I like, and I don’t even know how to play several of the major ones.

    Which means, as a kid, no one wanted me on their team, and my parents didn’t want to pay for me to join a league where I’d sit on the bench all season. And as an adult, I’m not confident that I’ll make friends by ruining their season record (and I’m still not thrilled about paying to sit on a bench). And while there may be sports out there that I’d like if I gave them a chance, I can only find instructional leagues for small children.

    In short: I don’t know how to dribble, so I I don’t think I can make friends in City League Basketball.

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