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Editor's letter: Fighting for team sport

How can team sports help to battle the effects of social change, which are contributing to personal isolation and a prevalence in mental health issues?

by Liz Terry, Leisure Media | Published in Sports Management Jul Aug 2017 issue 132

Are team sports dying? That’s the very valid question posed by Andy Reed on page 29 of this issue. Reed believes that sports funders and policymakers view individual sports as being easier to deliver and that team sports are suffering as a result.

Changes in working patterns are adding pressure too. The 24-hour society, shift working, home working and the gig economy are all contributing to the challenge, as they make it more difficult for people to commit to regular scheduled training and play.

In addition, says Reed, a number of governing bodies of team sports have been caught up in controversy recently, from bullying to child abuse, undermining their efforts to grow their sports and potentially deterring people from getting involved.

More widely, we’re seeing a rise in social isolation in young people, some of whom are pulling away from the culture and routine of team sport.

This is being driven in part by social media, which is contributing to an increase in mental health issues in this age group, ranging from eating disorders to self-harm, drug abuse, mental breakdown and narcissism.

The fading of team sports isn’t causing this situation, rather, it’s a symptom of it. Social change is undermining some team sports by making them harder to organise, so sports funding and policy bodies are responding by focusing more on individual sports and activity. In doing this, they are exacerbating the problem to the detriment of young people.

But just as the diminishing of team sports is contributing to the problem, so a resurgence would help to remedy it and this must be our goal.

Team sports teach such valuable life lessons and act as a powerful support structure for those who enjoy them that they must be part of every child’s education. They should be championed in schools, and then in colleges and universities, to ensure continuity throughout the formative years.

The transition from the education system to the world of work then needs careful handling, so sports clubs must ensure they schedule programmes that support this transition, to enable people to continue to play into adulthood. Programmes can be training-related, as well as competitive to deepen engagement.

We must fight this trend of social isolation and anxiety in the young by emphasising the sense of belonging that’s on offer for those who take the opportunity to get involved in team sport.

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