Column: Sporting activity can have such a positive impact on our wellbeing
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As the Church of England’s Bishop for Sport, and a very keen fan, I love to follow elite athletes at the top of their game, not least because they can inspire us to have a go - we’ve all seen the growth in girls football because of the success of the national team.
My view is, whether you have the talent or just the enthusiasm to kick a ball or shoot an arrow or swing a golf club, then you should go for it - wholeheartedly!
You don’t have to be an elite athlete - sport and physical activity of any kind can have a huge, positive impact on our wellbeing.
The physical benefits are well known but there is growing evidence of the benefits to our mental health too: when we move our bodies more, we find our minds are healthier too - the NHS recommends even light exercise such as a short walk for helping with feelings of depression.
There can be lots of positive outcomes for society too. Coming out of Covid, we’ve seen people facing serious and sometimes long-term health issues.
Physical activity can help people back to work following long term absence as it rebuilds confidence and skills such as teamwork, leadership, discipline and the ability to handle pressure.
The impact for young people and their future prospects can be especially profound and transformational. In Parliament recently, I heard about the fantastic work of organisations working with young people who are at risk of being involved in crime.
Research has found that involvement in sports reduced reoffending by 52 per cent and has cut violent crime. Through sport young people find a sense of belonging and identity, connecting to leaders who
provide positive role models away from the detrimental influence of gang culture.
These programmes are brilliant at building discipline, resilience, healthy connectedness and belief in self and others.
In prisons and young offender institutions, I’ve seen how sport is used to promote health and well-being as a means of reinforcing positive behaviour.
It can provide solutions to issues of disengagement and disempowerment and stimulate teamwork, ultimately tackling re-offending.
I have seen this work here in Derbyshire too, through churches working with partners offering five-a-side, wrestling and Zumba for example.
So, it’s not just about sport for its own sake – I’m also a fan of sport because it helps society.
The ex-England and Arsenal footballer Ian Wright has spoken movingly about how the support and positive influence of his teacher, Sydney Pigden, was crucial to his development, not just as a footballer but as a young boy growing up in a disadvantaged single parent family with no father figure.
“He was the most important influence on my life,” he said. “From the age of seven he showed me a lot of love, attention and care.”
Who knows, perhaps your passion for sport could help a young person being drawn into criminalisation or simply somebody you know who needs support and encouragement for their talent to blossom.
All those players in the England men’s rugby team and the England women’s football team that I’ve been watching this year needed a parent or mentor to cheer them on or pick them up when they were down.
Perhaps, like Sydney Pigden, you could be that person?