We all know that physical activity is healthy. It’s healthy for your body. It’s healthy for your brain. All around, it’s just a good idea and most of us know that. Something we don’t think about as often, though, is the benefit of getting involved in organized sports as an adult. I’m talking about the team-based ones like baseball, basketball, soccer, volleyball, etc.
For some reason, tons of people in early recovery love these sports and they’re played all the time at rehabs and halfway houses. You can add your favorites to the list, but these are the most common ones that I’ve seen. Games like football and rugby are often viewed as a little too dangerous and come with a certain amount of liability that treatment centers don’t really like. Regardless of the sport, lots of benefits can come from playing them as an adult. There’s clearly reasons that people continue or begin playing them in their later years, right? If you’re in recovery, these reasons are amplified, too, making sports feel like a fantastic domain to stretch into.
Let’s go through all the reasons why playing sports as a recovering adult can be beneficial:
Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone
Any therapist will tell you that life is all about taking risks and stepping out of the comfort zone. Early recovery in particular will force someone to become uncomfortable in social situations. Part of picking up a new or old sport to play with others is this element of social risk. At times, it seems far easier to just sit inside and watch TV. It’s far less scary than going outside and risking being horrible at something and getting made fun of. While that’s true, gathering the courage to plunge into a sport you’ve never played before is a big “step” in stepping out of one’s comfort zone.
Like we discussed earlier, physical activity is always a good thing. Without going into too much science about it, it helps in a plethora of ways. It’ll help stabilize and boost your mood. It will help you stay physically healthy. Staying active helps to keep joint pain at bay as your age starts to catch up to you. Physical activity helps to boost immune systems. The list for ‘Why Physical Activity is Good For You’ is a whole different topic and could probably end up being 100 pages long. For a newly recovering person, getting some of the cobwebs off the arms and legs can start to feel really good. Substance abuse may have also had an effect on the heart, which physical activity can attempt to reverse. All in all, it’s never a bad idea for anyone to get moving, especially if they’re quitting drugs and alcohol.
I remember playing certain sports growing up and loving the team-oriented aspect of it. I had people to rely on and others that I was accountable to. In my addiction, though, I stopped doing that and tried to ‘lone-wolf’ it. Getting into recovery, I needed to break that attitude as best as I could.
Whether you’re in recovery or not, the various components that come along with playing team-based games can teach great life lessons. Working together with other people to accomplish a goal on a field directly relates to getting along with people at a worksite. You have to be mindful of other people’s thoughts and feelings. You have to be open to the idea that you’re wrong about something. Other people might be better than you at things or have more experience. Acknowledging, understanding, and accepting these things can be incredibly valuable to a person in recovery as well as an adult without addiction problems.
Gaining or relearning the ability to resolve conflict will go a long way in life, particularly for an addict. Instead of getting fired up and catching a resentment about someone posing an issue in your world, you could work to figure out the best way to reach an agreement. Being able to mediate between two people with conflict also grants an excellent life skill that goes undervalued so often.
Let’s suppose, though, that the conflict is not about people, but about the game itself. In an organized sport, you have to use problem solving skills to resolve whatever issue is happening. Suppose you’re playing baseball and you know that a left-handed batter is up to the plate. An obvious example of in-the-moment problem solving is shifting the outfield quickly to the right before the pitch comes in, as they’re more likely to swing that direction. Situations like this arise during every game, set, or match of whatever it is you’re playing. Working through them to try and win is a real, tangible skill that can be utilized almost everywhere.
This list is clearly not in order because ‘having fun’ should always be the number one reason to play an organized sport. Although I usually rolled my eyes, I always remembered my coaches telling me that this was the most essential part of the game- and it’s still true today! If you’re not having fun, you’re not going to keep playing.
For an addict, a lot of early sobriety can be boring. Lots of fears and anxieties come up, too. Finding an outlet that allows you to simply have pure, unadulterated fun should really be quite high on the priority list. It helps that this fun comes with pretty much only positive benefits. Whereas video games and watching TV have their downsides, playing organized sports is mostly considered great for you to do. Finding something you find fun AND is good for you is just a win-win! Why not give it a try?
Building a New Hobby
Most addicts and alcoholics (myself included) found that their previous hobbies started to disappear when they got deeper into their addiction. At the end, my only real past-time was using. Once I got sober, I didn’t really know what I was supposed to do in my free time or what I liked. I remembered enjoying certain things, but I didn’t know if I’d enjoy them without drugs and alcohol. Sobriety needed to be equally or more enjoyable for me if I was to continue on the path, so I found something I loved.
Expanding horizons and building experience with new things is always a great idea. New hobbies get you to open yourself up to so much more in life. Most of these areas are already covered in this list, so to avoid sounding redundant, let’s move on.
Accepting Losing/Humbly Winning
In organized sports, there’s always going to be a winner and a loser. If you’re playing tennis it’s just you. If you’re playing soccer, you share that feeling with 11 other people. Regardless of the game, the feelings are the same. You’re probably going to encounter people who play pickup volleyball games like there’s $5,000 on the line. You’ll probably find people that hate losing so much that they scream at their teammates to get better. On the flip side, you’ll find the arrogant ones who love winning so much that they rub it in everyone’s faces for weeks to come. If you’ve ever played an organized sport before, I’m sure you know exactly who I’m talking about.
The important lesson to take here is twofold: deal with these people in an appropriate manner, and don’t be one of these people. It seems obvious, but when we’re caught up in the moment and the intensity of the game, we can do some stupid stuff. Learning how to accept losing and move on relates directly into other aspects of life, especially during early recovery. Humility is a word that’s thrown around a lot in recovery scenes, but practicing it isn’t always easy. Telling others in their defeat that they genuinely played well can mean a lot to them. Accepting this from others, too, without feeling condescended isn’t easy either. Humbly winning takes a special type of character trait that some people have to work hard to gain.
Relating back to the section on physical activity, sports can be very helpful in relieving stress. Not only do they provide you with some amount of exercise, they also get you to be around people. They give you an opportunity to unwind and relax with friends or just blow off some steam.
For myself in early sobriety, I went to the batting cages by myself just to hit some softballs as hard as I could when I was stressed out or needed some alone time. Now I lean more towards finding some friends in my support group and hit volleyballs as hard as I can at a gym somewhere. I’ve found that both are great ideas, but I prefer to be around other people if I’m feeling down or anxious. I implore everyone reading this to start trying some things that help you to de-stress or continue practicing what already works for you. Having a stress reliever that isn’t unhealthy will help in immeasurable amounts.
Escape From Real World
For many, using drugs and alcohol was an excellent avenue for which we could escape our problems in the real world. When we get clean, that option isn’t there and we have to face it head on. While this is important to do, having an hour or so out of your week to just shut your brain off can be really helpful.
During an intense game of pickup or adult league basketball, you focus only on the game at hand. The thoughts running through your head aren’t about the strain you caused in your relationships or financial amends that you’re going to have to make. You have that time to concentrate solely on winning the game at hand. These moments often become highlights of the week for a working adult with a routine life. It generates the same feeling, if not more so, in the newly recovering addict or alcoholic.
In my experience, this is probably one of the biggest reasons why I continue to play team-oriented sports into my adult life. I’ve found some of the closest friends in my life through sports. I’ve created as well as built up really important supports in my life through playing in leagues, tournaments, and pick up games. When I first got sober, I used sporting games to get to know people on a level outside small talk or Big-Book discussions. Today, the more I play, the more people I meet and the more people I meet, the more opportunity I have to gain new friends who enjoy similar things to myself.
In a separate train of thought, several people close to me identify as introverts. After doing some polling, they told me that they play sports because it essentially forces them to interact with other people. They end up having tons of fun and continue going because they like these people. Without their weekly sporting event, though, they probably would stick to their small circle of work and childhood friends, and never experience new people in their lives. To an introvert in early recovery, a pickup basketball or baseball game could be the key to opening up to someone about how they’re really feeling deep down. You never really know who’s going to end up being in your support group until they’re already there.
It’s Hard to Overdo It
An incredible amount of people get sober and get involved with fitness. Generally speaking, that’s fantastic and should be encouraged 99% of the time. What’s not great is when it becomes a substitute addiction. I’ve personally seen tons of people overdo it and spend three plus hours a day in the gym for one reason or another. Organized sports, in contrast to only working out, are much harder to abuse. Since you usually need a whole team of people to play with and battle against, games aren’t running 24/7 like some fitness gyms do. While fitness addictions are alive and well in recovery circles, I rarely see a basketball or volleyball playing addiction being spoken about.
Playing a sport for some might seem scary or difficult, but the benefits of it really do outweigh that looming anxiety. Even if you’re not in recovery or are just thinking about it, getting involved in a team-oriented game can help you in more ways than you think. Get moving, get active, get out of your head, and have some fun while you’re at it!