The Benefits of Playing Individual Sports
Sports are central to the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the globe. We love them. Some people are fans because watching sports brings back memories from their childhood. Others obsess over sports because they enjoy seeing how far the limits of the human body can be stretched. But, for those who truly love the game, that love is often instilled in them through play.
Sports teach us a lot. Team sports are a great way to learn how to interact with others and work as a team. Individual sports are a great way to learn to motivate ourselves, since participants compete as individuals, and can’t rely on others to pick up the slack. There is also a middle ground, which are individual team sports. These are sports in which athletes compete one at a time, but their scores count toward their team’s score. Think sports like track and field, bowling, and golf. They are played as individual sports, but the scores of each athlete are aggregated.
Team and individual sports challenge participants in different ways, and each comes with valuable growth opportunities. Let’s explore.
Team vs. Individual Sports
Some people naturally gravitate toward team sports, while others prefer individual sports. Some of that comes down to personal preference. If a child attends afternoon baseball games with Grandpa all summer long, they may have a strong desire to join the local team when they are old enough. Maybe they play soccer with the neighborhood kids and are excited by the prospect of joining a team and competing with their friends. Some people are more introverted and prefer to hone their skills in a solo sport.
While it’s great when someone gets involved in any sport, there are awesome advantages of sports participation when we step out of our comfort zones and try something different. Introverts can gain valuable social skills through team sports. On the other hand, a person who is more familiar with team sports may learn to slow down and improve personal performance and accountability by competing in individual games.
Team sports have a lot going for them. One of the biggest benefits is that they teach us to work together as a team toward a common goal. When one member of the team is struggling, the rest of the team is there to support them. This experience is invaluable in the real world when we must find ways to effectively work with and support our families and coworkers, no matter what differences of opinion we may have. We learn how to swallow our pride and do things for the good of the team.
The social skills we develop from playing team sports make a life of navigating through a sea of people much easier. Sports introduce us to a community of peers who are into the same things we are. We become friends with our teammates both on and off the field, expanding our network of friends in our schools and communities. The shared emotional experiences that go hand in hand with team sports bring us closer together and add depth to our friendships.
People spend so much time touting the value of team sports, we sometimes forget about the incredible benefits of individual sports. Many of the benefits of playing team sports involve the way we interact with others. Playing individual sports helps us identify and address strengths and weaknesses in ourselves, and teaches us to be self-reliant.
There’s a long list of solo sports benefits, but let’s begin with the most basic. Individual sports tend to be easier to learn since players don’t have to learn a long list of plays and complicated rules. Team games like football or basketball require players to learn the functions of each position, and the rules specific to them. A large part of team sports is knowing how each member of the team interacts with one another on any given play and knowing your teammates well enough to make those plays work. Individual sports usually focus on learning proper mechanics and understanding your opponent, which are key factors in the individual competition.
Team games and individual games look a little different in the eyes of the competitor. When we play individual sports, all eyes are on us. The more we play, the more we develop the mental focus required to drown out the fears and anxieties that come with being the center of attention. The fact that we can’t blend into a crowd of jerseys means that everyone in the crowd experiences our victories and failures along with us, and that can be frightening. It can also be incredibly exciting. When the crowd cheers, they are cheering for YOU! And when you fail, you fail with an audience. Those public stumbles give us thicker skin and give us the motivation to be better.
While participation in individual sports doesn’t deliver the exact same social impact team sports do, there are social health benefits that are specific to them. Without an entire team that needs guidance, coaches are able to spend quality time with individual athletes. This helps develop the relationship between athlete and coach in a way that is rare in team sports. All that one-on-one time prepares us for healthy relationships with teachers and mentors in the future. It also prepares us to mentor the next generation.
One of the most unique, and often overlooked, benefits that come with individual sports is the development of respectful relationships with our competitors. Many individual sports are still taught in group settings, so the friends you develop over your years of training will be the people you will eventually be competing against. It’s the kind of thing that creates tolerance and unity, and, unfortunately, many of us never gain this insight.
Disadvantages of Individual Sports
While playing individual sports can be incredibly rewarding, they aren’t without downfalls. When we win, we get all the glory, but we don’t have a team to celebrate with. Solo sports lack the feeling of contributing to our small community. On that same note, when we lose, it’s on us. We take the loss alone and push through it. We learn important life lessons, but the losses feel a little more pointed.
One for the parents
If you’re a parent, looking into sports for your child, individual sports offer benefits for the family as well. The biggest concern for many families is that their children will get hurt. Brain injuries have been in the news a lot lately, and have even led to rule changes in some sports. Individual sports are generally not high contact sports, so they are a good route if injuries worry you. While injuries can occur in any sport, the severity is usually less when people aren’t smashing into each other.
Another thing that worries some parents is the potential for huge time commitments. Team sports require a different kind of commitment than individual sports do. Being a soccer mom can be a part-time job. Between coordinating rides and planning your life around practices and tournaments, the parent can be as involved as their young athlete. Many individual sports can be practiced at home or local parks, making the commitment much more manageable.
Aside from the time commitment, we’ve got to take the financial commitment into account. Individual sports generally come with a lower price tag than many team sports. Contact sports like football and hockey require the purchase of an ever-expanding list of protective gear, which needs to be upgraded as the child outgrows them. Choosing a fun solo sport like Racquetball keeps your equipment list small, and will keep your dues down at the start of each new season.
Deciding on an Individual Sport
If you’ve found yourself scrolling through a solo sports list and are trying to identify the best way to blow off some steam, figure out what you want out of it. Whether you’re playing to your strengths or playing as a means of overcoming your weaknesses, the most important thing is that the game is fun! No matter what type of sport we play, we have an outlet through which we exercise our bodies and minds. That is why we play.