The Mental Health Benefits of Playing Sports
While we often look to sports and physical activity in terms of their benefits to physical health, we sometimes fail to acknowledge the mental health benefits that come from exercise.
In the wake of the global pandemic, the social stigma attached to talking about mental health in the past has significantly lessened. People are, in general, more open to talking about their mental health and are looking for ways to give that health a boost.
And while most forms of moderate physical activity have been shown to boost endorphins which help address many symptoms associated with depression and anxiety, racket sports, in particular, are a great way to get a workout in while pumping up your spirit.
Sports like tennis, racquetball, badminton, and pickleball provide great short-term and long-term benefits to both your physical and mental health.
How Sports Affect Mental Health
There have been several studies over the years examining how playing team sports can improve a person’s mental health. One of the great things about racket sports is that, even when played one-on-one, they still produce the same benefits as team sports.
So whether you’re playing in a community volleyball league or have a regular group you meet with to play squash, sport can do great things for your mind as well as your body. Here’s how:
As many of us have discovered over the past year, isolation can wreak havoc on your mental health. Humans are social creatures. A video chat or a phone call with a loved one can feel great, but there’s no substitute for in-person interaction.
Sports give us a gateway to that kind of interaction. Team sports make us part of a unit, working together toward a common goal. Individual sports give us opportunities to hone our skills with friendly competition as part of a common hobby. Either way, sports allow us to build community and connection.
One of the best things about racquet sports when looking through the lens of mental health benefits is that they give you the best of both worlds. Whether it be racquetball, pickleball, beach tennis, regular tennis, squash, or badminton, you can engage with the sport individually or as part of a doubles team—whichever best suits your needs.
No matter the sport you choose, there will be opportunities for conversation with opponents and/or teammates. These sports are a great way to make new friends and bring further depth to existing relationships, all while getting a great workout!
Boost Your Self-Esteem
When a person first starts out with a sport, they usually aren’t very good at it. But as they keep at it, their improvement becomes impossible to ignore. When a new player is finally able to get a win over a more experienced player, the feeling is almost indescribable.
So often in life, it is easy to ignore our successes and focus on negative moments. As adults, we can fall into ruts where it feels like nothing will ever change. That stagnant feeling can be absolutely brutal.
But with sports like pickleball and racquetball, you can fight the lethargy that comes with that stagnant feeling. Not only will these sports have you moving physically, but tracking your progress and improvement as a player can help you prove to yourself that change is not only possible but is within your power.
It is impossible to state how much that kind of realization can build your self-esteem. And it all starts with something as simple as improving your forehand or hitting a perfect drop shot for the first time.
Between work, family, and everything going on in the world, stressors are everywhere. It can be easy to let those stressors sit in your body, giving you tight knots in your back or pinched nerves in your neck, or any number of other uncomfortable physical inconveniences.
Between warm-up stretches, the physical action of a game, the deep breathing that comes with physical exertion, and your cool-down process, the regular act of playing a sport is practically tailor made to counteract the physical symptoms of stress.
The physical exertion of sports is not the only source of mental health benefits. Racquet sports are full of mental challenges and exercises as well. Strategy is a big part of any racquet sport, and the constant motion of each point gives you something to focus on other than external stressors.
Picking Your Game
We’ve been discussing mental health in sport, but what racquet sport is right for you? There are a wide variety of sports to choose from. Whether knocking around a ball or a shuttlecock, these games all provide excellent mental health benefits and are great for beginners —so what are some of the differences between them?
Badminton is unique among racquet sports. It uses a shuttlecock, sometimes called a shuttle or a birdie, and features racquets with long necks and relatively small heads. You can find a badminton set at just about any department store, but if you’re interested in playing regularly, you’ll want to invest in better equipment.
This is not to say that you need to buy the kind of gear they use at the Olympics, where each shuttle is made with actual goose feathers. But the gear in a twenty dollar kit will simply not have the kind of durability or balance to allow you to thrive and improve at the sport.
A badminton racket from a reputable sporting goods store or online retailer can make a big difference as you explore the game and embrace the physical and mental benefits that come with it.
You may be asking what is pickleball? Pickleball is a fascinating sport. Looking at pickleball rules, it feels like many of the best aspects of several racquet sports were mixed together to create a unique, delightful game.
You play on a court with a similar layout to badminton. You serve across the court from the baseline like tennis. Only the serving player or team can score points, as is the case with racquetball rules.
And all this is done with a lightweight paddle that is about fifteen inches long and what is essentially a wiffle ball. Usually, a pickleball paddle will be made of wood, but graphite paddles are also very popular among people who play regularly.
Because pickleball uses a hollow ball with holes on its surface, the ball’s flight path can be irregular and is generally slower than you would see with a solid rubber ball. This makes pickleball a great starter sport for someone looking to get into racquet sports.
The physical mechanics of the game are similar to those used in other racquet sports, but the nature of the game means it does not move as quickly as a game like racquetball. That allows the new player to focus on learning how to execute different strategies and recognize game situations—skills that translate to other sports or higher levels of pickleball play.
Unlike badminton and pickleball, racquetball doesn’t have a net. Each player plays the ball off the front wall, and the game moves very quickly.
Of course, even though racquetball is played at a higher speed than the other sports on this list, the simple yet nuanced rules and unique court environment make it an excellent game for beginners. It takes a short time to learn and a lifetime to master, as the old saying goes.
Better Living Through Activity
Sports can be wonderful weapons in the fight against poor mental health. Through the routine of regular physical exercise and the mental focus on improvement and strategy, you can release endorphins and develop the tools and strategies needed to combat illnesses such as depression or anxiety.
Through socialization, stimulation of your mind and body, and the boost to self-esteem that comes with improvement and accomplishment, sports like racquetball, pickleball, and badminton can bring tremendous benefits to your physical and mental wellbeing.
If you’ve been looking for something to help break you out of a cycle of lethargy, or you just want to expand your social sphere, look into the sporting options in your area and get out on the court!