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Can Team Games improve Post-Pandemic Mental Health?

by Neil Rollings

It’s been a tough year for everyone. Not least children. Everything that goes with childhood has been undermined by the pandemic. School, friends, fun, mischief. However, the absence of these things has created an experiment that could never have been deliberately conducted as it would have been judged unethical. By removing these features which previous generations had taken for granted, there has evolved an unexpected opportunity to evaluate what is most valued. In the absence of everything, some things were missed more than others.

The most significant thing has emerged as connectedness. Concerns for pandemic impact on mental health have centred around loneliness, and the absence of social connections. Learning might have been restricted in schools, but this has not be mourned to the same extent as interaction with friends. Being together, united by common culture, values and shared activity has been the most lamented absentee.

In the dark days of winter lockdown, all days became the same. What was missing were high points: moments of achievement, pride and pleasure: the significance of which is multiplied in shared endeavours. Without highs and lows, life becomes a monotone sequence of events. Nothing to look forward to, celebrate or fear.

The missing dimensions are the soul of team sports. Connectedness, shared goals, mutual striving, togetherness, teamship, selflessness and the rollercoaster of triumph and disappointment are the essential character of teams. Far more significant than the scores, victories and defeats are the impacts on the mental health of participants. Team players have always known this anecdotally, but it has taken a pandemic to reinforce just how important shared activities are to happiness. Participation in plays, choirs, orchestras and debates make these benefits accessible to other children, but for many, the most powerful experience of connectedness comes through the togetherness of persisting through difficulty towards a shared goal. And the celebrations and consolations that follow. Team games are at the heart of this.

As schools restore themselves towards normal, hopefully in September, there exists a huge opportunity. It is to promote what the pandemic has exposed as most valued. And this is the social character of human interaction. This has to be in person: Zoom is not enough.

Team games have a huge role to play in this important process.