I can’t remember what it was like not being involved in a sport. Since I was about ten years old, swimming has taken over many, if not all, aspects of my life. Before that, I played soccer, and after I started swimming I continued to explore other sports like track, cross country and weightlifting. I would go between practices and train up to six hours a day depending on the season. It wasn’t until I was told the swim team here at Oklahoma Baptist University would get cut after its 2020-2021 season, that I was able to sit down and reflect on all that being in a sport can do for someone, including myself.
Hearing the news about how my sport would be one of the seven athletic programs competing in their last season this year was difficult for all of us. At that point, I had dedicated about 10 years to swimming. All of the early morning practices in what felt like frigid water, then having yet another practice just a few hours later in the afternoon, the meets that could last all day or even four, all the time spent worrying about places and times, the money put into our suits and equipment and all the days we spent sore and exhausted didn’t seem to matter after hearing that we wouldn’t be competing anymore.
I moved my life over to OBU for the sole purpose of competing for their team. I was upset that even after my recruiting coach died, I took a leap of faith and didn’t try to sign somewhere else, just for the program just to be terminated later on. I was upset that COVID-19 effected schools so significantly that they had to make budget cuts and that swimming was just one of the sacrificial lambs in order to save the school. Most importantly, I was upset that my friends, my teammates, would then decide to leave and scatter to continue their swimming careers. Yet, all this time spent worrying about what to do after the 2021 season left a lot of time to reflect on the past ten years, and how significant sports have been to my life, my teammates lives, along with other athletes. Even if it was finally time for me to hang up the cap and goggles, swimming and competing in sports has positively impacted my life and made me into a person I would not have been without them.
It’s fair to say sports are a good way to keep in shape. All are physically exerting and increase our overall physical health. However, sports are so much more than physical. They are mental and emotional too.
The Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine UK released an article saying,
“Physical activity has been shown to have a strong and positive influence on mental wellbeing and some mental illnesses.” After participating in physical activity like sports, the brain releases the chemicals serotonin and dopamine, known for that “feel good” effect. Constant releases of serotonin are proven to relieve stress and can create a sense of well-being. With a strong mental wellbeing comes productive and creative works, positive and strong relations with those around them and in their community, optimism, and a strong self-esteem. This outlook can reduce anxiety and help prevent mental health issues, creating an overall better quality of life. Organized sports actually have more psychological and social benefits in children than the physical benefits. What really hit home in my situation specifically, however, was the overwhelming realization of the social aspects of sports.
Imagine what it would be like if we didn’t have sports in our lives. No Friday night football games or Sunday NFL. No hockey games with the players often breaking out in fistfights or soccer players falling to the ground despite barely being touched. To say the least, they’re fun to watch. I remember watching the Super Bowl last year with all of my non-Chiefs fan teammates. After Kansas City won the game, we rode around Shawnee blasting “Red Kingdom” on repeat. It’s one of my favorite memories. That’s why they’re prominent in society and is a popular way to interact with one another. They contribute to a social well-being. If we’re not participating in sports, we’re watching them on tv, or cramming ourselves into stadiums with loads of other fans. Sports act as a social glue, bonding us together through them and creating a sense of belonging. Societies thrive on the implication of sports, and they are able to help teach kids these significant social skills at an early stage in life to then join their communities.
Through sports, children learn how to work together for the greater good of the group. They learn to listen to each other and direction of coaches and officials. They learn about discipline, understanding that they are expected to follow rules. But most importantly, sports help kids create social circles separated from school social groups. Swimming did this for me as I was able to create friends from people from other teams all around me, including other states. I started at a young age, and although swimming is an individual sport, I quickly learned how to be a part of a group. I had to learn to “take one for the team” for our mutual success. Without my involvement in sports these ideals would have been much harder and taken much longer for me to learn.
I feel I have benefited greatly benefited from participating in swimming, and others do as well. I have met some of my closest friends through it and learned so much from competing. Swimming has been a source of relief and escape from stresses in my daily life. Through this process of the swim team here at OBU being discontinued, I have stood with my teammates and gathered I am not alone in this feeling and reminiscing in all of my time here and what all of those years swimming has done for me. I think sports are physically, emotionally and socially significant to those that participate in them. I am so grateful my parents pushed me to start at a young age and I encourage others to do the same.