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The value of sport for our communities

The benefits of being involved in sport are far-reaching. For participants, research shows that sport is a great tonic for making us happier, healthier people. At a community level, we know sport is a great connector.

Sport helps us to feel included and supported, with a sense of belonging. It also helps us to feel proud of our communities.

For our army of volunteer administrators, managers, coaches and helpers behind the scenes, these factors are super important.

And in these uncertain times, it is worth pausing to recognise and celebrate this.

Tony Philp, who has had over 20 years involved in sport and is currently New Zealand Rugby’s High Performance Sevens Manager puts it well,

“Sport helps our communities to come together to connect, communicate and care”.

Adults often volunteer for personal fulfillment and the enrichment they gain from being part of a community outside of their homes and workplaces.

In difficult times it becomes a source of wellbeing, especially if they have lost jobs, are dealing with loss, or struggling in a changing environment.

While young people benefit greatly from youth sport, it’s also huge for our volunteer network.

“As human beings connecting to our community is critical to the health and mental wellbeing of our society, especially in times of uncertainty”, says Tony.

“Connecting through sport provides all people – players, coaches, administrators and volunteers – with a sense of identity, pride, belonging, gratitude and joy”.

“People need a sense of self fulfilment, identity, pride, belonging, and connection…”

Tony’s comments align with the Value of Sport study, the results of which state being physically active creates happier, healthier people, better connected communities and a stronger New Zealand.

In fact, 88 percent of respondents believe that sport and other physical activities provide them with opportunities to achieve and help build confidence.

Eighty four percent believe sport and physical activity bring people together and create a sense of belonging, and 74 percent say sport and physical activity help build vibrant and stimulating communities.

As Tony says, the word that keeps summarising all of this up is the importance of connection.

“Connection also provides opportunities for people to help each other out, whether it be on a personal level, such as “how are you?”, or a professional level, like contact for jobs.

“It opens up connections to areas that may help with personal circumstances, such as job opportunities, and gives people the ability to have conversations with others about their challenges which will help, no doubt, in the long run,” says Tony.

The flow-on from connection is massive for our communities to care for each other again, he says.

“If anything, COVID 19 has reinforced the importance of volunteering their time to help with their mental wellbeing.

“Contributing to something like sport will help them know they still have value and worth by doing this.”

Sport is renowned as a source of wellbeing – there is the endorphin buzz of exercise, as well as that sense of pride for something.

It helps people to feel that sense of belonging and, in some cases, provides them with a ‘safe’ environment for them to be themselves.

It helps grow resilience too when times are tough and might not go so well, for example, losing a game, not getting picked for something, being injured, or working out how to get through a certain situation.

There is no doubt that community sport creates a culture that helps grow people’s identity and sense of belonging.

“It really does help people to feel like they are contributing to something bigger than them and allows them to have a sense of pride and gratitude for making a difference to others and the community,” says Tony

Take that away and Netball Wellington’s Sue Geale says some volunteers would find it difficult and feel isolated.

“They would be worried about their physical wellbeing, and mentally, not having that interaction with the group they normally have each week could have a real negative impact.”

From a volunteer’s perspective, she says being involved in sport keeps them not only physically and mentally active, but that feeling of supporting others can give them a real lift.

“It gives them a sense of purpose and a feeling of being valued.

“Being around youth can also keep the adult feeling younger and more energetic, and they can find it rewarding seeing others grow and develop.

“By keeping youth involved in sport our volunteers can also feel as though they’re helping to keep them off the street and busy, and out of trouble, it’s a win-win.”

The top six benefits we think are worth celebrating for volunteers involved in youth sport are:

  • Connection and networks with others
  • Personal pride and satisfaction/making a difference
  • A sense of safety and belonging
  • Gratitude
  • Helps to grow resilience
  • Energising, fun, rewarding and challenging!

Read about Sport NZ’s Value of Sport study.

Image Credits: Robert Collins on Unsplash