By Tom DiChiara
Remember when you were a kid, and getting exercise meant heading to the Little League or soccer fields, playing some ball with your friends and maybe going to Dairy Queen afterward to celebrate a hard-fought victory (or loss) with a Mr. Misty float? Those were good times.
Unfortunately, as adults, the closest we get to a playing field on a regular basis is probably the 15 feet from the TV screen to our couch, where we either mainline Bud Light while watching our favorite pro teams on the tube or -- if we're feeling ambitious -- "play" baseball, football or hockey with the help of a PS3 or Wii controller.
But just because we've grown up and aren't making $15 million a year to (not) play third base for the New York Yankees doesn't mean our team-sport days need to be over. There are plenty of adult leagues out there, with many organizations -- including your local YMCA and perhaps even your office -- offering softball, football, basketball, volleyball, dodgeball, soccer and even cornhole leagues. So if you're looking to recapture your passion for competition, reinvigorate a stale workout routine or simply make new friends (which can be tough -- and awkward -- for adults), playing a team sport could be just the ticket.
Not convinced? See if any of these excuses hit home:
But... I'm too busy. The "I don't have time" spiel has been a go-to since ancient times (when, rumor has it, Plato employed it to get out of joining an Ultimate Frisbee league so he'd have more time to, you know, philosophize). We get why this particular excuse has stood the test of time: Life is busy, and spare time is precious. As a result, adults tend to gravitate toward solo forms of physical activity -- running, cycling, lifting weights -- that we can squeeze into our schedule or simply skip when life gets too busy. Here's the thing, though: Playing a team sport only means committing to a one-and-a-half-hour game and maybe a one-hour practice per week (time that we'd hopefully spend exercising anyway). And almost all leagues offer the option of playing games at night during the week or during the day on weekends -- which means you can pick a team or league that fits into your schedule.
But... I won't know anyone on the team. According to Robert Herzog, the founder of ZogSports -- who organizes coed sports leagues for young professionals in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and other cities across the U.S. -- meeting new people isn't just part of the team-sport experience, it's one of the chief benefits. "We connect people through what young people want to do anyway," Herzog told The Huffington Post of Zog, which is set up so that each team sponsors a charity of its choosing. "They want to meet people, hang out with their friends and promote charity and social action." Jared Wade, a New York City resident who joined the N.Y. Urban basketball league a few years back, concurs. "I've made some great friends playing in the league," he says. "I've also had a blast and lost some weight -- so there are multiple bonuses." Still concerned about being the new kid on the block? Ask a friend to sign up with you.
But... I'm not good at team sports. Most leagues are separated into different divisions based on skill level. For instance, all of Zog's sports are offered in four levels of play: "extremely casual," "casual," "sorta players" and "players." In the casual leagues, things like accidentally scoring a touchdown for the other team or continually dribbling the ball off your foot will be laughed off, while the competitive leagues are a bit more concerned with winning. But even if you're more of an asset to the other team than to your own, chances are you'll still have a good time running around and reveling in the pure joy of playing. Besides, there are other areas where you can excel -- like at the inevitable post-game happy hour.
But... I could get injured. That's true of pretty much any physical activity. You could turn an ankle running in the park, bang your head while playing basketball or experience either of those mishaps while walking to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Heading to the loo is less likely to contribute to long-lasting physical fitness, however -- which is exactly what the Yale Medical Group hails as one of the key benefits of team sports. "Getting into and staying in good shape is more than a goal -- it's a lifelong journey," the Group says on its website. "Being part of a team can make this journey feel less like an obligation and more like a pleasure. Many people who become active in team sports say the exercise benefits become secondary. It's the fun, physical challenge and social connections that most often keep people playing sports for life."
But... it's too expensive. When you join a team that's part of an organized league, there are certainly costs involved -- courts and playing spaces need to be reserved, referees must be paid, etc. Costs are often per-team and vary depending on the number of members, but usually run in the $75-$150 range per season. As Wade, who had to pay about $130 a season to play in the N.Y. Urban basketball league, remembers: "I was pretty poor at the time, but I never thought it was too expensive. I just thought I didn't make enough money."
But... I'm too old. Some leagues, like ZogSports, are aimed at 20- and 30-somethings, but there are just as many leagues for those in their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond. By the way, the next time you think you're too old for anything, consider Olga Kotelko, who is still competing (and racking up world records) in track and field at the ripe young age of 93. We'd join her track team any day.
Ready to get involved? These tips will help you be a joiner:
1. Choose wisely. You're more likely to stick with a team sport if you pick one that you're already familiar with or at least suspect that you'll like. Equally important is joining a team and league geared toward your ability level. If you played college basketball, for instance, you'll likely be at home in a competitive league where other participants also have years of experience. If you don't know the difference between a layup and a jump shot, however, a beginner or recreation league is more your speed.
2. Channel your inner child. If you haven't played a team sport since you were a kid or a teen, revel in the fun of it. Most people look at maintaining a healthy lifestyle as a necessary chore -- but with a team sport it can actually be a source of enjoyment and social fulfillment. When was the last time you experienced that doing squats?