With the excitement of the soccer World Cup at its apogee, the camaraderie and spirit of team sport is great to watch. There's something about the unity of vision and purpose, the shared celebration or the collective despair that makes it hard to get enough for either the spectator or a participant. Most of us took part in team sports as children, and many continue to enjoy team sports throughout our adult lives.
Playing sport offers a unique combination of exercise and entertainment, and has a variety of physical and mental health benefits. You tend to develop a higher level of unwavering commitment toward a group activity than you would to yourself alone. Being part of a team gives you extra motivation to turn up each week, even when it's unpleasant weather outside. This can also create an environment where you push yourself harder than normal, and ramps up your exercise intensity. Pull on the team uniform, and you become a different athlete. Team sport gives you the opportunity to improve your fitness and strength and burn significant amounts of kilojoules. Playing sports often involves movement such as running, jumping and stretching, making it a great form of exercise that reduces blood-sugar and cholesterol levels, and cuts back your chances of developing high blood pressure.
Research has even shown that people who play sports regularly have an improved ability to deal with stress, and less likelihood of suffering from depression and anxiety. But sports also offer more in other areas, such as fun, teamwork, social interaction and learning new skills. There's a sense of belonging that comes from team-based activities such as volleyball, basketball and soccer. There's also a wide variety of other activities for every level of fitness and sporting ability.
But all benefits aside, there are some people who find it difficult to get into team sports, disagree with their competitive or combative nature and simply don't enjoy them. There may be time constraints, or the fact that sporting competitions take place at a time that doesn't suit some people. Or it may be difficult to form your own team if you don't know enough people or are new to an area. Others may have negative childhood experiences from team sports that keep them away, or the added pressure of team play just doesn't suit a person's personality.
Unfortunately, competitive sport can also have an ugly side, bringing out over-competitive, aggressive and unfriendly behaviour in some participants.
top 10 individual sports
Fortunately, there's also a wide range of individual activities that people can participate in and achieve similar benefits to team sports. You can do these sports competitively or just for fun.
Here are some sports that you can play on your own:
A refreshing swim can be both fun and good for your wellbeing. The resistance of the water can tone and strengthen all the major muscle groups of your legs, arms and trunk, while also developing your flexibility and cardiovascular fitness. It's also a great workout for people who have injuries or who are overweight, as the water cushions your joints from the usual impact of exercise. To get that same "competitive" pressure pumping, try to beat your own time when swimming laps. As your confidence grows, you could try training with a swim squad to become part of a team.
One way to add a little variety to your exercise routine is to play golf. A game of 18 holes equates to approximately seven kilometres of walking and can burn around 1900 kJ of energy. While it is too "stop-startish" to offer extensive benefits, it is an enjoyable form of low-intensity exercise. Golf is one sport that is virtually impossible to master, so you'll always be able to challenge yourself to improve. If you join a club, there are often competitions where you can play as a team in a pair or group of four, with a social benefit.
Lifting weights, also known as resistance training, involves adding resistance to your body's natural movements to stimulate muscle strengthening, boost your metabolism and get energised. The idea that you will get big and bulk-up is a myth, especially if you lift only moderately heavy weights (a weight you can lift at least 10 times). You can do it at home or join a gym where you can even participate in group classes to music.
Cycling is a great outdoor addition to your exercise program for burning fat and aerobic conditioning. Bikes also allow you to take in a lot of the scenery over the time you invest in the exercise, so it can be a great mind-body experience. As your fitness improves, you may feel compelled to join a cycling group, go on fun rides or even an organised cycling holiday.
A good exercise that gives your lower body a rest while still burning plenty of fat and kilojoules is canoeing. It will strengthen and tone your upper body while also strengthening the core, as you use your torso while paddling. It's a great way to train, while enjoying the great outdoors and spending time on the water. As your fitness improves, you could try dragon boating, which is all about team spirit and fun. It's easy to learn, and it can be very motivating when you have a crew of 20 to keep up with.
If you want to take your exercise right to the edge, you could always try some adventure activities. These activities burn calories by peddling, climbing, jumping or just holding yourself in position. But it isn't just about the kilojoules, because these activities are about adrenaline, fun, excitement and pushing yourself to your limit. They can help you step out from your comfort zone, overcome your fears and give confidence that flows into other areas of your life. Some examples include canyoning, abseiling, rock climbing, mountain biking, kite surfing, snowboarding and white-water rafting.
Tennis is a fantastic all-round activity. Playing regularly will help to improve strength, stamina, balance and foot speed. It allows you to unwind by enjoying the great outdoors and unleashing a bit of stress on that green, fluffy ball. More than just good for your fitness and muscle tone, it's social, fun and suitable for all ages and abilities. You can join a competition, attend a tennis camp or just grab a racquet and a few friends and head down to your nearest court.
There are few greater challenges in the world of exercise than competing in a triathlon. It's more than about getting fit for swimming, cycling and running, for you need to make time to train for three different activities. This will not appeal to everyone, but if you like to push yourself, it could open up a whole new world. Start out slowly, and build up your distances and times gradually. Some events allow you to have different competitors for each leg, so you can compete individually, but still as a team.
There is no faster path to fitness and fat loss than running, which burns around three times more kilojoules than walking. There is also a unique feeling you experience during running that sets it apart from most other activities. Whether it's the scenery, the wind in your hair or the sense of achievement, there's something in it for everyone. It can strengthen your heart, lungs and bones, and help you to sleep. You could also consider joining a running club or compete in a fun run as your fitness improves.
so in conclusion
Exercise and sport is all about what suits you and your situation. And although team sports and competition are not for everyone, the benefits are still available through alternative non-team sports.