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  • Writer's pictureRyan Wilson

Sports = Exercise + Tribe, Critical for My Mental Health

There’s something pretty incredible about professional sports isn’t there? Men and women striving for physical perfection and turning sport into art. The Soccer World Cup is over, our Canadian women just won Silver at the Rugby World Cup in France, and now the world’s attention has turned to the U.S. Open in Tennis and Football season is almost upon us.

Sport isn’t just for the elite though. The benefits are enormous, and in fact, my personal experience has been that my mental health suffers if I don’t play sports.

What are the benefits of sport? In my experience, there are two very important pieces to the puzzle – exercise and tribe. We’ve talked about the benefits of physical exercise before. It is one of the best ways to help you think clearly, and has a huge effect on mood. For people who have difficulties with depression (feeling low, no motivation to get off the couch, being alone) it is one of the first recommendations I make, and it starts with something as simple as going for a 5-minute walk. The other benefit of sport is Tribe. Finding “your people”, surrounding yourself with a group that helps you listen to your Strong and Healthy Self. Sport helps you connect with like minded people whether its in competitive individual sport or team sports. Both bring you face-to-face with people who share your common goal.

This summer I am playing soccer in a local senior mens’ league. We’re a lower division team, but that doesn’t matter. We still go out to compete, and at the end of the game, we share an ice cold beer while we laugh about all the things that went wrong during the game. I’ve also been playing single’s tennis this summer, the first time I’ve really played in 15 years and its been great. Old skills slowly creep back in and for me running around with purpose (even if it is just to chase a little ball all over the court) is a million times better than going for a run.


Every time, and I do mean every time, there was more than 3 or 4 days between sporting activities my mental health would suffer. I would get tense, things that would not usually bother me became very irritating, even the kids harmless sounds and normal day-to-day disagreements would somehow start to become infuriating. Then, I’d go play some sports, and it wouldn’t matter if I won or lost horribly, I would come back a different person. My wife would comment that I was visibly lighter and happier. All from an hour or two of sport. For me, the combination of physical exercise and connecting with tribe is a powerful antidote for stress, even at a time when our schedule is about to undergo massive change!

That’s not to say that going for a run or heading to the gym isn’t effective. Anything that gets you moving will help. Same with visiting with friends. Connecting with your tribe can be revitalizing no matter what the activity. My experience has been that the combination amplifies both of these effects 100X!!

How about you?

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