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The Effects of Sports on Relationships


It may sound a little surprising to hear that participating in sports can be a great relationship-builder – after all, aren’t many sports created around the idea of fierce competition and rivalry? Yet studies have shown that people who grew up playing sports have more finely developed social skills than those who did not, in part due to the self-esteem boosts created by participation and feeling like part of a team. Whether you’re on the winning side or the side that’s just happy to be there, there are many positive benefits to playing sports – especially when it comes to developing lasting relationships with others.

Building Better Relationships Through Sport

Many of us had the experience of playing sports as children. Whether in a recreational league or something more professional, there’s a reason why sports are recommended for kids and teens: because they help one feel as though they’re a part of something. There’s a sense of belonging that comes with playing sports as part of a team, as well as a significant boost in self-esteem. It’s where many important social skills are learned, including acceptance of others, support of our peers, and the value of competition.

In a study of high school senior students involved in sports, a whitepaper by the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that shy students in particular were able to improve their social skills through sports, stating that:

“In terms of the effect of sport participation on shyness, a longitudinal study with measurement at baseline and one year later found that sport was positively associated with positive adjustment (e.g. social skills and self-esteem) and that sport played a uniquely protective role for shy children, with shy children who participated in sport over time reporting significant decreases in anxiety.”

Sports bringing shy children out of their shells may sound surprising, but being part of a team can help introverted people learn how to develop relationships in a beneficial environment.

The whitepaper also makes a point towards physical fitness as being a building block for social skills and the ability to create strong relationships: “For example, there are relationships between physical fitness and mental state; and interpersonal relationships may satisfy needs for belongingness and, as such, influence psychological health. Another example is resilience, whereby psychological health may influence an individual’s capacity to engage in interpersonal relationships.” So not only are sports good for physical fitness, but they also increase a person’s emotional fitness when it comes to relating to others.

How to Make Sports More Social

Long after the developmental stage has passed, sports can continue to act as a positive outlet for people to bond with their peers through teamwork and friendly competition. Whether you know your teammates before you sign up or you use sports leagues to meet new people, even something as simple as a recreational league can have a big impact on your interpersonal relationship skills. For those who might be introverted or susceptible to depression, being a part of a sports team can help provide motivation for getting out of the house and being active, as well as giving a person a sense of self-worth – after all, other people are counting on them to be there.

Sports can also help build relationships with family, whether it’s encouraging your siblings to join a rec league with you, playing tennis with your spouse, or simply throwing a baseball with your child. Working together as a team can put new perspectives and value on familial relationships, plus it’s a good way to air out any potential grievances or simply talk things out while tossing around a football. Playing sports for fun – or for lighthearted bragging rights – ought to be a part of every family get-together, since they encourage the participation of everyone and make all members feel as though they have a part to play.

Lastly, since much of the world is focused on online relationships and social networks, why not incorporate this into your athletics? These days, technology is available to let you record and share your sports performance metrics and highlight reels across social platforms, which means that you can get instant feedback and encouragement from your friends online. Even if you’re working out alone, you’re still able to use sports to build relationships through social media – you can have a “virtual” team on your side.


Rather than promoting a “one versus all” mentality, sports can actually have a hugely beneficial effect on building and maintaining good interpersonal relationships. Whether it’s through meeting new people as rec league teammates, bringing family and friends together to play a pickup game, or using your athletic performance tracker to connect with an online community, sports can be a building block for healthy, long-lasting relationships.