This is a blogpost in praise of team sports. In my case it has been hockey, but I am sure it would be the same with football or any other team sport or club activity.
I used to play hockey at school and university, but stopped playing after that, about twenty years ago, with the demands of a young family and starting out in practice. About three years ago I started going to the gym to try and get a bit fitter, and that certainly enhanced my wellbeing. Then in January 2020 my wife pointed out a social media post advertising a local “return to hockey” taster session at Knole Park Hockey Club.
I thought I would just go to some training sessions as part of the fitness programme, but I quickly discovered that an hour passes playing an enjoyable sport much more quickly than an hour simply running on a treadmill -if, like me, you are not a natural runner. Although my own ability level is pretty modest these days, it is amazing how the competitive spirit kicks in as you focus on winning the next 50/50 ball or trying to score in the shooting drills. I was also lucky to be welcomed by a very friendly group of players and coaches, and gradually found my self becoming part of the club community.
Shortly after, the Covid restrictions and lockdowns started. I wasn’t able to go to the gym near chambers; with working from home, my focus became much more orientated towards local activities. The different sessions organised by the hockey club took on an increased importance for me, as a way of keeping active, but also in avoiding becoming isolated and dwelling only on work. Two years on, most unexpectedly, I find myself immersed in the life of a hockey club, playing competitive matches, travelling to hockey festivals, helping out with coaching and assisting with some of the administration.
On this WATB website you will find reference to a significant piece of work by The New Economics Foundation, identifying five drivers of personal wellbeing. This repays reading in itself, but I was struck the other day by how my well my own sporting experience fits in with the drivers identified by the study.
Connect: we do all benefit from social contact, and it can be particularly important to have friends outside of the legal bubble, to help give us a sense of perspective. It has been a pleasure to make new friends and find a group with something in common other than the law. This came at a particularly good time for me, when I was missing the company of colleagues in chambers.
Be active: I find that even with some activities like going walking or jogging, it can still be difficult to give up thinking about work at the same time. A team sport or activity requires such complete concentration – on the game itself, and in my case trying to avoid messing up and letting down the team – that it really is impossible to keep thinking about anything else. It is a good distraction just to focus on one activity at a time, away from work.
Take notice: one of the biggest problems with work is that it can be so absorbing that we miss the everyday sights and experiences around us. Training and playing in all weathers, I am definitely more aware of them, and I enjoy going to other venues to play. I certainly take more notice now of how I feel, albeit that largely involves taking note of sore hamstrings, glutes and all the other muscles that I wasn’t otherwise using as much.
Keep learning: The study extols the virtues of trying something new and learning a different skill. The sport has changed so much since I last played, and it is now so much faster and more dynamic. I do sometimes feel like the old dog that struggles to learn the new skills that the youngsters seem to pick up so easily, but overall it has been stimulating and satisfying to try to adapt and learn new styles, with the help of supportive coaches.
Give: in my case this has meant joining a club committee in the running of the club. It has been satisfying to work on something outside of the law and to feel that I have been able to help a different community. I have also had the opportunity to assist in a small way with coaching some of the juniors, and it is incredibly satisfying to see their enjoyment and development.
I have certainly been very lucky to have a second chance at a great sport that I thought I had left behind a long time ago. I really recommend it as a beneficial distraction from work. If I can do it, I am sure that pretty much anyone could. And if you have any previous hockey experience, live in Kent and have availability on Saturdays, please get in touch with me urgently!
Stephen is a barrister and mediator at 4 New Square. He is also a representative of Gray’s Inn on the Wellbeing at the Bar Working Group.