The start of any new year brings with it the inevitable promises to ourselves – to improve our lives by getting fit and healthy; to lose the Christmas pudding pounds; to ‘join’ something new. Unfortunately for many, the goal of losing a few pounds can be short lived and we suddenly find ourselves in November again promising that as soon as we get Christmas out of the way, we’re going to get that new fitness regime underway, except this year we really mean it.
Sport can be a powerful life-changing tool, and if we are truly going to convince others of this, then our narrative on how sport can change lives must explore far beyond these short-term promises. Last year LEAP Sports investigated the different ways in which sport can change lives. As well as many physical health benefits, we discovered clear links to mental health, to social connectedness, to resilience, confidence and strength. We also found that for many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, sport can be life affirming, help strengthen self-identity, and help people to discover communities where they feel safe, accepted and included.
Ashleigh and Connie told us that getting involved in powerlifting improved their mental health, and spoke about the acceptance they felt within the sport. “The best part about powerlifting for us was that there was such a broad range of female figures, a mix of different body types, personalities, and sexualities. It’s the first time we felt like we didn't have to fit a specific box or stereotype and were accepted for who we are, and excelled at being ourselves”.
Many feel excluded from sport and for gay men in particular, there are many strong pervading messages that sport is not really for them. Douglas spoke to us about not really feeling comfortable or confident going to gay bars before discovering outdoor activities. “The contrast with the gay scene was like night and day – it was such a positive experience to feel relaxed doing something I enjoyed in good company.”
For many transgender people, sport can be particularly problematic, as Ewan reflected on in his story. Despite this, Ewan found Seahorses Swimming Club and “…stepped into a changing room without external fear and I socialised with a group of people of all ages, identities and body types and where no-one made assumptions based on my own body.”
Many of us already know that getting hooked on a sport can have an ongoing and knock-on effect on our lives, and nothing highlighted that better to us than Sami’s story "There is a lot more to boxing than I thought and I’m really enjoying the technical side of it – it’s like playing a game of chess, you always need to be five steps ahead of your opponent. I’m totally hooked now and it’s having such a positive effect on my life: I’m thinking more about what I eat now and I’m also making better choices with my spare time.”
So our new year’s resolution this year is to reach beyond the surface, to tell those stories and to highlight the impact which sport has had for Sami, Douglas, Ewan, Ashleigh, Connie and many many others. Sport truly can change lives.
Our full impact report Sport Changes Lives can be found here.