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More than just exercise: Team sports’ biggest benefit is sense of community

Research shows the key benefit of sport participation is not fitness, but the creation of a sense of community. How can clubs create this sense of community? There are 7 key elements to creating community within a sporting team.

Sport is about more than just, well, sport. It’s about community, purpose, teamwork and much more.

Research into the impact of sport on individuals finds that the biggest benefits from being part of a local sport club or team are far beyond the physical. Athletes who experience a sense of community within their sport club are less likely to binge drink, take drugs, have better average mental health ratings, are more likely to have positive educational outcomes, and are generally more successful.

The findings show time and time again that an increased sense of community is associated with increased health, and participation in sport is highly associated with forming that sense of community.

The importance of sporting communities


In our changing world, communities are becoming less geographically based and more interest focussed. These interest based communities provide the new basis for collective social experiences, and sport is one of the few prevailing institutions that continuously provides this.

‘Community sport adds a crucial layer to simple health and fitness – that of social cohesion and social capital. It’s the package of club and team atmosphere, combined with physical benefits, that feels irreplaceable.’

Dr Jonathan Robertson, Lecturer in Sport Management at Deakin University.

In Australia alone, there are approximately 70,000 sport clubs nationwide, involving over 3 million volunteers, and at least 5 million players.

Sporting communities play a crucial role in the club economy, individual mental health, and the overall health of the local towns in which they operate. The flow-on effects of a micro-community within a sports team leads to ongoing positive patterns of behaviour that positively impact the wider community.

How do sport clubs create a sense of community?


The dynamics of a team sport provide a perfect climate for formation of a sense of community.

In a study of what makes sport effective at creating these communities, researchers found seven (7) key elements that combine to create this intangible concept of a ‘sense of community’ in local sports teams.

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7 Key Elements of Community in Sport

A diagram showing the 7 key elements of community in sport, arranged around a circle in the middle with the title "7 Elements of Community in Sport". directly above the circle is a drawing of hands clustered together with voluntary action, followed clockwise by another drawing of some books, a frying pan, and weights arranged in a circle with the text "common interests" beside it. To the right again of this is a group of chat bubbles with smiley faces on them, with the caption "social spaces", next is a set of hands holding a trophy, with "leadership opportunities in text underneath". At the bottom of the circle is a group of heads with a heart above them that says "consideration". to the left of this is a balancing scale with people standing on it, titled "equity in decision making". Above this, the last icon of the seven shows two people playing soccer, with one player with his arm out, blocking the other player from getting the ball. This icon is titled "competition".
1. Administrative Consideration

The expression of care, concern and intentionality of administrators

2. Common Interest

Group dynamics, social networking, and friendships that result from individuals being brought together by common interest.

3. Competition

The challenge to excel against both internal and external rivalries

4. Equity in Decision Making

Decisions that demonstrate all community members are treated equal

5. Leadership Opportunities

Informal and formal opportunities to guide and direct others in the community

6. Social spaces

A common area or facility in which athletes could interact with one another

7. Voluntary action

Self-fulfilling and self-determining activities resulting from little to no external pressure or incentive

Why is a sense of community important for the club itself?

On the flip side, creating a sense of community by enabling these seven factors above has major positive implications for the clubs themselves who manage these teams and host the sporting events.

Clubs that have a sense of community have higher member retention, volunteer participation, team, and fan satisfaction, and are more likely to keep their members engaged and paying for their services.

If sport has these benefits, why is participation declining?

Despite sport being described as a ‘social glue’, sporting community participation (and community participation as a whole) is on the decline and has been since at least the 1980’s.

As a result, more youth in particular are being left without a sense of purpose or ways to contribute and be involved in their local communities. Significantly, the recent impact of Coronavirus has severely debilitated sporting communities from connecting and forming a sense of community.

An article by Deakin University titled “A Moment In Time For Community Sport” says the decline has long been occurring, but the recent change in the ways we interact may actually give clubs an opportunity to re-engage and re-inspire their members, once again creating a sense of community within their local teams.

“What is clear is the traditional value proposition of organised sport has, at best, been creaking for a number of years. Following the COVID-19 shutdown, community sport has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to re-position and demonstrate its intrinsic values.”

Do you agree that Coronavirus presents an opportunity to pivot and try new ways of engaging your sport team? How have you adapted your sporting team or community sport to re-engage and connect your members?

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