Due to the second lockdown, sports clubs have been forced to shut down once again, with an uncertain future ahead. But what effects do sports clubs actually have, particularly on students? And why we should find ways to support them?

Ashcombe volleyball club, based at The Ashcombe School, is one of many local sports clubs that has suffered with numbers and training sessions as a result of COVID-19. Luckily, the club was allowed to continue with its junior sessions once restrictions were lifted after the first lockdown, as volleyball is largely regarded as a non-contact sport. However, adult training remained cancelled during that time and as a result of the second lockdown the junior sessions have closed once again and will remain so until further notice.

It is a proven fact that lockdown has reduced young people’s mental health and wellbeing; ‘YoungMinds’ conducted a summer 2020 survey with 80% of respondents agreeing that the coronavirus pandemic had made their mental health worse. In some cases this has been due to the closure of local sports clubs, and thus the limitation of physical activity and social interaction.

Sports and exercise release a chemical called endorphins which interacts with your brain receptors giving you a natural high, reducing your perception of pain and triggering a positive feeling in the body. Closure of sports clubs and gyms has reduced the activity of many and as a result reduced the positive effects of exercise, amplifying a poorer physical wellbeing and mental health.

Freda Bussey, a PE teacher and coach at The Ashcombe School and Volleyball Club, talks about her views on whether sport has a positive effect on student mental health: “As a PE teacher and sports coach I’ve worked with so many young people and watched the positive affect sport and physical activity has had on their physical and mental wellbeing. I’m also aware that some children and adults dislike competitive sports but there are usually some types of physical activity such as dance, gymnastics, running and cycling that can help them with their physical wellbeing and release the endorphins that help our mental wellbeing.”

Freda agreed that different sports can have different effects on your wellbeing with team sports being more beneficial to “those of us that love the skill acquisition challenge and thrive on competition.” She stated that “competitive team sports help many youngsters unwind and release from the other pressures of school work, exams and social media. Conversely competitive sports can also add to stress levels if players are put under pressure to succeed by coaches, parents, teammates and themselves. Individual sports such as archery, athletics and gymnastics can also be beneficial to our mental health but internal and external pressures can also make us anxious.” So while both types of sport are good for achievement and wellbeing if you are looking to join a sports club after changes in the COVID situation, “Team sports are better for helping with social and personal development as well as helping make new friendships and relationships.”

Volleyball in particular is a great team sport, uniting players and developing individual skill. Making a successful pass, diving for a random ball, completing or blocking a powerful attack are all exhilarating for the player and their teammates.

When asked how she felt The Ashcombe Volleyball Club promotes positive student mental health, Freda said: “I hope that Ashcombe Volleyball club has a positive and healthy attitude to the player’s personal development as well as helping them achieve their personal best and goals within the sport. Players are encouraged to challenge themselves in training and competition and set themselves achievable goals for the future. Our coaches expect players to try their best but we do not want to win above everything. We encourage good sportsmanship in our players in both victory and defeat. We usually run several fund-raising and social events throughout the season and encourage our players to socialise away from training and playing volleyball.”

As a newcomer to the sport and a recent member of The Ashcombe Volleyball Club, I have seen the effects first hand that sports, and volleyball in this case, have on wellbeing. One of the players said that ‘you deal with the stresses of the school day and then, ahhh, this,’ as others nodded in agreement mentioning ‘It’s the highlight of my week.’

Being a part of a sports club can become a part of your life that doesn’t have to intertwine with your day to day stresses and lifestyle. It’s a period of time where you can relax, make friends, and focus on something you love, all while improving your health. New joiners are always accepted regardless of their level, and both you and your local sports clubs benefit so it’s definitely recommended to return to or look into a sport once restrictions lift and it is safe to do so again.