I just had a heated argument in the office about sport. The Olympics is on and someone said they think “sport is overrated. It’s just sport. There are other more important things out in the world.”
Of course there are. And of course it’s “just sport”. But “just sport” is what you make it. If you make it about big blokey guys whose biggest life skill is being able to run hard at each other or swimmers charging up and down the pool at the Olympics and “failing to win” gold, well that will be it. Open your minds sports haters.
I’m late to the whole use-your-body in sport thing. I started playing netball and running and exercising in my late 30s. Before that I would have to say I was a mental energy kind of person, not a physical energy one (that’s a lot of energy in the very confined small space of the brain 24/7. A LOT.).
I’m probably one of the worst goal defencers in the history of netball goal defencers but when I get out on that court my over-active mind does one thing. It concentrates on getting the ball. That is it. It doesn’t make a list of the things I’ve failed at that day, or go over conversations with people that were awkward, or look at tomorrow and start compiling the “To Do List”. My mind looks for that silly sphere and hunts it down. Simple. For about an hour my body jumps and leaps, often gets hurt, I run and call out, I try really hard and all I think about is getting that ball.
The same happens if I run, or if I go to the gym; I concentrate on what is right before me. I am truly in the moment and my body does the work until my mind needs to push me. It's one of the simplest relationships I have - kind of like the relationship I have with my dog.
That piece of sports peace is what I want my daughters to enjoy too. The older I am and the more I see how the world is building itself around them, how it closes in and demands so much of them mentally and physically, the more I want them to use their bodies. To see how amazing and powerful those bodies are. And to also have a regular piece (or pieces) of sports' peace in their week.
Kim Brennan won gold this week in the single sculls at the Rio Olympics. She explained the feeling: "Before the start of a race is actually a very tranquil place. You've got a moment with yourself just reflecting on what it is that you're about to do, and never more so than in a place like this where you've got the most incredible mountains and you look up there and there's this absolutely magnificent structure."
Simone Biles' incredible floor routine. Post continues below.
I think physical activity can give girls and women a break from the multiple tabs they have opened in their life, in their head, at any one time. Moments where all they have to do is try and get a ball, or run fast, jump high, catch and throw. Moments where they win as a team and lose as a team. Moments when they are away from screens. Moments when they are away from everyone in the whole world and it is just them. Moments when they sit on the couch munching a banana, exhausted yet on a high for using their bodies.
I'm a convert to what sport can do for women - and girls. Here's my why list:
GandhiWill Smith said: "The keys to life are running and reading. When you're running, there's a little person that talks to you and says, "Oh I'm tired. My lung's about to pop. I'm so hurt. There's no way I can possibly continue." You want to quit. If you learn how to defeat that person when you're running you will not quit when things get hard in your life." (He then says reading is brilliant because you learn - and reading is so brilliant and I can't believe Will Smith said this and now I might have to watch Men in Black II).
- Playing your hardest, trying to win, being out on a sports field or on a basketball court, or tennis or running 800m, you get to have an outlet for your aggression and for your drive. There aren't a lot of outlets for women and girls to go out and be unashamedly aggressive in life. Sport is one. We don't get told we are being hysterical when we are screaming at ourselves on a basketball court.
- Just imagine for one minute the amount of time a teen girl spends looking at other women or girls on screens. There's advertising for a start. There are movies and film clips. Youtube and Snapchat. Instagram. Facebook. Selfies are everywhere, both authentic and completely and utterly curated. Over one million selfies are taken globally every single day and that assessing and critiquing of our own and other people's selfies leads to "insecurities" and "neuroses". Now imagine instead of sitting placidly and looking (yearning probably too), using your body for something different. Using your body to DO something, not using your body for decoration or critique.
- This is a simple one: Physical activity is positively correlated with better mental health. It makes people "feel good" and be "more optimistic". Show me something else (besides dancing with Drag Queens at 2am (but the next day there are a couple of down sides) that is that accessible to everyone that can do that.
- There are mental lessons to learn when you are using your body and competing. You learn how to be part of a team. How to win. How to lose. When you are involved in individual sports you learn how to keep going when you want to give up. When you go to a netball carnival you learn how to deal with the cranky women with the scorecards near the canteen.
Women to look out for at Rio. Post continues after gallery.
I'm going to keep standing by the sidelines and driving kids to games and washing uniforms and sometimes even remembering to cut up oranges. I'm going to keep sticking up for sport. Dismissing it because there are other "more important things in the world" is such a flawed argument - particularly when it comes to girls who need it more than anyone.
Why don't we dismiss movies, TV, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Adele, curling tongs, rice cookers, Ugg boots, Sherbies, anything that isn't "important". This eye-rolling dismissal of sport also doesn't make you smart or clever by default. There are plenty of poets who love the AFL. Plenty of academics who stay up all night to watch the athletics at the Olympics. Plenty of musicians who can't get enough tennis.
Sport is not just for elite athletes and rugby league players who never seem to learn about off-field behaviour.
Sport is about that little girl lining up to do the very best she can at the Under 12 800 metres district carnival and running so fast she can't talk at the finish and her legs hurt and she has a stitch.
The little girl who tried her hardest and came fifth.