Is it Smart to Play Team Sports While Training for a Race?

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Growing up in America allows for many opportunities to participate in extra-curricular activities. These can include theater, language, math or science clubs, student council and, of course, sports. According to an article from the Boston Globe [1], it is estimated that 3 out of 4 American families with school-aged children have at least one playing an organized sport – a total of 45 million children. However, this number diminishes to about 8 million kids once in high school and then even fewer, 480,000, who continue on into college or university [2]. Thinking about going professional? It’s a little over 38,000 overall who make it to that level [3]. So sorry to be the bearer of bad news if you are an adult reading this with still high hopes of making it to the big leagues, as your chances are quite minimal. But this does not mean you can not still participate in team or club sports for the fun of it!

Though the percentage of us that participates in sports declines as we age, those who continue to play sports as adults surveyed by NPR state the top 2 reasons are for personal enjoyment and health [4]. Other important reasons one continues to play sports are to improve performance and ultimately win. According to the NPR report Sports and Health in America, half of Americans exercise regularly with 15% of that population being runners. And of those who regularly exercise, 32% of those also report participating in sports as well [4]. So based on this survey, the chance of those of us who run also participate in another sport.  But how smart is this? We will discuss the pros and cons of participating in a sport while training for a race.

It is well noted that there are numerous activities that fall within a category of sport or activity, but within the survey from NPR, here are top sports for men and for women. Within each gender, the sports differ by the team to individual activity and differs by age groups as well.

  • For men aged 18-29, the top sports are team sports which include: basketball, soccer, American football and baseball or softball. For men aged 65 and up the sports become more individual focused and include golf, tennis, walking, and fishing.
  • For women, the top sports for 18-29 age group include team sports such as baseball or softball, volleyball, tennis, and basketball. For females 65 and up include more individual sport, like the men of the same age group, including walking, swimming, golf, and bowling.

So, let’s review why playing a team sport during a race training program can be detrimental.

The CONS:

Risk of Injury:  The unfortunate reality is that sports participation increases the risk for injuries, varying in severity to permanent disability such as hamstrings strains or patellar tendinopathies to ACL tears, which most likely will require surgery. Sports injuries, especially lower extremity injuries, will increase with sports that involve more cutting and pivoting and within contact sports.

Lack of Time: Doesn’t it just feel like life seems to get in the way? Juggling career, family, social life and managing a home all while logging 25-50 miles a week for a marathon training program limits where to fit anything else into your 24 hour day.

Lack of Interest: Your mind is already occupied with personal and career responsibilities, let alone managing pace runs, hill workouts, fartleks, and long runs. Focusing on one interest at a time is sometimes all our minds can take, and that’s ok.

Interferes with Goals: If you are striving for a personal record or attempting to reach the podium post-race, competing in a sport that increases your risk of injury and ultimately could deter you from your racing dreams, might not be in your best interest. Maybe postponing team sports until a training regime concludes may be the ultimate solution.

And here is why you should consider playing a team sport while training.

The PROS:

Overall Benefits:

Reduces Stress While Improving Mental and Physical Health: Sports can promote pleasure and relaxation while providing a fun way to maintain or improve overall fitness and health. According to a British Journal of Sports Medicine article, regular physical activity reduces the risk of premature mortality in general, and of coronary heart disease, hypertension, colon cancer, obesity, and diabetes mellitus in particular [5].

Improves aesthetics: Aren’t we all just material girls living in a material world? I kid, but when our arms don’t flap, our muffin top shrinks and our booty gains a lift, it is hard to argue the physical transformation that can occur by participating in multiple sports and endeavors.

Improves Social Life: Running is great and can be done with others as well as alone, but on race day most end up fighting and pushing with their own willpower. Team sports, on the other hand, create a constant interaction with others that improve communication and support while having the same competitive goal. After sports drinks and other social events might also lead to lifelong and meaningful friendships and relationships.

Training Specific Benefits:

Greater Running Fitness: By improving efficiency, power and improved ability to ward off fatigue, these attributes by participating in cross-training or other sports can improve the runners racing ability [6].

Active Recovery: By training multiple muscle groups that don’t get targeted with just running, the change in activity can help to recover other muscle groups that get constantly used when running.

Rejuvenation, Motivation and Time to Enjoy Other Sports: By participating in other sports than just running all the time is a great way to rest the mind and prevent burnout from running.

The overall answer is to use your best judgment. If you have been continuously playing and enjoy the downtime and interaction with friends and colleagues, go ahead and keep up your weekly softball game during race prep. If your goals are to place or shoot for a PR, maybe avoiding your basketball game until after the race will decrease your risk factor to injury. The choice is yours!

Sources

  1. Jay Atkinson, How parents are ruining youth sports, Perspective, May 04, 0204
  2. NCAA, PROBABILITY OF COMPETING BEYOND HIGH SCHOOL, Research, Nov 20, 2018
  3. NCAA, Estimated probability of competing in professional athletics, Research, Apr 20, 2018
  4. NPR, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Sports and Health in America, Report, Jun 01, 2015
  5. Bahr R, Holme I., Risk factors for sports injuries — a methodological approach, Review, Nov 20, 2018
  6. Matt Fitzgerald, Eight Benefits of Cross-Training, Blog, Nov 22, 2004
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