Traditional sport gives way to yoga and Pilates

A strange thing has happened to sport in the past few years. There’s been a rise in the number of people participating in non-competitive sports and a corresponding drop in numbers playing competitive sports.

Such a switch is probably natural for those getting older, but this change is across all age groups. Traditional ball sports such as tennis, golf and soccer now have lower participation rates than yoga. And more Australian women now prefer Pilates over netball. So what is driving this change?

Organised sport

There has, of course, been an elephant in the room – or more accurately on the courts and fields – over the past three years. That elephant goes by the name of COVID. The pandemic has played havoc with organised sports since early 2020.

When even professional football leagues such as the AFL and NRL have their seasons grinding to a halt due to a pandemic, there’s virtually no hope for their amateur equivalents. And so it has proved to be.

While both the NRL and AFL resumed their 2020 seasons after several months, lower level sporting competitions had entire seasons cancelled. The knock-on effect was that participants either found other COVID-appropriate activities, or simply stayed home.

Even when some community-organised sports began to resume after lockdown restrictions eased, participation became somewhat of a rigmarole.

I had my own personal experience of that. When our 2020-21 cricket season was finally permitted to go ahead, arrival at grounds entailed running through several hoops. Players had to sign in and out, recording arrival and departure times. Regular handwashing was required. Even the cricket ball itself needed regular sanitisation.

Complying with such rules was annoying enough for participants. For those who had to manage and ensure such compliance it was tougher still.

For some it was all too much, and they moved on to other activities. Some had already done so before these competitions resumed. And with humans being creatures of habit, many stuck with their new, non-contact – and not necessarily organised – activity.

The alternatives

During the days of strictest lockdown measures, alterative exercise activity options were very limited. Some states limited outdoor exercise to 30 minutes per day. This left just enough time to go for a run or walk, or for the more determined some outdoor gym activities.

For those who chose to stay home, yoga and Pilates offered a chance to stretch the legs and other limbs. And it is in fact some of those activities that have usurped more traditional sporting pursuits in recent years.

However, a slightly longer-term view of the data reveals that some of these trends began to emerge before the pandemic. Participation rates for two activities in particular – walking and fitness/gym – have been rising steadily for more than a decade now.

It’s not all COVID’s fault

This suggests there are other motivations driving the change. What are those motives, and does it matter that more Australians are adopting this form of exercise ahead of team sports? Steve Georgakis, director of the health and physical education program at the University of Sydney, believes so.

He says the meaning of sport had changed with more people opting for “body beautiful, weight-loss physical activities”.

“All physical activity is great but sitting in a gym with headphones on listening to Dua Lipa is not as beneficial as being part of a team environment,” he says.

Mr Georgakis holds governments to account for this shift. He says traditional sports are losing their attraction for kids, while governments had “ripped the heart out of physical education and school sport”.

According to Mr Georgakis, there’s been too much focus on giving young people a reason to opt out. This included cost, culture, focus, non-mandating in class, safety and time constraints.

Right now, more than half of Australians are overweight or obese. It might, therefore, be time for all – even those of us over 50 – to return to our local sports clubs.

Did you drop out of a local sporting club during the pandemic? Have you returned? If not, what has prevented your return?  Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: Why the Matildas could be making you a sports fan for the very first time

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.
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