“Coronavirus has made women like me fearful of playing team sports again”

After countless lockdowns and restrictions, sports teams have taken a battering. Former netball enthusiast Ifeoluwami Adedoyin asks if she’s even capable of being a team player these days and talks to other female athletes who feel the same. 

Do you remember those kids who would have done anything to get out of PE? Well, I was the complete opposite. For most of my life, sports have played a massive role because I’ve always been super competitive; being part of a team was something I took a lot of pride in. 

Sports became part of my identity well into adulthood when playing netball took on a much more important role than simply helping me to stay fit and healthy. Those evenings spent on the court meant as much to me as an adult as they did when I was 14. Having access to a group of girls who had the same shared experience meant everything. 

So when the pandemic came along and washed away everyone’s plans and hobbies – including my netball – I struggled hard.  

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The initial lockdown completely overhauled so many things that we took for granted like being able to meet with friends, having those spontaneous moments for socialising and staying active wherever and whenever we wanted. With the restrictions of the first phase limiting people to one outdoor activity a day and only with members of their own household, the majority of sports and exercise activities became completely impossible overnight. 

According to Sport England, activity levels during the second phase of lockdown were still vastly reduced and although home exercise was encouraged and the numbers of people working out at home increased, it wasn’t enough to offset the overall drop in those taking part in team sports (940,000 fewer people).

Now that life is getting back to normal, you’d think that I’d be champing at the bit to get back to my beloved netball team. However, as with so many other people, Covid anxiety has meant that I’m nervous to go back to the court. Am I the only one who worries that they’re no longer a team player in a post-Covid world?

I spoke to three footballing women who were able to overcome the fear andhave gone back to team sports post-lockdown to see how I might be able to slowly regain my confidence. 

Falling back in love with casual movement

Like so many women, teacher Emma used to play sports at school and gave it up when she went to university. Lockdown provided a rare opportunity to reflect on how much she enjoyed playing football when she was younger: “I thought about getting back into playing but never found the time to look into it,” she explains. 

Football became a social hook for Emma as society started to come back out of lockdown.

During lockdown, however, football became something of a saving grace. “I began to take a football with me on my daily exercise – just have a little kick about with my brother each day. Gradually, as the rules eased and you were able to meet people outside from different households, I started meeting up with friends for a kick about and I just completely fell back in love with the game.”

For Emma, football offers umpteen benefits: “It makes me feel like I can just be myself when I’m playing and is great for relieving stress and there’s no better feeling than scoring a goal and feeling the joy you are bringing to the team, spectators and yourself.”

As a key worker, she was still going to work every day during the lockdowns – something she felt grateful for. Since restrictions have lifted, she’s been getting back out playing football regularly. “Zoom and FaceTime are great, but it’s just not the same as seeing people in person, and being a part of a team has been amazing to just get that physical interaction back. I’m a very sociable person so I did find lockdown hard. Not being able to see anybody socially was tough, and joining a team has been a great way to make new friends.”

Bouldering and rock climbing to beat loneliness

Of course, not everyone gives up sports the moment they step on campus. Lizzie, 23, “dabbled in football” at university but graduating during the pandemic meant that she had no way of immediately taking that team experience into her professional life. Instead, she ran during lockdown, which due to feelings of isolation, “didn’t last long”.

However, Lizzie has recently joined the ever-growing community of climbers, after a school friend mentioned seeing people bouldering (climbing harness-free) on TikTok. 

“We decided to book an induction and give it a go at our local climbing wall on a whim, and after our induction, got absolutely hooked to it! It may look like a bit of fun – just climbing up a wall and jumping back down – but it actually takes a lot of strength, skill and problem-solving,” she tells Stylist.

“I really wanted to start a new sport to broaden my horizons, but also start it with a friend so it is something we can do together and motivate each other to go each week,” Lizzie continues, saying that she doesn’t think she could have started bouldering on her own.

Climbing has brought the friends closer together, with their weekly session becoming a chance to catch up. “It’s also an opportunity to make new friends and try a new ‘problem puzzle’.”

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Rejoining a women’s football team to deal with social anxiety

Before rejoining football, Vicky had crippling social anxiety. “I remember being so nervous to start with that I honestly almost bailed a few times! I played a bit of football years ago but it was actually because of Covid that I decided to join a club to help me socialise and exercise much more.”

Post-lockdown, Vicky joined a women’s football club. After months of not seeing many people, the club allowed her to socialise and make a bunch of new friends. “It’s made me much more confident to meet new people and make new friends. It’s also improved my overall mental health and wellbeing; my overall anxiety, even in social situations, has decreased and I feel much more confident and healthy – both physically and mentally.”

And, of course, playing football has some serious fitness benefits. After a year of remaining static, Vicky says that her cardiovascular fitness was “horrendous”, but today, her fitness is as robust as her confidence.

Fancy joining a club of like-minded women? Hop on over to the Strong Women Training Club for news of our in-person collaboration with barre legends, Barrecore.

Images: Getty/Emma Tilley

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