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What are the pros of playing intramural sports?

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Whether you're a former high school varsity athlete or have never played organized sports before, joining an intramural league in college could be the perfect decision for you. College is a major transition for most students, and playing intramural sports is one way to help you through that transition.

For instance, some new college freshmen discover that they'll need to find the right balance between athletics and academics during their college career. Others find that they can't compete athletically at the college level. If you're in such a situation, keep in mind that playing on an intramural team means you won't have to sacrifice all the joys and rewards you love about organized sports.

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But playing intramural sports isn't just good for the fun of it -- it allows you to reap rewards for your health, social life and even academic pursuits. We spoke with Abe Drabkin, the Director of Marketing for the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA), who argues that intramural sports help students maintain health and wellness while managing stress.

Intramural (from the Latin for "within walls") refers to organized sports played within an area or institution, particularly colleges and universities. Multiple teams within one college will play against each other, rather than against teams from other colleges. Hence, it's not as competitive as teams affiliated with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

The first formal intramural programs date back to 1913, when Ohio State University and the University of Michigan both started intramural departments. In the 1920s, Elmer Mitchell, known as the "Father of Intramural Sports," wrote the first textbook on the subject, and the University of Michigan built the first recreational center for intramural sports.

By 1950, NIRSA formed (then known as the National Intramural Association). It was conceived during a meeting with 22 African-American intramural directors. Drabkin explains that they wanted to provide sports-based opportunities for African-American students who lacked such opportunities at the time. It has since exploded in growth and now serves about 7 million students annually.

Next, we'll delve more deeply into the various benefits of playing intramural sports.

In a time when the United States is struggling with a widespread obesity problem, physical activity couldn't be more important for the nation's health. Intramural programs provide a great opportunity for those who don't have the time or abilities to compete in competitive university athletics. Many people also feel more motivated to exercise when they're playing in an organized program rather than following a personal fitness regimen.

Another clear benefit to playing intramural sports is the opportunity for socialization. Whether you're a new freshman looking to meet people and establish friendships, or you're a junior seeking to branch out of your group of friends, intramural sports forces you to get to know your teammates. Intramural organizations are also flexible and often don't have strict schedules. This allows students to make time for studying when final exams come around.

But the rewards run even deeper than that. Some argue that playing intramural sports can help reduce stress, which in turn could help a student achieve academically. NIRSA is conducting studies to determine whether there's a connection between physical activity and graduation rates. But some research has already shown that physically active children do better in reading and math [source: Byl].

College-age students are still building their identity, explains Drabkin, which is another reason why the benefits of intramural sports can go well beyond health and physical fitness. He says that students at that stage feel like they need to be part of a group, which is something intramural teams satisfy. Drabkin also points out that some researchers say organizational activity prompts the release of the hormone oxytocin (perhaps from supportive physical touch), which helps team-bonding [source: Jacobs].

Additionally, some argue that involvement in recreational sports helps students build character, allowing them to develop self-control and positive self-image [source: Human Kinetics]. But others believe that these positive character-building benefits only apply in certain circumstances. Specifically, they don't occur when students play the sport with an ultra-competitive, win-at-all-costs attitude. In fact, such mentality could promote aggression and violence [source: Byl]. So, by that logic, intramural sports might be preferable to the more competitive varsity sports.

Institutions should also take note of the benefits of promoting their intramural programs. NIRSA finds from their own studies that such programs help in student recruitment and retention.

For lots more information on sports and fitness, see the links on the next page.

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Sources

  • Byl, John. "Intramural Recreation." Human Kinetics, 2002. (Feb 8, 2011)http://books.google.com/books?id=7O43EwIxN2wC
  • Drabkin, Abe. Director of Marketing, National National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association. Personal communication. Feb. 7, 2011.
  • Gerdy, John R. "Sports in School: The Future of an Institution." Teachers College Press, 2000. (Feb. 8, 2011)http://books.google.com/books?id=-Phh1kEBRckC
  • Human Kinetics. "Introduction to Recreation and Leisure." Human Kinetics, 2005. (Feb. 8, 2011)http://books.google.com/books?id=35-ZqQ_IviEC
  • Jacobs, Charles S. "Why Football Players Pat Each Other on the Butt and Other Leadership Lessons." Psychology Today. Sept. 8, 2010. (Feb. 8, 2011)http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/management-rewired/201009/why-football-players-pat-each-other-the-butt-and-other-leadership-les
  • Knight Commision. "Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Values, and the Future of " College Sports." Knight Commission On Intercollegiate Athletics. June 2010. (Feb. 8, 2011)http://www.knightcommissionmedia.org/images/restoring_the_balance_2010.pdf
  • Lewis, Tom R. Et al. "Recreational Sport: Making the Grade On College Campuses." Parks & Recreation. Dec. 1998. FindArticles.com. (Feb. 8, 2011)http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1145/is_12_33/ai_53479082/
  • NIRSA. "NIRSA's Rich History." National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association.http://www.nirsa.org/Content/NavigationMenu/AboutUs/History/History.htm

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