When military teens move to a new place, a major struggle is meeting people at their new school - finding people and potential friends to sit with at lunch and to talk with during passing periods. This adds to the strain placed upon milteens, combined with navigating the ways of their new town and moving into their new home. However, being thrown into a school isn’t always the easiest and quickest way to connect with peers, and being involved in a sport can make those first connections effortless. Additionally, sports create a continuous social opportunity for milteens, as well as contribute to mental health gains as sports are a way of releasing stress.
Joining a sport forces military teens to intermingle with other kids, forcing them to form relationships because they know the team wouldn't work well without them. Sports are a community - an easy way to mingle and talk with others. And sports don't have the pressure of school - teamwork requires being social and getting to know others.
Not only does joining a team sport create social opportunities for military teens, but it also sustains them. If a milteen starts a sport the summer they move in, they’re more likely to see familiar faces and an open seat at school. If a milteen joins a sport even years after moving, they will still become part of a new group, expanding their reach even further. This is vital to help milteens create a community of people they enjoy being around and helping keep themselves happy.
Additionally, sports and exercise provide a way out of mental dips. When you exercise, you release a group of hormones called endorphins. Endorphins are chemical signals in the brain that block feelings of pain and increase sensations of well-being. According to WebMD, a study was conducted to examine the effects of individual sports and team sports. The study discovered that women who participated in club tennis had better mental health than those who exercised alone, such as walking or working out at the gym. Sports and exercise offer a way to fight mental lows through the production of an organic chemical that positively alters your mental health.
For nearly every move my family has made, I’ve landed on a sports team to find my people, connecting with them in a less forced and awkward way than in a lunchroom. Currently, I play on a club soccer team, which allows me to enjoy time with friends and break free from any stressors in my daily life. Team sports make me feel connected to my friends. From talking to my teammates about school during our warm-ups and cracking jokes with them during practice, they supply a way of staying in the loop with my friends.
While being stationed in Germany when I was seven years old, I went to school and did recreational soccer on base, but I lived in a German neighborhood. I eventually joined a German youth soccer team that partnered with U.S Youth soccer. This allowed me to make connections with other kids who didn’t speak the same language. My American friends and I would also play pick-up games with other kids for hours and hours.
When I later moved to Virginia during the summer of 2020 (aka Covid Summer), I knew absolutely no one going into my first day of school - the entire state of Virginia was shut down and school was 100% online. It was a lonely and isolating time. In time, I joined a soccer club that practiced at my school. While we were only practicing in small groups, I still got to meet not only girls that went to the same school as me, but girls in some of my classes. As time progressed, I started getting closer and closer to some of the players, and some of my best friends in the whole world are from my soccer club. As an additional plus, when I go to tournaments, I sometimes see girls from former duty stations and am able to reconnect with them!
Sports and exercise help me feel the best I can be. Through science, working out can improve your mental health by decreasing stress. Doing team sports helps you meet a string of people by connecting through a common interest and mutual respect. It’s also a great way to start making memories with new friends. Moving somewhere new can be challenging, but joining a team sport has many benefits for military teens.