Finding your sporting community is like kryptonite to loneliness

A happy Kate Mason in the aftermath of a late Tottenham winner (Picture: kvlmason)

How lonely would you say you’re feeling today? Are you in tune with the people you live alongside? When you grabbed a Metro did you share a smile with the person in front of you, or duck your head to avoid accidental eye contact?

When I was at my loneliest, I felt transparent. Not invisible exactly, more like I happened to be existing on a slightly separate plane to those around me. To reach them would involve crossing to a new dimension – but one I couldn’t identify.

I was living abroad for work in a divided society where none of my cultural expectations of friendliness seemed to be being followed. Over time I did find a number of friends but they were isolated rays cutting through cloud, not enough to lift it.

All of which is to say, if you are lonely right now, you are not in fact alone.

But I’m afraid that’s the end of the good news. Your chance of death is increased by 29 per cent. Being lonely is worse for you than being obese, smoking or having type two diabetes.

In Great Britain more than a quarter of adults say they feel lonely always, 
often or some of the time, with seven per cent reporting they feel lonely always or often.

Perhaps scarier is the mental health of young people – psychologist Jonathan Haidt has called Gen Z the Anxious Generation. This is specifically linked, he says, to the proliferation of smartphones from 2010, and the great experiment that has been conducted on children’s brains ever since. Many paint this as a controversial claim but he has got a book on the subject out this week so pick that up if you want your persuading in depth.

Chesterfield fans celebrate as one, hoisting aloft Ashley Palmer as they celebrate winning the National League

Chesterfield fans celebrate as one, hoisting aloft Ashley Palmer as they celebrate winning the National League (Picture: Shuttertock)

In 2015 a Common Sense report found that teenagers said they spent around seven hours a day of leisure time online. Ugh. Around two hours of that was reportedly on social media but, with the subsequent rise of TikTok, I would be surprised if it wasn’t more than double that today.

Why is social media use a predictor of loneliness in both kids and adults? Well, the way American psychologist Mark Leary explains it is that we have something he calls a ‘sociometer’ inside our minds.

This judges where we are on a social hierarchy with those around us, something like the oil gauge on your car. We’re constantly alert for the needle to drop, in case we fall out of favour with our social group, and if it does, we feel anxiety – and isolation.

But of course if you are constantly 
on your phone looking at other people, your needle can only sink lower and lower, because you are sitting there 
with access not just to your friends’ shiniest lives, but also Jennifer Aniston’s and Beyonce’s.

Manchester United's England goalkeeper Mary Earps meets fans after a game in the WSL

Manchester United’s England goalkeeper Mary Earps meets fans after a game in the WSL (Picture: PA)

So what to do? It’s simple, but it might take a bit of work. You need to find a team. Or, preferably, many teams. Because community is the kryptonite 
to loneliness. Feeling connection to other people in a rich, fulfilling way cannot be achieved only in an empty room with a phone.

The first steps might be possible that way – to look for a local cycling group of people your age, or find a running club, or a cricket team (shout out to my Stokey girls, winning trophies this week!). You’re thinking, “Ah man I’m too old/tired/slow”. But I promise there’s something for you – this is where the internet excels.

One running club I’ve been out with called Run Talk Run prioritises the slowest runner, and you chat and stop all the way round. On a more competitive level, London Academy are a cycling team with the motto ‘Happy head, happy legs’.

And sport can be the solution even without the exercise component. Some of the times I’ve felt closest to strangers are when celebrating a late goal at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. But if you don’t yet have a football team, and you blanche at the madly expensive Premier League prices, go WSL, or non-league. And go to as many games as you can.

It won’t take long until you start to recognise the faces around you and, 
not long after that, you might find you’re part of something after all.

Kate hosts The Edge for TNT Sports with highlights and analysis from the England women’s T20 seriesin New Zealand, from 8am on Friday


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