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'It's such a getaway. When I'm on the pitch, I don't have anything else to worry about'

In her column this week, Saoirse Noonan looks at the many benefits of sport.

SPORT HAS ALWAYS been a huge part of my life. My whole family have always been into it, it’s just been drilled into us from a young age. It was basically a case of once we could walk, there was a ball at our feet.

Saoirse Noonan celebrates scoring a goal Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Of course, that’s not always the case. There are plenty of people and families out there who have no interest whatsoever but personally, I can’t imagine my own life without it. The benefits have been massive the whole way up, and the lessons and skills learned through sport can be transferred to life off the field on a daily basis.

Looking back through the years, I have so many great memories of being out on the road playing football with all the kids in the estate. The ball getting stuck under cars and us covered in dirt trying to get it back, going up to your friends’ house, knocking on the door and begging them to come out and join in on the fun.

Now it’s all about phones, iPads, laptops, Snapchat and the latest social media craze. Kids are glued to them, that’s how they communicate, whereas we learned so many social skills through sport and exercise without even realising.

Sport has taught me so many things; how to be confident, how to work as part of a team and individually, how to manage my time, the list goes on. Even during the Leaving Cert and through school, it helped me so much. It’s so important to have that outlet so you’re not just locked inside, head in the books, panicking 24/7.

Probably the biggest effect sport has had on me is having a positive mental attitude to everything. You win some, you lose some, but you always have to take the positives. The days that you lose are the toughest but there’s still positives: you learn for the next day.

Cork v Westmeath - TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football Senior Championship quarter-final Source: Diarmuid Greene/SPORTSFILE

My mum always tells me this story about a Maths teacher who comes into a classroom and puts 20 sums up on the board. He does one wrong on purpose and all the kids say, ‘Sir, sir, sir, you got one wrong’. But he says back, ‘What about the 19 I got right?’

So many people focus on negatives, but sport has taught me to focus on the positives. That’s one thing — in sport, in every day life, in anything — I always try to look for a positive in everything I do.

Of course everyone has bad days, but I’ve always found that after sport or exercise I feel 100 times better. It’s such a getaway. When I’m on the pitch, I don’t have anything else to worry about — just the ball, the player that I’m marking and the players on my team. I don’t have anything else to think about and I don’t want to think about anything else.

You can literally be in your own world playing a match, you don’t have to focus on anything else. You put everything to one side, forget about whatever’s happening off the pitch and have your own space.

Even just getting out for a run for half an hour, heading to the gym, whatever it is you enjoy. It’s so important to have that outlet to clear your head. Physical activity is so important for mental health, and to keep you in a positive frame of mind.

Playing sport shows you how you should act in life. It’s all about respect and treating everyone equally and fairly. In a match, you’ll have a right battle with someone, you might have a fight, but straight away afterwards you’re friends again.

Saoirse Noonan and Catherine Cronin Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

It’s special, it really is. There are so many benefits and I really do think that every kid should be involved in sport in some capacity; whether that’s playing or helping out, watching or coaching.

Sport has played a huge role in the person I have become today, given me experiences of a lifetime and memories that will last forever — and hopefully a lot more to come.

For that I’m very grateful.

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