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Being involved in the military takes both mental and physical strength. It is a job that requires a person to know themselves and their body extremely well, and to use that knowledge to push themselves to their limits. With the levels of intensity faced both mentally and physically, a shift of perspective often needs to happen in order to feel balanced and to just have some fun.

When you have a group of people in the best physical shape of their lives, who are extremely hard working, competitive, and smart, it is the perfect environment for sports to become more than just a hobby, but a culture. The culture of sports on military bases has a long and incredible history, and an extremely organized one at that.

History of sports on bases

Sports were something that developed very naturally on military bases since the beginning. The enjoyment that comes from being active in a recreational way is something that many military members gravitate towards organically, and it has always been that way. So, what started out as fun and games when there was free time, eventually turned into an official organization within the military and it now holds a very special place in many people’s hearts.

This recreational sports culture developed into the United States Armed Forces Sports Program. The first Inter-service Sports Council (ISSC) meeting was held in November of 1947 and included the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The next year, the creation of the International Military Sports Council (CISM) came into place, which included Belgium, France, Denmark, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. In 1951, the United States joined CISM and those other countries to continue to explore their passion for organized sports. Now, the program provides an avenue for military members to participate in national and international competitions, and is comprised of members of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard.

According to the Department of Defense Armed Forces Sports Program, their mission is to promote goodwill among the Armed Services through sports, promote the positive image of the Armed Services through sports, provide incentive and encourage physical fitness by promoting a highly competitive sports program, and to provide an avenue for military athletes to participate in national and international competitions.

What sports do for military members

Sports in general have been proven to improve moods, boost concentration, and reduce stress. Especially when it comes to team sports, incorporating social elements gives physical activity a connection while unwinding with friends. This combination causes the ultimate release of dopamine in the brain and actually creates happiness.

Having this time to participate in low stress and fun physical activities is a great recipe for military members to unwind and find peace of mind. It often allows space they need to mentally distance themselves from the rest of their day while enjoying themselves along with their friends and fellow service members.

“We knew each other’s schedules very well from looking at the flying schedule and seeing when the other guys were flying missions so we could plan when we could hook up to play,” said retired Air Force colonel, Gary Gottschall in an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune. He played basketball every day during Operation Desert Storm in 1990. “We loved to play- we needed to play- so we made it work.”

What sports are played on bases?

The love for participating in sports on military bases has grown so much from when it first started that almost every sport you could think of is an option. Some of the most mainstream that are options on a great deal of bases are basketball, cross country, golf, rugby, sailing, soccer, softball, swimming, volleyball, and wrestling. There are different options at different bases and if someone excels in a particular sport, they actually have the chance to compete against their fellow military members and even military members from different countries. This enhances the challenge and often drives people to really thrive and enjoy themselves while competing.

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