The Crossover Benefits of Playing Both Sports and Video Games

man playing basketball

In popular culture, video gamers are associated with certain negative stereotypes. People conjure up images of the lonesome, teenage boy who spends hours in a dark room with eyes glued to the screen. Yet this hasn’t been accurate for at least a decade. Gaming is now a mainstream and highly social hobby.

Being an athlete also comes with a specific set of tropes. Some of them are generally positive, such as being committed to health and fitness. On the other hand, people tend to think that being focused on sports means you neglect your mind. Again, these stereotypes don’t hold up to a closer inspection.

You might hold more enlightened views of gamers and athletes, but do you think they have a lot in common? Perhaps they both tend to neglect cleaning their rooms, eventually buying bulk rags and liquid soap when things get too messy. But surely, for the most part, they sit on opposite ends of the spectrum?

It’s time to rethink that assumption. The evidence holds that they synergize quite well.

Gaming improves athletic skill

Empirical evidence suggests that if nothing else, sports and video games can overlap in one area: sports simulation games. Many modern athletes are also avid players of their respective video game franchises. Think NBA Live, Madden NFL, or EA Sports FIFA.

But it’s hard to say if playing the game makes pro athletes better. After all, they are already among the best in the world and engaged in rigorous training programs.

The true test comes when measuring performance improvements among casual players. And studies have shown that games can make the layman better at sports.

Consoles like the Wii can improve hand-eye coordination in movements specific to a sport, as well as fine motor skills in general. They also make you better at processing multiple stimuli at the same time and thinking strategically.

man playing video games

Sports make gamers better

Fair enough, playing sports isn’t all about the body. It requires a sharp mind, and video games can help with that. But what about the reverse? Gaming hardly requires much physical exertion, so can sports help you with that?

Once again, the answer is yes. Studies conducted on League of Legends’ casual players showed that just doing 15 minutes of cardio before playing led to performance improvements in-game.

The underlying mechanism here may be quite simple. Exercise, in general, helps boost brain functions related to attention and the speed of decision-making. Not every video game emphasizes these attributes, but most competitive games do. And that’s where you could make use of the extra boost in performance.

A shared philosophy of training

Clearly, for the casual player of both pursuits, training in one can actually help the other. However, perhaps due to feasibility limitations, there haven’t been extensive or rigorous studies on competitive athletes or e-sports players.

But we may not need science to understand how those benefits could extend to the professional level. Obviously, you can’t be world-class in both real and virtual sports. The sheer number of hours required to practice those skills can’t be effectively split between the two.

You can learn from the philosophy of training they have in common, however. Professional e-sports players can’t just sit in front of screens all day. They need to train with the discipline and focus of an athlete.

On the other hand, serious athletes can emulate the way that teams of pro gamers bond and communicate consistently while also using games to stay mentally sharp during downtime.

No matter which way you choose to balance these two pursuits, they aren’t mutually exclusive. Use the synergy, and benefit from enjoying them both.

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