Not long after going through a divorce, Karla Simpson wanted to meet new people and get back into a sport she loved to play in high school: volleyball.
Though she’s normally a bit shy, Simpson, 33, joined a Denver recreational volleyball team made up entirely of strangers and quickly found a community. In the five years since she joined that first team of free agents, Simpson has also played on a bowling league and tried her hand at softball.
“At first, I had a lot of anxiety about meeting new people so it was hard to break out of my shell, but once I got to the league and met the other people that were a lot like me, it was like, ‘Oh, this is easy. I’m right at home here,’ ” said Simpson, who works from home as an IT analyst and originally hails from upstate New York.
Maybe you just moved here and you don’t know anyone outside of work. Or maybe you’ve just gotten out of a relationship and want to expand your social circle. Perhaps you’re a total sports nut or you want a fun new way to trick yourself into working out.
Either way, rec league sports can be the perfect activity to add to your calendar. They combine exercise with socializing, plus many of them can help you spend more time outside or just away from your phone and other devices for an hour or two.
There are so many options for rec league sports that it can be overwhelming at first. The best advice? Just do it. You’re likely to have a good time, no matter which league or sport you choose. At the very least, you’ll get outside of your comfort zone and stretch yourself, which is something worth celebrating all on its own. Here are some tips for getting started.
1. Consider your goal
Before you do anything, ask yourself what you want to get out of your rec league participation. Are you a hard-core athlete who just wants to compete and head home afterward, or are you looking for a more social experience? Do you already have a group of friends who will play with you, or are you looking to meet new people?
You’ll find leagues with varying levels of competitiveness, ranging from purely social to super serious. If you’re a former college volleyball player, for instance, you may be disappointed or, worse, frustrated by the lack of skill on your team if you join a more casual league, depending on your goals.
“If you start with the overall experiential goal in mind, you are more likely to find a league that is perfect for you,” says Kelli Garrison, Denver Parks & Recreation supervisor for CityWide Sports, the city’s recreational and competitive sports league division.
2. Pick a league
There are a number of different leagues you can join along the Front Range, but they all basically boil down to two types: leagues organized by your city or county parks and recreation department or leagues organized by standalone businesses.
You might choose a league based on the location of the games or based on the weeknight that they offer a particular sport (kickball on Tuesdays, for example). Another factor to consider is the level of competitiveness they offer in your sport of choice, as well as whether they partner with any nonprofit organizations.
Most cities in Colorado offer their own form of rec league sports and, more often than not, you don’t need to be a resident of that city to join, either.
There are also a number of thriving leagues organized by private businesses, like Play Mile High; Meet. Play. Chill.; Six Pack Sports; KIFAC Social Sports Leagues; and Sports Monster Denver. (Know of one we missed? Let us know.)
You can also find leagues organized by bars (Quarters Bar & Arcade in Longmont has a skeeball league, for example), and Meetup can be another good place to look.
On a more practical level, consider Colorado’s crazy weather before you commit to a team. If you can’t stomach standing outside in the snow for an hour (which can happen during the spring and fall leagues!) you may want to consider an indoor sport. At the very least, research each league’s cancellation policies: Do they play in crummy weather? Reschedule or move the games?
Many leagues offer “early bird” pricing, which means that if you register early, you’ll get a discount.
3. Form a team — or don’t
If you’re new to town or looking to meet new people, you might be concerned about being able to pull together a team on your own. Don’t worry — nearly all of the local leagues offer some sort of free agent or solo player option. This means you’ll be placed on an existing team or be part of a team composed entirely of free agents.
Maybe you won’t find your new best friend or romantic partner via your kickball team — but maybe you will. At the very least, you’ll have expanded your social circle to include a few more acquaintances, and research has found that it’s actually beneficial to have many casual, low-stakes friendships in our lives.
“We actually form between 10 and 20 percent of our teams each season with free agents — they’re most often people who are new to town or don’t have a network of friends yet,” said Mike Ross, co-owner of Meet. Play. Chill. “More often than not, we find that those teams that we form from free agents come back and sign up the next session as a whole team.”
Some leagues also offer small group registration options, which is perfect if you were able to round up a few friends, but not enough people to field a full team.
If you do decide to create a team with your friends or coworkers, make sure everyone is on the same page about the competitiveness of the league you’re joining. You don’t want one person to ruin it for everyone else on the team (or the opposing team!). Also, considering asking lots of people to be on your team.
“Gathering a group of people to play in adult rec sports is a lot harder than it seems,” says Leanna Cromie, senior city director for Volo City Denver and Seattle, the organization behind Play Mile High. “Ask more people than you think you should, because you’ll be surprised how flaky your friends are in committing to a league. The more people on a team the better. It’s highly unlikely that every person on your team will show up each week, having additional members on your team is the best way to ensure your team doesn’t forfeit.”
You’ll also want to get the low-down on whether substitutes are allowed in your league, especially if you know lots of your team members will be taking vacations or missing games periodically.
4. Learn the rules
Once you’ve selected a league and registered, familiarize yourself with the rules of the game (of course) and the rules of the park or facility at which you’ll be playing. At Denver parks, for example, you can’t bring kegs or drink from glass containers and dogs must be on leashes at all times. You can drink at Denver parks, but only 3.2 percent beer.
These rules will vary widely depending on the city or county, so do your homework.
5. Really dig in
Though we all know the feeling of wanting to just come home and relax on the couch after work, really commit to showing up to the games. Chances are, it’s for a short period of time — six to eight weeks — and you’ll get more out of the experience if you really dig in. You likely won’t regret going once you get playing and chatting with your teammates. Give a sport or a league an entire season to prove itself before deciding if the sport or the rec league life is not for you after all.
Some leagues even partner with nearby bars and restaurants so that teams have somewhere to go socialize after the games. They also host quarterly social events that bring together people from other sports. Consider attending at least one of these social gatherings to get the full rec league experience.
“Go into it with an open mind and a positive attitude,” said Ethan Pearson, league director for KIFAC Social Sports Leagues. “All recreational sports leagues are meant to be fun and a great way to meet and make connections with people, so if you go into it with a negative mindset you’re going to miss out on a great experience.”