Ride by the National Mall any night after work or any open field in the city you can find, and you’ll likely see thousands of people rocking bright, colorful t-shirts playing everything from kickball or softball to flag football and even Bocce.
If you find yourself in one of DC’s best sports bars later on, you may overhear the same groups of people talking trash and sharing league stories over games of flip cup and beer pong or just enjoying a meal together.
Social sports are a great way to make friends and stay active, and they give you a reason to share a beer or two with friends each week, so it’s no wonder tens of thousands of area residents play in leagues each season.
But social sports are even more than that here in the Nation’s Capital, they are a DC institution.
Playing them isn’t just something to do, it’s a rite of passage that nearly every 20 or 30 something living in DC has experienced at some point or, at the very least, knows someone who has.
There are tons of reasons why social sports are a DC institution and have been a mainstay in the local culture. Here are just 10 of the many reasons why that’s so:
1. It was planned that way from the start…
The National Mall was literally founded (at least partially) for adult recreational purposes. The original L’Enfant Plan from 1791 called for spaces of preserved land and parks around the city that would be used among other things as a “place of general resort, and be “as integral to the capital as the buildings to be erected around them.” The 1901-1902 McMillan Plan planned for “active recreation” by creating a “Commons” at the Tidal Basin for recreational use by the public. There were once 10 tennis courts on the lawn between 3rd and 4th streets, skating on the reflecting pool and all kinds of other recreation leading the Mall to become a hub of recreational space ever since.
2. It brings us together…
DC is a transient city where people often move for work or school, then relocate elsewhere. It’s hard to make solid groups of friends when people are coming and going every few years, so many 20 and 30 somethings rely heavily on social sports for their social life.
3. Stress release for a stressed out populace…
DC is a work hard, play hard city. When you’re working 50-80 hours a week, it can be hard to find time to socialize, but that doesn’t stop people from trying. Social sports help break up your week so you can work hard and have fun without having to live for the weekend.
4. It comes naturally to us…
DC is a fit city. Until recently, it was the top ranked city for fitness (#TakeBack1), but a little slip in the rankings doesn’t change the fact that many people here are serious about staying in shape. After work, you have time to hit the gym or hang with friends, but probably not time for both. Luckily, social sports help you stay fit while socializing so you don’t have to pick between the two.
5. It’s good business…
DC has a strong corporate culture. Many big companies call the District home, and team building and corporate wellness are important to their success. As a result, many companies sponsor entire social sports teams for their employees.
6. Congress is in on the act
Hill workers play on the Mall. After a long day of wearing suits and ties on Capitol Hill, hundreds of Hill staffers and Congress members themselves throw on colorful t-shirts and make the short commute from the office to the National Mall to burn off stress and mingle under the monuments. Leagues like Congressional Softball have played at on the National Mall since anyone can remember and there is even an annual softball game between Democrats and Republicans.
7. The Metro gets us there (most of the time)
Accessibility makes it easy. There are leagues in pretty much every major neighborhood (as well as in MD and VA), and Metro stops too. This makes it super easy to find a league near your office or around your apartment.
8. It’s the birthplace of adult Kickball
Sure, kickball has been around for a good long while (it was actually invited by a Supervisor of Cincinnati Park Playgrounds in Cincinnati back in 1917), but it didn’t really hit its groove as an adult social sports until WAKA Kickball was born in DC in the late 1990’s and later DC Kickball was established in 2004. The city has been kicking balls and flipping cups ever since.
9. It bridges adulting and play…
DC is all about networking. Growing your network is an essential part of being successful in DC, and playing social sports opens up hundreds of possible connections. Countless lifelong friendships, business deals, and even marriages have been born on the social sports fields (or in the bars afterwards).
10. Its uniquely American and terribly iconic…
With the National Mall often being referred to as the “Nation’s Front Lawn,” you can’t help but appreciate the uniquely American spirit and experience you take part in when you play in or witness people enjoying a pastime at the base of the Washington Monument or with the Capital Building in the background.
What are the reasons you play social sports (or what are the reasons you haven’t yet)? Drop a comment below with the answer!
Ready to get into the game? Make sure to sign up for DC Fray’s spring leagues before March 20!