Adam Paton gives us his take on University sport, and how it may be an ideal coping mechanism for these trying times.
Last academic year, almost 40,000 students in Scotland were members of at least one sports club at university or college. Whether competitive or recreational, as an individual or as part of a team, to stay healthy and to make friends. Around one in 10 students took part in university sport.
Fundamentally and somewhat ironically for 2020, sport is ultimately a way for many university students to stay moderately healthy - a means of balancing out the stereotypical diet of Pot Noodle, pasta pesto, and binge drinking with some regular cardiovascular activity. In fact, a King’s College London study showed that regular, moderate exercise not only boosts your immune system, but also prevents its overreaction - an issue now known to be a significant risk to those with serious Covid-19. But sport, particularly sport at university, is about much more than just the prevention of Covid-19 and Freshers’ flu in a more normal year.
For many, going to university involves leaving the family home and joining a new family of sorts in your flat - but sports teams can also become a second family. University sports bring together a huge range of individuals, from freshers to post-graduates and even some staff, many of whom you would never meet if it weren't for your common hobby. Your teammates are also often more than friends; the early mornings in the gym or long minibus drives, late night meals after a Wednesday cup match, match teas in the unions, or the regular highs and lows of playing competitive matches all creating iron-strong relationships. With all these engagements, it’s no wonder that players can end up seeing their teammates more than their real family or flatmates.
Nevertheless, the biggest part of the team family for many students is the ability to move seamlessly from the court, pitch, or field to the pub, club, or flat party. At the University of Glasgow, many will know of a Wednesday night in Sanctuary, filled with sports teams coming off Wednesday wins and Wednesday losses – regardless of which, they will enjoy the night with their team. It’s not even unheard of for teams to wear kit or even medals to the celebrations if time is tight or it’s been a big win. Those who play a sport will know how wild these parties can get, and this is shown in the data. A 2010 student alcohol use study showed that 85% of students who played a large team sport (e.g. hockey, football, rugby) had an alcohol use disorder compared to 61% of all students. It’s not necessarily sport that inherently causes these students to drink more, but the fact is that many play sport and party hard for similar reasons.
University is stressful (almost every student will testify to this) and this can cause students to struggle with their mental health. Therefore, for some students, sport offers a regular escape from the pressures of deadlines and exams. Sport becomes set times during the week when students don’t think about their studies and the stress this can bring, but instead focus on training and competing with their friends. Although competitive sport causes worry and stress, sport in and of itself is still a way for students around Scotland and the UK to relax. Now, as we enter a period where many students will spend hours on their laptops attending Zoom tutorials and online lectures, sport will become more of a break than ever. A chance to get out your room, see friends in person, and be active will be more than welcome to many Glasgow students.For me, sport is all these things and more. I train with my best friends, I can escape from university stress through sport, all whilst staying relatively in shape. So as we enter an academic year like no other with the possibility of no nights out and many societies relying on Zoom socials, sport at university can offer a break from the laptop screen and a chance to (briefly) stand within two metres of someone you don’t live with! Whether a fresher or a final year PhD student, a nationally ranked swimmer or amateur footballer, with over 50 sports in Glasgow at levels ranging from international competitions to recreational sessions and everything in between, sport really can be whatever you want it to be. So, take back some normalcy from Covid-19, get away from your bedroom-turned-lecture-theatre, and get ready to potentially meet your new closest friends.