The Reality of Playing Sport at University: Is it really about getting drunk?

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“Don’t join uni sports, because it’s just an excuse to get hammered!”

“You won’t have time to train with all the drinking you lot get up to.”

“Have you heard some of those weird initiations they do?”

These are three pieces of advice I was given once I’d moved to university. Firstly, the team I’m a part of is the Men’s Volleyball team – so if you’re looking for an account of a mainstream sport this might not be the article for you!

Anyway, everyone hears the bad things about university teams; the socials that get out of hand (*cough* Snowsports *cough*), the ridiculous initiation rituals, the amount of drug networking that goes on through sports teams, the egos of players, and the intense rivalries. It’s true, sometimes being part of a team can be about more than just the sport, but it’s rarely to the extreme degree that you hear about on the news.

Here’s what it’s really like to be in a university sports team.

Commitment

University sports are some of the highest-level non-professional sports in the country, and the standards are often incredibly high for the “first” teams of each sport. We train from 7-9 am on a Monday, and 4:30-6 pm on a Saturday – not to mention often travelling in excess of 300 miles to away games on Wednesday evenings, to return in the early hours of a Thursday morning. This is serious stuff, and although we all love the sport that we’re playing, we appreciate that we have to sacrifice a fair amount of time to the sport.

If someone doesn’t show up to a Monday morning training session and doesn’t provide a valid excuse (FYI – nothing short of death is a valid excuse), then they won’t play in the game on Wednesday. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best player on the squad or the weakest; everyone is treated equally.

“The university club has so many cultures; you come across so many nationalities – it’s definitely a learning process! The fact that everybody is of a similar athleticism allows the team to feel more professional, opposed to a local league team (where there can be a mixture of youth and “experience” in the same team). This allows us to have more intense training, and we can push each other more, too”

George Don, Team Captain

Commitment is key; we all have university life to balance, so if one of us can manage it, all of us can manage it. We’re a team, we succeed, and we fail as a unit. No ifs or buts about it!

Competitiveness

University is about discovering who you are, and growing as a person; figuring out who you’re becoming, and where you want to be.

One thing I’ve discovered whilst playing at university is that everyone is incredibly competitive! We all made it through the trials to get on the squad, and we’re all exceptionally capable of performing well in games. But what separates team players from those who just show up to the training sessions is the drive to succeed, the ambition, and the competitive edge.

I want my team to win, no matter the cost. I’ve travelled hundreds of miles to attend games where I didn’t play one second of the game, but I care about the greater good of the team, and if better players are available, then they should play. Don’t get me wrong, at the time I feel disheartened, but I still cheer on my teammates and give them as much stick (or praise) as I would if I were playing alongside them. I want my team to win, even if that means sticking with the reliable squad, and first years like me not getting to play every game. As long as we win, I’m happy; we win as a team, we lose as a team – it’s that simple!

People Have Egos

If there are exceptional players, then they often come with monumental egos. As it happens, on my team there are very few, and the captain does a great job at keeping them reigned in during a game – as soon as a team starts bickering on the court, they might as well throw in the towel, as far as I’m concerned!

I didn’t realise how badly egos often get in the way in life, but travelling around the country and playing with great players, against great teams, has really highlighted that Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t a patch on the egos that some young men have in this sport! I’ve played against players who throw a wobbler when they hit the ball into the net; I’ve played against players who shout in the face of a referee when they disagree with the call; I’ve played alongside players who kick off when they are put on the bench; and I’ve also played alongside players who don’t shake the opponents’ hands at the end of a game.

Egos are corrosive, and overconfidence often leads to complacency, and mistakes being made in a game. No matter how good you are, you can always get better. University is about living, and working hard, and enjoying it; if you don’t work hard, you won’t improve; and if you don’t improve, then you’ll become bitter!

Friendship

I always thought it was a load of rubbish that you meet a number of brilliant people at university. Before uni, I was pretty steadfast in my belief that people will always, at some point, get on one another’s nerves, fall out, and then move on. It’s never going to work out how people think.

And I was right; it hasn’t worked out how I thought.

It’s worked out better. Excuse the cringe for a minute, whilst I explain. My squad has around twenty players; four of us are British-born, meaning I’m pleasantly exposed to an incredible variety of cultures, and different people. We have players from Estonia, Cyprus, Italy and more! Who’d have thought we’d have anything in common?

We’ve bonded through our passion for this ridiculous game of advanced “keep the balloon off the floor” that we play. And yeah, we’ve bonded through social events: drinking games, poker nights, daft costumes, and bar crawls. But so what? We’re at university, and I’m proud to say that through all these activities I’ve gotten to know (and trust) the group of guys that I train with. I feel accepted, and that I belong, and it’s brilliant.

So, in short, no. No, university sports aren’t all about drinking, and going to mental parties, and doing stupid socials. There’s so much more to sports than that.

But there are plenty of drinks, parties, and socials along the way.

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