If it isn't bad enough having to climb a hill with a 90 degree angle every morning to get to campus, I also have to wade through a barrel of eels. You heard me. A barrel of eels. Or at least that's what it feels like, when I'm confronted each day with a sea of glistening black gym leggings. As I pound up Forum Hill to get to Exeter University campus, they're there, wriggling and blurring into one. (Of course, this could be something to do with the fact that by the time I'm half-way up the hill, my vision begins to get foggy). In my GAP jeans, I begin to feel like a salmon swimming upstream.
But enough with the fishy metaphors.
From the minute I first arrived at my traditionally 'sporty' university, I became aware of one universal truth: gym is life. I also discovered just how competitive it is to get into the twenty-second-division netball team. At school, the cool kids were the ones who challenged the Games teachers as to how cross-country in the rain benefited either our health or academic career. Sport at university was, well, a whole new kettle of fish.
Now, if people want to run five miles in the run, good for them. I will warmly shake them by the hand and then leave them to it.
But of course, the idea of being in a sports society can seem pretty seductive. They're essentially cliques, providing ready-made-friendships and regular socials. This can mean that non-members often feel excluded. Georgina Paul, a Warwick student, described to me a bizarre date she went on, where the guy said he wasn't into girls who didn't participate in sport. 'When I said 'I don't do a sport', he quickly went off me,' says Georgina. Walking around most university campuses, you're immediately struck by the number of students wearing sports team hoodies and 'stash'. It may seem like being 'sporty' at university is your passport to coolness.
But before you dig out those Nikes - the squishy-white-kind that your mum bought you in Year 9 because they were comfortable - don't assume that being seriously sporty at uni will be all fun and games (of the drinking kind, that is). If you're not fully committed, it's just not worth it.
Firstly, be prepared for your chosen sport to eat into a huge chunk of your timetable. Robin Davis, a student at Canterbury Christ Church University, described to me those whose 'lives revolve around sport rather than their actual degrees.' University sports teams are also often highly competitive to get into. Ellie Foster-Lil, who's in the fourth netball team at Royal Holloway, says: 'Around 160 signed up (for netball), then during our trials it became clear how much commitment it would mean and some dropped out of their own accord. We had five trails in total.' When joining - and staying in - a sports team requires so much talent and commitment, the prospect can be nerve-wracking. And for students like me, who in first year decided to join other societies, balancing your timetable around sports socials, gym sessions and training can leave you exhausted- before you've even hit the treadmill.
To be truly 'sporty' at university also requires, not only time management, but also financial commitment. 'University gyms are very expensive,' says Louise Webster, a student at Bristol. 'For certain popular sports you have to buy full-time gym membership before you can engage with the sport... It's potentially quite excluding.' When you add up the joint cost of team membership, gym membership, stash, and weekly obligatory socials, the amount you need to spend to earn the label 'sporty' is dizzying. At Exeter, membership alone for men's rowing is £150. To make the cost worth your while, you need to be 100% sure of your commitment, and be prepared to miss out on joining many other societies, either because of cost or timetable clashes.
So before you invest in that new state-of-the-art squash racket and don the seemingly obligatory uniform of sports stash, have a think. If you're actually excited about those 50 burpees on Monday morning, go for it! But if your main motivation is the thought of those 'legendary' sports socials, maybe you need explore other opportunities for getting wasted.
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