When you first arrive at university, immediately changing into your gym kit and heading outside probably won't be the first thing you think to do. Fair enough, I say - you should definitely grab a cup of tea, introduce yourself to your new flatmates, and have a look ahead to the hectic extravaganza that is Fresher's Week. However, I think that whilst you're planning which parties to go to and figuring out which overpriced textbooks you can avoid buying, it's also important you check out the fantastic sporting opportunities your uni can provide. Even if you hated the mandatory school P.E. lessons (and I, as the skinny kid that was always more of a hindrance than a help on the football pitch, certainly did), sport at university is a totally different world. Many universities offer a vast array of extra-curricular sports; mine, the University of Edinburgh, has 64 different clubs including things like Judo, Gaelic Football and even Skydiving. This means that you won't be stuck if the more traditional sports like Rugby, Football or Hockey don't appeal to you.
In my own Fresher's Week I decided on a whim to join the running club, and I can safely say that it has been the best decision of my life at university. Going from being barely interested in sport to running four times a week and taking part in races has been a change I never saw coming, but it has only been for the better. So, here's my Top five reasons for getting into sport at Uni:
Running in the amazing Pentland HillsPhoto Credit: Alex Luetchford
Whilst it's true that you could probably get into sport at any time during the semester, Fresher's Week is surely the best. Firstly it's all about new experiences; you're in a new city, living in a new place with new people doing and learning new things, so why not give a new sport a try? In my case I had done a bit of Athletics when I was younger, but lost interest when it turned out sprinting wasn't my thing. Starting uni provided me with the perfect opportunity to give running another shot. I'm still not very fast on the track but it turns out that I'm actually alright at Cross-Country, something that never occurred to me when I was 13. Joining the running club has taken me racing in places in Scotland I wouldn't otherwise has been, and we regularly head out into the beautiful Pentland Hills to the south of the city.
Also, be sure to take advantage of the opportunities you can: for example, Edinburgh Uni has its EDex programme which lets you try some of the more niche sports at a one off event for a nominal fee. I first gave Orienteering a go through this, and am now a regular at the club. Pragmatically speaking, many teams will hold trials in the first few weeks of uni, meaning there may be a deadline to you joining the club (although even if you don't make the cut, you could still think about playing for your department, accommodation block, or society in the Intra-Mural leagues).
If getting to know new people is a priority for you during Fresher's, then it makes sense to head to a sports club, as you get access to a whole new group of potential friends. You're all guaranteed to share an interest and you can take part in it there and then, rather than just doing the usual "where-you're-from" and "what-A-levels-you-studied" chat (trust me, this will happen A LOT). Clubs will have some great special events and taster sessions during the week (as well as throughout the year). For example, my running club puts on a morning run and a free cooked breakfast to try and cure the effects of whatever you got up to the night before. So go along, get some exercise to shake off the hangovers, and make friends!
As you'll soon find out, the university lifestyle isn't exactly famed for its health benefits. There WILL come a time when you open your food cupboard and all you can see is pasta, baked beans... and a highly tempting flyer for take-away pizza. Thankfully, you've been paying attention to my article and have signed up to a sports team. This isn't a free pass to go wild, but regularly exercising is obviously important, and a great way to fight the onset of the infamous "fresher's stone".
As well as keeping physically fit, it is very important to stay mentally healthy. Quite simply, students suffer from an immense amount of stress. The pressures of keeping up your studies, social life, a healthy amount of sleep, and maybe even a part-time job can easily start to build up. In fact, according to a recent survey done by the NUS, one in five students consider themselves to have a mental health problem whilst an astonishing 92% experience mental distress. Taking part in sport is a great way to help relieve these pressures. An intense exercise session (such as boxing, or going to the gym) lets you take your mind off your problems for a while, although I prefer going for a run, as it gives me the perfect opportunity to think about them free from distractions. You could also try less intense activities like Yoga as a means of de-stressing. On top of the benefits to mental health of sport itself, I also find that the routine of club training sessions and morning runs helps immensely come exam time, when the days can be long and structure-less, and there's no end to revision in sight. Taking a study break in the gym will definitely help keep you sane and probably improve your study skills too.
Finally, if all of the above doesn't convince you, then remember that playing sport is actually fun as well! So, even if you never thought of going near sport at uni, I urge you to reconsider. It keeps you healthy, you'll have a good time, and chances are you'll never have such easy and cheap access to such a wide variety of sports again. There really is something for everyone.