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Why joining a sports team is the best way to settle in at university

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Going to university is an entirely different and individual experience for everyone. No matter who are you or where you’ve come from, it’s a nerve-wracking time. But one of the best ways to alleviate this uncertainty is to dive in head first and join a sports team.

I was so glad that I joined a sports team as early as I did. During my first activity-packed week at university, one of the most anticipated events was what we call the Bun Fight at Southampton (believe it or not, it isn’t a hall full of students throwing bread at each other). This is the annual event where every society gets a table where they can advertise their club with leaflets, sweets and freebies, and you can chat to current members of the society.

After I took a leaflet from nearly every sports and dance society, I re-evaluated my life and realised there weren’t anywhere near enough hours in the day to do everything.

I decided I would at least try out for the netball team. While I played netball at secondary school, we didn’t have a very competitive senior team and only played matches every few months. Because of this, I was quite rusty arriving at university. When I got to the sports hall on the morning of the trials I realised pretty quickly that I was quite out of my league.

There were well over 200 girls there to try out, with only a couple of five-minute matches to show off what you could do. Not surprisingly, I didn’t make it through even the first stage.

However, still very much wanting to play netball, I decided to go along to a training session for the History (my degree subject) Netball Team. At Southampton, we have an intramural league made up of halls and degree subject teams with four league divisions.

This seemed perfect for me as it could still be competitive, but didn’t involve the commitment (or high-level skill) required to play on one of the university teams.

When I joined, I was immediately comfortable playing in a fun and relaxed team, who still had a competitive streak. And one of the earliest events I attended at university was a netball social. Even going along to a social where you don’t know many people can be a bit scary, but just from doing that I met some of closest friends at university.

From that moment until third year, I played a netball match nearly every Sunday and watched the History netball team grow from two teams to four, and found myself improve so much over the three years. I played in the second league for my whole time with history netball and I loved every second of it. I played with a group of girls who wanted to win, but also who wanted to have fun.

In my second year of university I also played on the university’s mixed touch rugby team, and again was able to train with the team and play in matches, but also make some great friends who enjoyed socialising as much as playing.

Playing on a sports team is one of the easiest and most natural ways to make good friends. You encourage and support each other in your sport, but also bond and become great friends at matches and social events. University can be one of the most awkward places to make friends (especially during freshers when you’re seeing new faces every night), but joining a sports team is a sure way to make genuine friendships with people.

Not to mention the physical and psychological effects of playing sport are absolutely invaluable to your wellbeing at university. It’s no secret that university can be one of the most challenging times of your life. It’s stressful, confusing, and sometimes a lonely place to be. It’s also a pretty overused fact that you’re force-fed with during exam time that ‘exercise is great to alleviate that exam stress!’. But it’s true; nothing takes your mind off of things more than a training session or a morning match.

You should never underestimate the power of a good workout and breaking a sweat.

Playing in the sports teams that I did at university not only made my settling into university ten times easier, but it kept me active and happy during stressful times, and most importantly gave me some amazing friends.

And despite the horror stories of initiations you hear at university, like rugby boys drinking each other’s urine, running through a field of stinging nettles naked, and God knows what else, they really aren’t all like that.

So if you’re going to university in September for the first time, or just returning for another year, take the leap and join a sports team. Whether it be something familiar or new, it will be the best thing you do at university.

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