University Sport and Recreation
Getting physically active can boost your mental health and even your academic record. Sport at university is offered at levels to suit every student, from team sports to gyms or leisure activities. We look at representative and student-run sport, sporting excellence, and in our unique survey, show what sporting provision you can expect from your university. We start with an overview of what's on offer – and why it's worth taking part.
Sport doesn't just have to be for those who are 'sporty'. Universities recognise that the motivation to do sport differs for different students. Those who wish to compete seriously can join sports teams to represent their university – but there will also be other activities where fun and enjoyment are the primary motivators. Below are the levels at which sport may offered.
- Representative or performance sport (at varsity level, i.e. competition between universities).
- Intramural sport (competition level within your university).
- Social and recreational sport (informal participation).
- Health and well-being or lifestyle (e.g. gym, fitness, yoga and Pilates classes, swimming pool).
Trying a new sport at university
Don't worry if you've never played a particular sport or want to try a new activity. Qualified coaches will run most of the classes in popular activities such as badminton, golf, squash and aerobics. Any equipment you need, such as bows and arrows or racquets and balls, will be readily available.
- Most institutions offer both beginner classes and coaching for those who wish to improve. These may be run by staff employed in university sport and recreation departments, or by fellow students.
- The emphasis is often on Sport for All and an encouragement to try something new.
- If team sports are not your thing, there is usually a broad range of classes and recreational programmes on offer.
- The scale and range of taught recreation programmes varies from one university to another. Some offer over 100 classes a week! They provide an ideal opportunity to grasp the basics of a sport or a range of activities both cheaply and without any long-term commitment.
- Many universities offer coaching courses and provide leadership and volunteering opportunities for students.
Disability and university sport
BUCS (British Universities & Colleges Sport) is keen to promote inclusion in sport, noting that 17% fewer disabled students take part in sport at university than their non-disabled peers.
Some universities have more on offer – examples of best practice listed by BUCS includes the University of Bath who have a Disability Sports Day. In Sheffield, a Disability in Sport week is run by the student unions of the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University.
Contact your university – or the Student Union there – about what activities may be available to disabled students.
You may feel that, being at university, you will be too busy with your studies to prioritise doing sport. However research suggests that actually, those taking part in physical activity may get better grades. You'll also benefit in other ways.
The British Active Student Survey 2018, conducted by BUCS, Scottish Student Sport (SSS) and ukactive, surveyed nearly 6,891 students. It found the following:
- Active students were more likely to get a higher grade: with 95% expecting a 1st or 2.1 this was 10% above the expectation of inactive students.
- Active students were more confident about finding a job shortly after graduation.
- Active students also felt less socially isolated, with few feeling left out or that people didn't know them.
- Active students also felt less anxiety.
Academic performance and anxiety may be helped because physical activity can reduce stress levels from course deadlines and exams. Sport can also hone your powers of observation and the ability to focus. Employability skills are enhanced, such as working towards targets using strategy and drive, as well as requiring good communication and teamwork. Social isolation decreases through widening your circle of friends outside of the subject you study.
Starting university – moving from home, living with people you've only just met, and studying in a different way than you're used to – can be stressful. Taking part in sports, particularly team sports, helps to boost your mental health and beat stress.
The range and quality of student sports clubs, facilities and classes available will be a revelation.
- Most universities offer a full range of traditional sports such as football, rugby, netball, badminton, hockey, cricket, tennis and squash.
- Many universities also provide less common sports such as archery, American football, caving, fencing, gliding, hot air ballooning, motor sports, sub-aqua, triathlon, ultimate frisbee and windsurfing.
- The list is varied and constantly changing in response to students' needs and expectations.
- In addition, there will be opportunities to take part in a wide range of 'lifestyle' or fitness activities from Zumba to Pilates and working out in high quality gyms that in many universities are every bit as good as those in the trendiest commercial fitness club – but much better value for money.
- University sport and physical activity continues to develop and is seen as an important component of the student experience.
The Complete University Guide ran a survey among all UK universities on their sporting provision for students. To find out the results, go to University Sports Facilities.
Next page: Representative Sport