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University Sport and Recreation

Getting physically active can help to boost your energy, mental health and even help your academics, with representative and student-run sports offered at all levels. In our unique survey, we show what sporting facilities you can expect from your university, starting with an overview of what's on offer and why it's worth taking part.

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University sports at different levels • University sports – the benefits for you • University Sport Table

University sport

University sport at different levels

Universities recognise the motivation to do sport differs from student to student. Those who wish to compete seriously can join sports teams to represent their university, but there will always be other activities where fun and enjoyment are the primary motivators.

Below are the levels at which sport may be 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.

For more, see our section on Representative and Student-run sports, and Sporting Excellence.

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.

University Sport And Disability

University sport – the benefits for you

You may feel that 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.

Another benefit of joining a gym, or playing sport at university, is the cost. Participation can cost you very little compared to private facilities, often subsidised by the society or the institution itself. Keeping fit and having fun needn't break the bank.

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 Complete University Guide ran a survey among all UK universities on their sporting provision for students. To find out the results, go to University Sport Facilities.