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Student Life

Sick of school sport? University might just relight your fire

Ultimate frisbee? Jiu-Jitsu? Octopush? There are so many more sports besides football and rugby waiting for you at university

You crawl into bed, prop your head up on your pillow and gently shut your eyes to go to sleep. Except you can’t, because all you can see is replay after replay of that PE lesson in Year 8 – that one that not only ended with an own goal, but a trip to A&E and, ironically, a Robbie Fowler-style plaster across your nose for the next three weeks.

From this moment on, sport was your worst enemy, that you were against it and everything it stood for. You’re 18 years old now, about to go and spend the next three years of your life realising how they are absolutely nothing like you imagined they would be, and nothing has changed.

School has a tendency to do this to people, and it can put a lot of young people off sport before they have ever really tried it – if you weren’t good at football or netball then you weren’t good at sport, and that was that.

University, though, is a place where a lot of people choose to broaden their horizons. For some, this means trying drugs or midday lie-ins, but it could mean getting back into sport and making the most of having everything from octopush (underwater hockey, or thereabouts) to ultimate frisbee right on your doorstep.

The prospect of competing for a major university team can be quite frightening – it means pitching your Monster Munch-induced bulge and lack of self-confidence against the inevitably chiselled abs and steely-eyed assuredness of your peers in a hugely public sphere. However, the more unusual sports of the type you would never find at school are on much more of a level playing field. There are many university clubs at which almost everyone starts as a complete beginner.

Jess Davidson is the captain of the women’s ultimate frisbee team at York. She believes this is what makes the sport such a university favourite: “I like to think that ultimate frisbee at York is similar to ultimate frisbee at most universities. As most players only hear about it once they get to uni, everyone starts on the same level – making it one of the most inclusive sports that I know of.

“The biggest impact that it's had on my uni life is meeting new people from other unis. It's such a well spirited sport that the competitive rivalry between teams is only around during the matches – and off pitch everyone gets along really well.”

The quirkier the sport, the more fun it is

The draw of these quirky hipster sports can convince even the most mainstream jock. Just because someone is a genius with the hockey stick doesn’t mean they wouldn’t prefer to swap astroturf and elbow grazes for a volleyball court - and fiction burns.

James Brown played rugby, hockey and cricket for his school first teams but opted for something a little different upon joining Kingston University: “I played cricket at a high level but it was never my favourite sport, it was just that one on offer that I was best at,” he said.

“When coming to university there is a huge range of sports on offer and it seemed like the perfect chance to engage in some different ones that I had always wanted to try. Faced with the option of carrying on my cricketing or trying something new that I had always wanted to, I opted for the latter. I ended up practicing jiu-jitsu and boxing and couldn't have been more pleased. It also added a certain amount of discipline to my lifestyle which aided my study.”

If you look at it from a purely numerical point of view, there is a very high chance that the sport that turns out to be your favourite is not one that is offered at school and is even difficult to find a local club for. Even at the most privileged of schools, the list of sports on offer pales into insignificance compared to that at university.

It's not all polo and fencing

Alastair Land, deputy head at Harrow, says of his school’s sporting legacy: “A newcomer might form the impression that our sporting programme is comprised primarily of large team activities, with tree-fringed rugby, soccer, Harrow football and cricket pitches stretching away in every direction. It is true that on any given afternoon the majority of boys playing sport will be doing so in a mainstream sport, but that hides the reality.

“Many will play two or even three sports a day: a swim before breakfast, rugby training in the afternoon and a rackets match before tea is not uncommon. With honours in rackets, fives, fencing and polo in last academic year, the ‘minor’ sports are far from that epithet at Harrow.”

However, whilst it is great for the lucky few who are able to fence and play polo at Harrow, they are very exclusive sports that are a world away from the lifestyle of most young people. The great thing about sports like ultimate frisbee is that you don’t need a horse or a sword to play them, and even the frisbees are already provided.

After university, never again will you have such a range of sports on offer to you, and never in a better environment. The old cliché goes that there is a sport for everyone, and this is never closest to the truth than at uni.

Any hey, what better way to banish those ghosts of PE lessons past than with a heroic last minute bullseye in archery to seal the varsity crown for your new university? One can dream…