Probably every student knows that having sport activities in your résumé, especially at professional or semi-professional levels, can significantly increase the chances of getting into a dream college. But once you’ve got that place, what happens next? In many cases, students are too busy with studies, projects and networking to consider sports seriously during their university years. However, college sports can actually help students tremendously to see the world, develop themselves, tap into networks and jumpstart their professional careers.
1. College sports are just about football and rugby
Most students only consider around a dozen college sports – usually including sports such as football (or soccer), rugby (American football), basketball and hockey. Many students play these popular sports every now and then during their years at college. But there are so many more potential activities to choose from.
For instance, if you look at the Universiades (an amalgamation of the words “University” and “Olympiad”) – multi-level university games – the list of sports exceeds 20 for the Summer Universiades and 12 for the Winter Universiades. How about rhythmic or artistic gymnastics? Why not take that game of hockey onto the ice rink? Or how about learning judo, water polo or table tennis?
University is all about trying new things, meeting new people and development yourself – and getting involved in a wide variety of college sports is a perfect way to do all these things.
2. You need lots of expensive facilities and coaches to succeed
Fancy getting involved in competitive sports? The answer is usually “no”, because there is a perception that you need decades of training just to come near the professional or semi-professional level, or even just competitive fields or high-class training facilities.
True, many sports do require serious training and spending lots of time preparing for competitions. Yet, there are many activities where students can be successful even without a million-dollar coach or multi-million-dollar training sport facility.
For example, many of my students at Al Farabi Kazakh National University (KazNU) have access to very ordinary training in-campus facilities. Yet, they won five gold medals –the largest number of Universiade medals for any university in Kazakhstan and probably one of the largest number of gold medals for any university in the world – at the latest XXVIII Summer Universiade, which was held in the city of Gwangju, South Korea, on 3-14 July 2015. All together 94 students from Kazakhstan went to the games, which is up from 54 who went to the winter games in Trentino, Italy in 2013.
3. You don’t have any real chance of winning
If you need glory in your sights to stay motivated, take some extra time when choosing which college sports to pursue. The first step is to try as many sports as possible to see where your potential could be best used or developed. The second step is to look at activities which are popular at your university or college, and to find out about regional or national sporting events in which your university participates.
On the one hand, if you choose a more popular sport, you’ll have the chance to contribute to an activity which is popular and important within your university community. At the other end of the spectrum, choosing a more unusual college sport could mean you face less competition and have a better chance of reaching the top. For instance, a student of KazNU, Ms. Viktoria Zhiabkina, alone won three gold medals in athletics, where she was strong and very competitive indeed.
And of course, even if you never win any medals, you’ll gain the rewards of improved health, a better ability to focus on your studies, and good habits for years to come.
4. You just don’t have time for college sports
Among the hundreds of excuses I hear from my students to justify not doing any sport, three are the most common: lack of time, lack of resources and difficulties in training. Usually I suggest making a short time calculation and a SWOT analysis, going one by one through each of those points.
Lack of time is certainly an issue – but not as big as you may think. When we try to analyze allocation of time, students often say “networking” consumes a large amount of their time, especially professional networking. However, participating in college sports is arguably one of the most effective ways of networking; sports networks are among the strongest and longest-lasting networks for young people.
So why not re-allocate time you would have spent networking in a bar or at a professional event, to networking on the sports pitch?
Admittedly, at a certain level of sport activities you have to push your limits and invest serious time in training. However, people around you – during your school years and after – will highly value “achievers”, and it is good to be among that group. The time invested in college sports is likely to provide a good return on investment in all kinds of ways.
5. College sports are too expensive
Lack of resources is a true problem for many students, as well as for many colleges and universities. However, it is possible to tackle this issue from two angles. First, recruit your friends and share the cost. Second, look for sport scholarships and sponsorships. There are hundreds of sport scholarships and many sponsors are ready to champion a cause by providing a couple of hundred if not thousand dollars to support sport enthusiasts, especially young students. Often they are also enthusiasts who are useful for your networks too.
Finally, just finding the right sport for you and focusing on becoming the best is good – but there’s more to it than this. Look at the broader picture – how to become an active community player at different levels – by getting your friends, colleagues and classmates to join your sport or become fans and supporters. If you can bring people together in this way, you’ll develop a set of personal and professional skills which are as valuable as any gold medal.