Having always dreaded the double period of PE looming weekly on a friday afternoon throughout secondary school, past me wouldn’t recognise myself now, playing multiple college sportsregularly attending the gym, and being captain of a netball team.

Entering Oxford as a wide-eyed fresher last year, team sports were far from my mind. Having got back into the gym recently, I valued the solitude of it. I didn’t miss the catty vibes of high school team sports. It had been four years since playing a team sport, yet in early Michaelmas my new fellow fresher friend Zahra convinced me to give it a go again. Marketed as a social activity to make friends at, I was sold. I was keenly looking to branch out into the scary new environment that is university. Though enticing, I was still sceptical when attending that initial practice. 

Looking back now I am glad I pushed myself to go to that first session, as, safe to say, I kept going back. Now I am co-captain of my college netball team with Zahra. We have both come a long way from being inexperienced, wide-eyed freshers. I have even picked up playing college football – although being thrust into a cuppers match (after having not kicked a football since being a kid) wasn’t the best reintroduction… 

In my netball captaincy so far this year, it has been amazing to see loads of new freshers and upper years rediscover a sport they lost because of the toxic atmosphere netball can have when you are a young teenager. It’s great to see people of all abilities give it their best shot, have fun, and socialise while doing it. 

Work life balance

I think there is always a possibility to let things like sports control your life. The competitiveness can take away the fun and ease of it. My goal was never to make it into a uni team or get a blue, it was simply to get a few hours of my week spent outside with my teammates and get moving. 

As Oxford students we spend so much of our time sitting at desks in tutorials or lectures, and we forget the value of movement and spending time outdoors. Your social activities have to fit around your work schedule at all times, not the other way around. Having practices and matches as scheduled points in my weekly timetable has allowed me to learn to be strict with myself. To close the laptop and spend some time outside, no matter the oncoming essay deadline currently consuming my every thought, and I would encourage you all to try it too!

Mental health

I won’t ramble on about the health benefits of sport (you have certainly had that shoved down your throat one too many times, I am sure), but I do want to talk about how it has helped me personally. 

As someone who regularly struggles with their mental health, sports have helped me massively in maintaining a healthy mind and valuing my body and all it can do for me. I always find the times I see my mental health slipping correlate with me having exercised less. It is a way of strictly allocating some time of self care every week. It’s nice having my team counting on me to turn up, play and socialise.

Although I do still enjoy my solo trips to puregym, I see those sessions as supplementary to my college sports. They are a way to keep my body moving daily, and have some much needed time to myself. Both solo and team sports are beneficial in their own ways, though my preference has definitely shifted in favour of outdoor team sports.

Being a part of team sports has also allowed me to make friends with people I would otherwise never have met or developed friendships with. Sports presents an even playing field for everyone, of all years and subjects, to mix and interact on. It has also enhanced my social life greatly, through netball socials, crew dates and friendlies (the latter often followed by a hearty hall brunch, always a highlight of my week!). 

Give it a go!

If you haven’t already, give your college sports a go! There are so many to pick from and every team is always eager to have new players. You might find those few extra hours spent outdoors and socialising every week make a real difference to your own mental health.