Balancing act – the challenges of life as a DU athlete

By Ben Marsden

Playing for a university sport team is a big commitment that takes up a large chunk of time, no matter what the sport.  But is it really worth it, and is it easy to take part at this level whilst also balancing academic, social and college sport commitments?  Admittedly, these are the opinions of a small group when compared to the large number of DU athletes, and not every sport is represented here but we have spoken to multiple Durham University athletes from sports such as football, rugby, cricket, hockey, athletics, and rowing.  These athletes also varied in year group, course, and ability in order to try and achieve a representative sample.

Using a scale from 1-10 (where 1 represented extremely easy an 10 represented extremely hard) athletes were asked how easy they found it to balance playing university sport with academic commitments.  Across the sample the average answer given was 4.5, suggesting that most athletes don’t have any trouble balancing sport and academics.  Only one athlete gave a score of 7 or higher showing that no one had major problems with completing academic work.  Even when a low score was given, there was often a caveat, with one student who has now left Durham suggesting that it’s not diffuclt to juggle work and University sport, but you have to be extremely productive as you don’t have the time to procrastinate, and winter training often meant the need for late night library session.  Similarly, those moving into third year were concerned about the increasing workload.  For those that have to travel for away games, they risk losing all of Wednesday, which menas missing any seminars on that day.  Two third years suggested that it was harder to balance at the peak times of their degree, and if they were sacrificing their degrees too much then they would cut down their commitments to DU.

Most athletes don’t have any trouble balancing sport and academics

Athletes were also asked about social life and how it was affected by playing DU sports.  There was a general positive response to this with 4 being the most common answer, on the same scale as the previous question. This was mainly due to the common idea that they enjoyed the social side of playing for a University team.  Most athletes were involved in weekly socials as part of their clubs, and although this meant missing out on occasional social activities with other friends, this was not a significant negative given the enjoyment of DU sport socials.  Most athletes commented on the changing nature of their social life, rather than a negative impact.  College sport socials were often sacrfirced for university sport socials, and there was an increasing need to prioritise certain events, but this sacrifice came with the benefits of social events with University sport friends.  Across the questions asked, dealing with sport and social commitments scored the lowest, showing that playing DU sport does not significantly hinder your social life.

On the opposite end of the scale, many students struggled balancing university sport and college sport commitments.  Answers ranged from one extreme to the other, with all scores placed 3 or lower and 7 or higher.  In fact, the most common answer was 8 out of 10.  However, the majority of those that scored lower did not actively want to play college sports.  When these were removed from the data, only one athlete gave a score below 7, showing there is a significant struggle for students to play college and university sport.  Two athletes (hockey and football) also mentioned they had been told there should not be playing college sport – even though they wanted to.  On top of this, another student said they considered quitting DU sport as they wondered whether they would have more enjoyment playing college sport, which they couldn’t currently play.  It’s clear from the sample that the main problem with playing DU sport is the lack of ability to play college sport as well.

Last year, in an interview with Palatinate Sport, Team Durham President Alex Zimaras, explained why particularly in the case of football, players are advised against representing their college.

While Durham United catch up on games missed outside of term time, they play on a Thursday and Saturday as well as playing a weekly BUCS fixture on a Wednesday.  Three games a week just within the University team, along with training leaves very little time for college commitments.  He also expressed concerns over the increased injury hazard that comes with lower quality football.

Three games a week just within the University team leaves very little time for college commitments

As much as there is the college sport issue, the majority of students interviewed admitted that the sacrifices that are made are worth it.  Many made new friends and enjoyed training and playing at a high standard that they may not have been able to play at otherwise.  Practicing time management, being involved in a high performance environment and the success that comes with victory were other positives mentioned multiple times when athletes were asked about why the sacrifice was worth it.  However, others brought up negatives, with some saying they have thought about quitting DU sport.  Some found the pressure placed on them to perform and train at a high level too much, especially when training times were often last-minute announcements.

The wide range of opinions on DU sport is clear to see, with individuals dealing with the pressures in different manners.  Most DU athletes cope well enough with academics, whilst they enjoy the social side of playing sport for a University team. Yet, many find it difficult to play college sport as well as university sport, which leads to a more negative overall view on playing DU sport, as many consider college sport to be an entertaining part of Durham life.  Sacrifices have to be made, but there are benefits – think of the stash!


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