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Jan 16, 2015

Playing sport at uni a smart career move

Jan 16, 2015 by Sport Sport

Article from the Sydney Morning Herald, January 15, 2015 by Frank Walker

On a roll: The Sydney University Thundergrads compete in a roller derby league. Photo: Leonie Bunch

The skills students learn when joining a campus roller derby league, quidditch or an underwater hockey team might differ from those needed to play polo or be part of a circus troupe. But every campus-based sport, from genteel billiards to the rigours of ultimate frisbee, comes with fringe benefits.

"Sport is far more than fitness and competition," says Scott Nicholson, sport development co-ordinator at the University of NSW. "You also learn teamwork, self-confidence, new physical skills and the thrill of giving a go to something you haven't tried before.

"Employers are looking for graduates who demonstrate they enjoy working in a team and are prepared to take on new challenges. They look at their sport activity, as well as their academic achievements."

Exercise is crucial to keeping the brain healthy and joining teams usually sees an immediate lift in your social life – even if it means having a broomstick wedged between your legs when you are meeting people.  

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If you have enrolled at the University of Western Sydney, UNSW, Australian National University, Macquarie University, University of Sydney, University of Technology, Sydney, or University of Wollongong, you will quickly spot the students who play quidditch.

Students who excel at chasing a snitch, dodging bludgers and other Harry Potter-style manoeuvres might one day be picked for the Australian national team, known as The Drop Bears. It came second at the 2014 International Quidditch Association games in Canada – Team USA won – and has five UNSW players in the side.

Quidditch is a hybrid of European handball, dodgeball, gridiron, rugby and Oztag,  and its rule book runs to 170 pages, but Holly Shuttleworth, a biology student at UNSW, says you do not need to know the difference between a death eater and a basilisk to take up the game.  

"People join who've never read the Harry Potter books or seen the films," she says. "They see us playing this crazy game and wonder what it is and they get the hang of it pretty quickly. It's heaps of fun and great exercise."

If fire twirling and high-wire acts are more your style, several universities host student circus clubs.

Most NSW universities also have gyms, yoga rooms, martial arts teams, extensive sports fields and host traditional sports such as swimming, cricket, rugby, netball, water polo, tennis and basketball. Dance, parkour, Zumba, Oztag, boxercise, indoor soccer, badminton and table-tennis also have enthusiasts on campus. Bubble soccer is on the rise, too, and if you can keep score while laughing, you're doing really well.

As with quidditch, ultimate frisbee is a fast-growing team sport. Ryan Davey, a PhD student at the University of Newcastle, says about 50 students play it at Newcastle, "but some unis have hundreds".

"It's the biggest sport at the University Games and is played at an international level where it's really competitive," he says.  

Underwater rugby sounds lethal, but oceanography PhD student Nicola Maher insists it is a safe sport. "Yes, you can tackle under water, but as soon as they drop the ball, you have to let go," she says. "We play in a dive pool that's four metres deep or so. Tactics and teamwork are most important, as you have to pick your moment to duck dive and swim with the ball."

Each team has six players, equipped with snorkels, goggles and fins, in the water at any given time. The ball can be thrown about two metres underwater before it sinks to the bottom, the aim being to get it into the other side's basket on the pool floor.

"It's heaps of fun," Maher says. "Sometimes we play in the ocean at Clovelly and fish come up, curious about people swirling and tackling over a ball."

If that is not rough enough for you, speech pathology student Siri Burke says the Sydney University Thundergrads have a great time whizzing around the track bashing into opponents when competing in the roller derby league. Skaters wear a helmet, mouthguard, elbow and kneepads and need guts, determination and personality to play this sport, but the off-rink social life is pretty impressive, too.

Students who would rather crawl into a hole than skate should consider the Sydney University Speleology Society. It has been taking people into caves for 60 years.  

"It's all about exploring, discovering things underground never seen before," club member Deborah Johnston says.

At the University of New England, underwater hockey is played in a heated pool, with a short stick, mask, snorkel, flippers and an underwater puck. As with underwater rugby, it is six-a side in the water. While not considered a great sport for spectators,  it is played at world championship level and there is a push to make it an Olympic sport.

Charles Sturt University has an equestrian club, but members of the only university polo club in Australia gaze with envy at the smooth green grass of Sydney University's famous quadrangle. Could polo be played on the sacred grass one day? 

Sophie Utz, a Sydney law student, says members of the student polo club have no such ambitions, as they're just horse-loving students who aren't at all pukka about their chukka. The club started in 2012 and has 75 members – only 10 of whom regularly play. Club members hire polo ponies from a riding school. "Most of our members are country kids who want to keep riding while they study," Utz says. And if a prince or princess comes along, they won't complain. 

Curriculum-based burnouts

About 50 University of Wollongong students construct, maintain and drive small racing cars, some of which can accelerate from 0 to 100km/h in 3.5 seconds and hit speeds of 110km/h around the track – all while a driver is seated just 50 millimetres from the tarmac.

UOW students participate in Formula SAE prototype competitions and regularly compete against teams from the University of Western Australia, University of Melbourne, University of Technology, Sydney, University of NSW and Sydney University. There's also an international competition for top Australian student teams.

It is a great way to combine sport and practical study, says mechatronic engineering and law student Matt Athanasios.

"Many team members are doing engineering and that ties in with the sport, as we build and maintain the vehicles ourselves," he says. "Many students come from the country or from trade backgrounds, so they know their way around engines and mechanics."

Students may join for free and about 15 per cent of the team are women.

"They actually make the better drivers," Athanasios says. "We don't have so many dents and scratches to repair after they've been behind the wheel."