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It’s fair to say that Southampton’s AU culture is rapidly developing, from the blinding success of our major sport teams, including Rugby, Football, both men’s and ladies Lacrosse, and Netball, to those lesser known sport teams that grow every year they’re in play, such as Ultimate Frisbee and Touch Rugby, to name but a few. But whilst we relish in our glorious Varsity win against Portsmouth, displaying our very best of what our sport teams have to offer, there is another side to competition that most people – especially those who don’t participate in sport – seem to forget about.
During my time at Southampton, a few of the AU teams have come under criticism for seemingly racist, misogynistic and overly crude behaviour, that has been masked merely as ‘banter’, such as the Men’s Hockey team last year, in their infamous weekly ‘banter’ emails, or the Cricket Team at AU Ball this year, narrowly missing being caught for their inappropriate comment toward a female netball player, before realising their mistake and covering their tracks before they could face the repercussions of their thoughtless behaviour. And whilst this ‘lad culture’ seems to consume people’s perception of the Rugby boys, or seemingly daring behaviour that seems to be forced on innocent freshers, the camaraderie can be quite fun if you know where to start.
Joining the university’s Swim Team at the beginning of this year, I wanted to get back into what I had left behind when I left school. Whilst it can be intimidating joining a team with nationally ranked swimmers, you don’t have to be Olympic standard to have a good time and support your friends, and your university. Whilst the Swim Team is one of just a handful of mixed-gender sports, the few that do exist are a major benefit to breaking down barriers between the sexes. The Swim Team is formed of a tightly knit community, who compete as one team and pride themselves on the fact they’re the 7th best university swim team in the country.
Competing alongside one another, and spending your socials altogether, is something that seemingly allows us to respect one another as people, and whilst, yes, there may be gossip that circulates, it doesn’t really matter. These people become your friends that you’re guaranteed to see every week, and have a good time with, without having the stress of your degrees looming over your head. With AU night landing on every Wednesday, you leave the pains of coursework at home, and spend your time with people who all have one thing in common.
Whether you find yourself on the recreational or competitive side of sport teams, socials and the infamous tour experience, is something that pulls a variety of people together, and allows us to get a chance to know one another outside of the pool. In my experience, no one has been discriminated or put in a compromising position that they don’t want to be in. In reality, the students on sport teams are far more than just their athletic appearance, and are actually stand-up people, who want to get as much out of their university experience as you do. No one has been made to feel uncomfortable because they don’t compete at a certain standard, no one is excluded because they aren’t as good as another swimmer. I’ve been on sports teams ever since I was 11, and although this is the first mixed team, it is honestly a far more enjoyable experience, because every one gets to do something they enjoy, and meet people beyond those they find themselves with in a lecture theatre.
Whilst it can be said that certain types of sport teams attract a certain type of person, implying that all cricket players are extremely middle class or that most women lacrosse players hail from posh private schools, or that if you’re not in the top boat on the Rowing team, you’re not worth their time. Experiencing being on a sports team first hand, is one that is rather enjoyable, and hasn’t put me off returning in my third year. I’d like think that the healthy mix of both male and female competitors has something to do with it, as you are spending both the serious and social side of sport together. From experiencing both my fair share of socials, tour and Varsity, it is evident that the whole squad, no matter what your ability as a swimmer may be, or what gender you are, rallies behind the team. This is something vastly important to the success of our teams. Without support for one another, there would be no cohesive dynamic to propel the team forward in both competitive or social spheres.
This may sound cliché, but joining a sport team does really allow you to get the most out of your uni experience, and is thoroughly recommended for your experience whilst at university. And whilst you may be a girl’s girl, or full-on lad, mixed gender teams allow you to have fun together, without any comparison between the sexes, because we compete together to make our team the best, as one squad.