Athlete's guide to life at university

Find the best university for you – do your research

Whilst lots of universities in England have athletics teams, there is a lot of differentiation between what they offer. Many provide coaching as part of the university sports provision or via local club links but some are only able to support certain disciplines. The key is to do some research so you know exactly what the university has to offer, both in terms of the course you are interested in and athletics provision. It’s possible to carry on with your sport and study for a degree at the same time, but choosing the right university that offers the course you want, the right facilities for your event and sufficient support in terms of coaching, training and competition is critical.

Your time at university is a period of significant change and can prove challenging to many of you, your parents and coaches. In response to this, we have established a Charter Mark so that you can be reassured that the environment at these universities provides the highest standards of support from the time you arrive in your 1st year until when you graduate. Information on our Charter Mark universities can be found here.

  • Look at university websites to see if they have an athletics club and what their facilities are like. Many websites will list contacts for the Athletics Union, who can put you in touch with the athletics club if there isn’t a club contact visible. Websites should also provide information on available bursaries and about general facilities such as high performance gyms.
  • Ask about athletics provision when you go to the Open Days and, if possible, contact the university beforehand so you are able to speak to someone from the athletics club.
  • Check out which universities take part in athletics competitions organised by British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS). These include the BUCS Indoor and Outdoor Athletics Championships, both of which include disability events, BUCS Cross Country Championships, BUCS 10k Championships and BUCS Combined Events Championships (extracted results taken from the England Athletics Combined Events Championships). For more information on all BUCS events, see bucs.org.uk The website also shows Championship results from previous years so you can check out which universities are strong in certain events.
  • Many university athletics clubs are on social media platforms and these are a great way to contact the clubs and their committee members.
  • Check out the local club options just in case the university doesn’t offer what you need. Some universities have established links with local clubs but you may need to contact a club directly.
  • If you are a disabled athlete, it is also advisable to contact the university and Athletics Union to discuss any additional needs and to find out more about specific facilities and opportunities available.
  • You may be considering studying abroad such as going to the USA. A very different system operates there, which will impact your studying and sporting experiences. Many people enjoy the experience but it’s not right for everyone. There are, of course, some excellent facilities on offer but it’s important to carefully consider the courses on offer as well as how studying and competing at a USA university will impact you when you return to the UK.

Making a smooth transition to university life

The university athletics club will often have a section on the university website which will provide information on training times and venues and you may also find contact details for university coaches or club captains who can answer any questions that you have. Some clubs will offer training sessions before term starts and will also advertise their first training session or social event via the website and on their social media platforms.

The training environment at university will probably be different to what you have experienced previously. You may find that you have more or fewer opportunities to train, are encouraged to train at a higher intensity, undertake new methods of training and face stiff competition to make the university teams. To help your transition in to university training, the following points made be helpful to consider:

Would your current coach be willing to visit the university with you, or communicate with the university coach by phone or on-line, prior to attending the university? You may be able to discuss your training and racing plans with the university coaches, and observe or take part in a training session with the university.

Make sure you or your coach share information with the university coaching team, especially about your strengths and weaknesses and what your key aims are for the season.

Discuss with your current coach whether you intend to re-join the training group during term breaks and what involvement you envisage having with your club in the future. Also discuss how your current coach can continue to support you whilst at university.

After arriving at university

There will be lots opportunities in the first couple of weeks to become involved with university athletics.

  • It is likely that your university will have a Freshers’ fair which is an opportunity to speak to student athletes, sign up to the club and find out details about training times, competitions and social events.
  • If your university doesn’t have its own athletics club, speak to the Athletics Union at Freshers Fair about links to local clubs.
  • Ask your home coach for a training plan for the first month in case there are no opportunities available at the start.

Training loads

When you start training with a group at university you may find that other athletes are training more often and at a higher intensity than you are used to. It is all too easy to suddenly change your training as a way of fitting in but this can risk injury if you try to significantly increase your training load too quickly. Don’t be worried about discussing how to gradually increase your training or how you can tailor big group sessions to suit you. That way you can still join in with the group but make them work for you. It’s also possible that there could be fewer opportunities available to you for training and you may link up with a local club. You may, of course, choose to train independently and maintain a long distance relationship with your coach at home. If you do this, it can be helpful to join in with some generic training sessions such as circuits to provide some social training opportunities and still consider competing for the university and joining in with the club’s social events.

Lifestyle

Your lifestyle at university will probably change considerably, especially if you have moved away from home and this can have an impact on your training and performance in sport. It may well be the first time you are looking after yourself, you’ll obviously be with new people and time management is key to maintaining a successful balance between training, competing, studying and, of course, some social life. Think about what you want to achieve both academically and in sport, then consider how you are going to achieve this. Look at the university academic calendar and take this into account when planning training and competition.

All universities have a range of student support staff and some have a student-athlete lifestyle adviser who can support you to manage your lifestyle and help you succeed as an athlete and a student (especially for athletic bursary students). Don’t be worried about discussing this staff, your university and home coach or your parents if you feel you need more support.

Plan your finances carefully as well – you may need to pay for transport to training and competitions and pay for training facilities – have you budgeted for this?

Consider whether your diet is sufficient for training and competition and learn to cook before you leave home!

Each university will have specialist support staff for disabled students and it is important you contact the university with any concerns or requirements you have before you start your course. Open Days are an ideal time to find out what is available and to find out what information the university needs to support you as a student and an athlete.

If your university doesn’t have an athletics club or a coach for your event

If your university doesn’t have an athletics club you can still continue training and competing in the sport. You don’t need to leave your home club when moving to university as the rules of your sport mean you can retain your home club as first claim. Some clubs may ask you to join them for training purposes if their facility is the university base or the coach you work with is based with them (this can be as your first or second claim club). If you choose to change your first claim club (you can still keep your home club as second claim) then let your home club Secretary and coach know so they can complete the process properly and update your registration with the governing bodies.

  • Check with the university to see if they have links with a local club and can put you in touch with them.
  • Most local athletics clubs will have their own website which will provide a club contact, information on where they are located, when their training nights are and who the coaches are. The website will have contact details for at least one of the club officers – contact the club and ask if you can go along to visit and find out more information.

Part-time work

If you think you will need a part-time job whilst at university, try to find jobs that will fit in with your training and studying times. There may be opportunities to work in the university sports facilities or coach at local schools and clubs that are linked to the university. Many universities now operate schemes like Unitemps, which offers work within the university and can be tailored to fit with your degree and training requirements.

Athlete bursaries and scholarships

Some universities offer athlete bursaries and scholarships to support you whilst you are studying. Usually the funding from these scholarships can be used for free access to training facilities, physiotherapy and massage, sports science support, strength and conditioning and financial support towards competition costs. Occasionally they include a contribution towards fees. Universities have their own bursary schemes and you would need to contact them directly to find out what the criteria is. Look on the university website for more information and ask at Open Days.

Good luck!

We hope that this guide has provided you with some valuable tips and information in preparation for university. Most importantly, we hope that you make the most of what is available at university to further your study and athletics. Take ownership of finding available opportunities and have fun!

List of useful resources/websites

This is just some of the useful information you can find on-line: