Balancing sport and studies at university: Top tips from University of Oxford students

September is a fantastic month for a new start as summer still lingers and the darker nights haven’t yet taken over. For many students across the country, September will also mark their return to school or taking that next step whether it is to work, college or university.

University of Oxford student CatherineWe caught up with University of Oxford students and committee members of Oxford University Athletics Club (OUAC), Catherine and Ella.

The pair explained about their journeys into the sport, the transition into sport at university and also balancing studies with athletics.

Starting out in the sport

As with many children, Catherine’s first taste of sport was through a primary school competition before making the transition into club athletics.

“I really enjoyed it and did well in the 60 metres. I knew some people who were part of my local club Wirral AC, so I went along with them to one session and have stuck with it ever since.

For Ella, it was her family and the local parkrun which got her hooked on the sport.

“I started running in year five as my dad has always been a runner. One day he gave me an incentive and said I could use the iPad in the afternoon if I came with him to try parkrun. Having reluctantly said yes, I then loved it and kept going back for two years straight before joining my local club, St Mary’s Richmond aged eleven.”

Making the transition to university

For many young adults, making the transition to university will be the biggest move they have ever made, leaving family, familiar routines, and friends behind. With this comes some stress and adjustment which can sometimes lead students to compromise on keeping up their sporting interests.

However, even being at Oxford, sport was seen as a necessary escape for both Catherine and Ella.

“I found the transition to university life quite difficult at Oxford especially due to the jump in workload,”

said Catherine. “When you start as a fresher it is overwhelming for everyone and you get caught up in the opinion that you need to be working all the time to be productive. However, after settling in and a couple of months, I realise that spending a half hour on an evening going for a run and then coming back would enable me to focus and work more efficiently. And soon I had this realisation, I started to prioritise athletics over my work and my work quality ended up being much better.”

University of Oxford student team

Agreeing with Catherine, Ella said: “Being based in London, I had already competed against some of the OUAC athletes as a junior so was able to contact them before moving to Oxford. It made the personal transition much easier as it put less pressure on myself to need to make friends through my accommodation or course.

“With regards to workload, I found the first term tricky, it was a bigger transition than I thought it would be. I was in the position where I was never going to miss athletics through studying. Athletics was too important in my life to miss training due to work – I just accepted that I would need to stay up a little later at first to get the work done.”

Advice to students taking the next step

Whether you are starting university, a new job or looking for a change, taking a new direction can be daunting.

“Throw yourself into the sport” exclaimed Catherine. “Go to all the sessions and don’t be afraid to make friends, there will always be people in the same boat.

"Athletics and sport generally are fantastic ways to break up work and destress. Take a step back, breathe and get active. Make time for your sport, don’t let it slip because overall it will have more of a benefit on your life and studies.”

University of Oxford Womens 4x400 team

As well as sport being a fantastic release from the stresses and strains of work, Ella explained how the routine of a training schedule helps her:

“Using the structure you get from your training sessions creates a perfect timetable for you to work around. Even during the summer holidays I am continuing to run and this helps me to structure my day with eating, sleeping and downtime. When in term-time working around my athletics helps me to not drift too much from my course work.”

The best thing about university sport

Regardless of background, sport has the fantastic ability to bring likeminded people together to share their passion whether as a fan or participant. At university especially, athletics and training as a squad brings the team aspect which is often overlooked in track and field.

“I come from quite a small club in Richmond”, explained Ella. “I love the spirit at OUAC and because you see these people every day at training, when you go away to BUCS or on warm weather training it feels exciting travelling and supporting as a team.”

“I stopped athletics for a couple of years at sixteen,” added Catherine. “I came back to it because of the mental health benefits it has. I am passionate about promoting the sport and getting many people to try it because of the amazing physical and mental benefits. Going into my fourth year and holding the role of President, I like being involved and able to influence the direction we are heading. At club level away from university, a lot of this work is done by parents or older coaches. I love athletics and I love how I can set the tone and atmosphere of the club. This year we are really focusing on outreach and involving women in our sport.”

University of Oxford students at BUCS

Want to find out what it is like to be an Oxford University student athlete?

OUAC are hosting their very own taster day in November, giving you the chance to learn more about the club, but also about the Oxbridge admissions process and life at the university more generally. To find out more and apply, fill in this Google form.