Heart Rates and Stepping Stones - Year 13 Student Perceptions of University Sport

Heart Rates and Stepping Stones - Year 13 Student Perceptions of University Sport

In 2020 and 2021, COVID-19 altered sport in unprecedented ways, and no less so than in the secondary school sport system where many events which usually bring teams and schools together to participate were unable to go ahead. With more than 145,000 secondary students typically pulling on the school jersey or playing regularly in school competitions every year, the cancellation of school sport and events has had a significant impact.

Research conducted by Sport NZ in April 2020 showed that the pre-lockdown hours of activity for young people almost halved during the first COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 and was slow to pick back up once restrictions eased. For some there is a reluctance to get involved in activities (in case cancelled) and the cancellation of activities has had negative impacts such as the loss of the positive mental, physical and social benefits of sport, disappointment, missing their teammates, and worry that they will get behind/lose skills without practice. For others, they are now as keen as ever to get involved. The loss of sport related activities has given them greater perspective on what is important to them, a wider global perspective and made them ‘hungrier’ for events and opportunities in the future.

Following the recent launch of the National Tertiary Championship calendar of events for 2022, which will be a welcomed playing opportunity for many first-year students, UTSNZ caught up with Ashleigh Bindon and Jade Fairley, Chair and Vice Chair of the School Sport NZ Student Athlete Commission to tell us what the loss of school sport has meant to them, and to give us some insight as to what they are expecting as a school leaver when it comes to sport.

The loss of school sport

Ashleigh: “After the first year that school sport was cut short, I wanted to do everything I could to make the most of my last year playing school sport as I didn’t know what there was for me after school. I thought it was my last chance to try new and different sports.”

“It was frustrating and disappointing as you’ve spent 3-5 years with your teammates and you couldn’t end the season with them. The closure that the end of year events bring is the icing on the cake and to have that taken away feels like you are missing something.”

Jade: “The impact that the loss of school sport had on me was both good and bad. I missed out on playing the sports I love due to the uncertainty, and I wasn’t able to socialise and see my friends. I lost fitness and momentum and the will to play sports altogether as I didn’t know what sport opportunities would be available to me after my last year of high school. However, my mental health improved as there were less stresses and I could focus more on my studies which is sometimes a hard balance to find when playing sport at school.”

What makes sport, sports teams and competing special

Ashleigh: “It’s the people around you. You cherish the times you are playing with your teammates and celebrating the end of your school sporting career with your friends. It’s not the winning or making the final, it’s just the enjoyment of working hard in your sport and participating.”

Jade: “It’s the excitement of heading away to tournament, spending time away with friends playing the sport you love. You can’t get that through other physical activity like going for a walk or going to the gym. Your heart is pumping in those final seconds of the game – it’s all about the excitement for me.”

Perceptions of university sport as a school leaver

Ashleigh: “To be honest, I had no idea what the opportunities were. Other career pathways I have been exploring outside of university have really promoted an active lifestyle including their sports teams which appeals to me. When I looked at university I wasn’t as convinced. Universities only talked about the academic courses but often what draws us is the environment, culture and the other experiences on offer, including sport. Sport is overlooked so we don’t know what to expect.”

“When you get to the end of school you think the next step is to be in the national team because you think there’s not really anything else to get you there. That’s where university sport can be a stepping-stone. And universities offering help to balance sport and study is a really important thing. Students need to be shown that university sport is part of a pathway”.

Jade: I’m lucky in that the University of Waikato has already reached out to me as an athlete and said they want to help me balance my sport and my studies, so I’m hoping it’s similar to school and I can keep doing that.”

National Tertiary Championship Events

Ashleigh: “Exciting, new, openminded – I’m always keen to take every opportunity I can so I just want to know more now about what there actually is available to me and how it all works.”

Jade: “Exciting, adventurous, challenging, amazing - I’m really excited. Playing at a national level is so fun for me, especially playing against all different people from around the country, as well as being able to ‘step up’ in terms of competition and skill level”.

Comments from school leavers Ashleigh and Jade resonate well with UTSNZ, who will next year be launching a new strategic plan.

Within the plan increasing the profile of tertiary sport to ensure both existing and future students know what is on offer at university and how they can become involved is a key goal.

“It’s clear that both the education and sport sectors can better inform secondary school students of the opportunities available to them once they leave school, as well as educate them about how sport can complement their university studies”, says UTSNZ Executive Director Sarah Anderson.

“With national events complementing the wide range of health, physical activity, social and recreational sport opportunities delivered on campus by individual universities, these opportunities can help create a sense of social connectedness that has been sorely missed through the pandemic, assist retention and academic achievement, and ultimately make a positive contribution to the well-being of young New Zealanders”.

For a list of the 2022 UTSNZ National Tertiary Championship events click here.

Acknowledgements: UTSNZ would like to thank Ashleigh Bindon and Jade Fairley, Chair and Vice Chair of the School Sport NZ Student Athlete Commission for their contribution to this article.

Posted: Tue 30 Nov 2021