What's up: Sports aiding retention in universities
This month's student column looks at sport as an important element of university community and a bounding social element, contributing to greater retention in higher education.
The first time you enter through the doors of a University, you are thrown lots of information, timetables, class schedules, assignment deadlines, names and contact details for key people in the University. You are overloaded with all this information and they expect you to process it and act on it. You’re new to the third level education game, you might be coming straight from school, you may have taken a year or two out to work and build up enough money to be able to afford to educate yourself or you may have come back from years out of education to re-skill. Whatever your circumstances, you can all find a common thread in your circumstances through sport.
In Ireland there is a tradition of hosting a Sports Clubs and Societies day in all universities in the first two weeks of the new term. This gives students a great opportunity to see all the activities that are on offer in their university and a great chance to talk to students who are currently playing or co-ordinating the activities on campus. Those first interactions new student have are key to emerging them into the college community.
We have to re-think how we approach the first couple of weeks of a student’s experience in our college and work out how we can get the key information that is needed to them and follow it up with supplementary information later on in the coming weeks. We need to put the student first in our thinking and imagine what they would like to hear when they come in our doors.
Sports and Societies play an integral role in the retention of students due to their social nature and the benefits of physical activity on their health and wellbeing. Students who join sports teams commonly find friends that will stick with them for their time in the University, they are there acting as a support for when times get tough and specifically when the stresses and strains of examinations and assignments kick in. Many international surveys of student retention find that students who have withdrawn from course or dropped out of a university commonly refer to a lack of friends or ability to fit in as reasons for withdrawing. Participation in sports can help to counteract this.
Sports don’t need to be competitive or elitist, and those students who wish to play on a recreational level should be encouraged to do so. Recreational sports are the corner stone of promoting sports to all ages and demographics. Everybody is not going to compete at an elite level and that’s okay. I would rather see hundreds participate and enjoy the experience than pumping all our effort in to performance and losing that cohort of students who just want to play.
By encouraging participation in sports we are developing life skills which will serve to help these students as they progress past the walls of our campuses. We’re building the leaders of the future and the skills that they will learn on the field, court or ring will see them progress through life and develop a better society. When we look at students who withdraw from University, let’s think about what skills they could learn and how that could help them in their life and perhaps help them to stay within the Third Level Education sector.
Students who participate in sport firstly learn the benefits of team work, they learn that they can put everything aside to help toward the common goal, be that winning a game, learning a new drill, hosting an event or just playing together on the field. This simple skill will last with them throughout their entire life and will be added to at every experience they have with teams and cooperation. We’re laying the ground work for these students to succeed in life.
Sport can be great to encourage physical activity and the benefits of physical activity can have a great knock on effect on a student’s mind-set and their outlook on their options. Students who participate in physical activity show vastly improved mental health and this can be positive for students who are considering dropping out of their course.
Many studies show the correlation between a feeling of belonging to their university and attrition rates. Students who feel they are involved in the college community are less likely to consider withdrawing and show greater levels of satisfaction. Sport is a key tool in engaging students in a campus community, through team and college spirit. Students who play sport even at a recreational level feel some sort of involvement in the college community and will happily say they are a member of that University. By encouraging engagement in sport and societies we are encouraging a happy and engaged community where our students can flourish both in and away from sports.
The author Kevin Ronan is the President of Athlone Institute of Technology Students’ Union, Ireland, Vice Chairperson of Student Sport Ireland the National Governing body for Third Level Sport in Ireland and a member of the EUSA Student Commission.
Are you a student with an opinion? We are looking for new contributors for our student column every month. Feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org to offer a piece or propose a topic.