Varsity athletes... at the heart of the University

IMG_2128 2.jpg

This week I dropped my eldest daughter off at University. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the process of moving her into the student residence was. It was 8 am on a Sunday morning. As we pulled up in a long line of cars, volunteers met us with big smiles explaining how to navigate the campus. Once we made it to the right building, we were met by smiling varsity athletes - the women’s soccer team no less! Their coach, a cheerful British man was working right alongside the athletes, hauling stuff out of our car – a mini fridge, bean bag chair, massive boxes of bedding. They chatted with our family and went the extra mile to make my apprehensive daughter feel like she was a part of a community… their community. 

In the room we found an invitation to watch the men’s soccer Season Opener that afternoon. 

Before we knew it, all of her stuff was in the room and we headed off to the bookstore. Walking through campus we saw a different team in front of each dorm… women’s basketball, men’s soccer. All dressed in uniform, all smiling and having what looked like the time of their lives joking with each other, and with the new students and their parents.

Truth be told, I had expected some sort of athlete welcome because a week prior, I had the pleasure of interviewing two varsity field hockey athletes from U-Vic. They told me about their tradition of moving new students into residence as a way to team-build. They shared how they feel grateful for the opportunity to give back to the University after receiving scholarships and support to play the sport that they love. In addition to giving back, they become much closer as a team after spending a day working side-by-side hauling boxes and fridges!

According to Canadian-University.net,Varsity athletes must represent the University, the athletic department, and their team in a positive way at all times. They must also agree to abide by all rules and guidelines set by the University, athletic conference and CIS (Canadian Inter-University Sport). Student-athletes are often held to a higher standard than non-athletes because they are often in the spotlight and visible on and off campus. 

On the drive home, my social worker brain was spinning. I thought about the deeper impact of the kindness of strangers and through it, the messaging the University provides to newcomers about their value. This is particularly significant when you live and learn communally as these students do. For most students, this is their first time living away from home. Some are also new to our country and experiencing their first impressions of Canada. Being met with a display of team-work and volunteerism sends a strong and immediate message of what it is to be a part of the University community and what the expectations are for their own future involvement outside of the classroom. 

My daughter would say I am over-thinking this – just like I over-think everything as a social worker with a degree in political science. I won’t tell her that my thoughts that day led me to considering the larger impact that sports teams have across the world every single day and how I wondered, on that long drive home, what would happen if our national women’s soccer team occasionally welcomed newcomers to Canada at the border. Because the beautiful game is universally loved – isn’t it? And the great international unifier is sport. It is clear the universities have capitalised on this idea and I love them for it.