Valli McAdam contemplates on the nightlife-heavy culture that accompanies being part of a uni sports team.
I remember it well, a Tuesday evening in February just two years ago. I sat alone on the bedroom floor of my first-year halls – crying. I had been asked out to yet another sports social and, honestly, the idea exhausted me.
Now I know what you’re thinking – bit bloody dramatic, just suck it up and get a couple of beers down you… you ARE in first year after all. But perhaps this very mindset was the sole reason leaving first year me slumped in a crumbling mess on the floor. You’re in first year – why can’t you keep up with training sessions, uni work, cooking for yourself, making a whole host of new friends, doing your own laundry as well as going out 3 nights a week? It’s really not that hard… is it? Well for pathetic little first year me it was. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed a night out (I still do), but one in which the pressure to drink like a Glaswegian alcoholic and laugh at highly forced banter was a highly exhausting idea.
I remember wanting so desperately to make an impression on the team, to get into “that” group, to make friends so that I could actually be in on all the jokes. But maintaining my own mental wellbeing was proving more challenging than I had anticipated. A sober social seemed like nothing but a myth, merely a term that is thrown around casually by social secs as though to prove that inclusivity was at least a passing thought.
Aside from the alcoholic pressures and inevitable hangovers that come with every sport social, I am yet to touch upon the greatest challenge of all: the Bunker experience. Fighting off sweaty first-year football lads on the pull and surviving that health hazard of a queue is all part of it. Competing with friends on their club endurance was yet another gruelling requirement to fit in… apparently, it doesn’t count as a night out if you leave before 2:30am. And yet this initiation every Wednesday was made to seem like a compulsory requirement to be a member of the club. I remember countless nights of checking my phone until it was late enough for me to leave without having an excuse pried out of me.
Now, as a fully-fledged (and very stressed) third year, I know that the pressure I felt under to drink until my liver gave out was something that A LOT of other people have struggled with. So why oh why does nobody talk about this? Why was I, an innocent first year, left feeling like I was the only one who couldn’t face the idea of another hungover day and another 4 missed lectures to catch up on? This clique-fuelling, alcoholic culture, which festers in almost every university sports society, is rarely even discussed as an issue. The question as to why is a curious one.
Perhaps all the loud-mouthed, confident captains are the only people who actually can keep up with midweek nights out and drinking a bottle of wine from a funnel. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but we need to realise that not everyone wants to drink until they blackout on the weekly. But it’s these loud influencers who pick the teams, and the team will always follow. And much like the Pied Piper, a 1st team captain can expect to have every first year within a mile walking straight (as straight as they can walk) into Bunker on a Wednesday night. As such, bravely admitting that this was not something you felt like doing on a Wednesday night became a mark of being highly uncool.
Does nobody have time for day time socialising anymore? I personally would be up for a pizza evening, a paintballing day trip or a Sunday BBQ any day of the week.
In many circumstances this nightlife-heavy culture within sports teams can leave students feeling alone and inadequate, not to mention those whose religious beliefs or health problems may exclude them entirely from a night of heavy drinking. I can only hope that sober socials become more of a genuine thing that happens and that people look forward to and enjoy. So, my message to anyone feeling like first-year me: have the confidence to say no to a night out, have a cuppa and look after your mental wellbeing. And, let’s be honest, a good cuppa beats a vodka shot any day of the week.
Illustration by Domi Rybova.