Opinion: NYU needs more club sports

NYU has a club sport shortage. College students should be able to play sports without needing to be on the varsity team.

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NYU should offer more club sports for students. (Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Claudia Yoon, Contributing Writer

The best part about swimming is being part of a team. There is something so rejuvenating about part of a group of people who come together to practice for a common goal. And the adrenaline rush it gives me is unmatched.

When I came to NYU, I noticed that many students were not interested in sports. It made sense — the university is in the middle of the city, and not really known for sports. But I missed swimming, and as my first year moved along, my desire to get back in the water grew. Out of curiosity, I went to the NYU Athletics website, searched for the club swim team and landed on the club sports page.

I scrolled through the list. “Sport Taekwondo, Squash, Table Tennis.” What? No swimming? 

I browsed everywhere on the NYU Athletics website and as it turned out, swimming wasn’t the only club sport that was missing. Even the more popular sports such as soccer, volleyball and tennis are not offered by the NYU Club Sports program. But they should be — students need an intermediate between being on a varsity athletic team and not playing their high school sports at all.

An NCAA report found that the number of high school students who go on to play a sport at the collegiate level is almost always a single-digit percentage, though it varies by sport and by the college’s division. At a Division III school like NYU, the percentage of male-identifying high school swimmers who go on to swim in college is 3.2%, and 3.0% for female-identifying swimmers. Another study showed that close to 8 million high school students per year participate in sports, and the numbers have steadily increased.

Of course, playing a sport gives students an easy avenue to exercise, which has numerous benefits. Not only does it help get students fresh air and keep their bodies healthy, but it improves their mental health, too. Sports give you a sense of revival — the sense of community, the hit of dopamine from celebrating a win and the power of somebody having your back. As for the losses, the shared tenderness and moving feeling was a warmth that couldn’t be felt anywhere else. Teamwork is what completes sports. 

But it’s not like students can just join a varsity team if they want to continue their sport from high school — varsity sports teams are a massive time commitment and also fairly selective. 

“Varsity sports typically practice/compete six days a week for at least 3 hours a day when in season,” said Stuart Robinson, the director of NYU Athletics. “Club sports typically practice/compete 1-2 days a week and have no limitation on playing or practice season the way varsity sports do. Additionally, club sport athletes do not go through the same rigorous compliance and clearing and vetting process that varsity students do.”  

NYU does have intramural sports, which any university student in good academic standing can sign up for. These have a wide range of in-university competitions, from calisthenics to wiffle ball. They also offer some lower-stakes variants of NYU’s varsity sports, like tennis and basketball. But they still don’t offer everything, and they aren’t as consistent at team-building. Club sports are a step between intramural and varsity, and a perfect way to bridge the gap. 

“That has been a long standing policy here at NYU, but it is something that we are examining since the number of students who want to participate in sports like soccer and others deserve an opportunity to compete on a modified level in comparison to varsity sports,” Robinson said.

Ever since I realized I could combine my love for the water with my competitive side, swimming became an integral part of my life. Love at first sweat, if you will. I joined a team, which then led me to a community of other individuals who shared the same love for the sport. Those friends are now some of the closest and most loved people in my life. 

As I finished scrolling with disappointment, I felt bound by the limited options NYU offers for club sports. I closed my laptop and headed to the Palladium Athletic Facility to swim. It was routine, but on this particular day, following the realization that confined me to the unending cycle of swimming alone, I got to the pool and stared. For the first time, the pool looked empty. There would be no group warm ups, no one to take bathroom breaks with, no one asking me for a waterfall from my Gatorade. 

That night, I finished swimming, headed for the locker rooms and turned on the shower. I closed my eyes, and I was 16-years-old again, the smell of Dove shampoo filling up the air as my ears took in the conversation and singing of my teammates. But as the deafening silence overcame the locker room, I came back to reality. I walked out of Palladium alone, past the revolving doors, and put on my earbuds and headed home, unaccompanied.

Sports don’t provide students with just physical activity — they make you belong. And students deserve that feeling without having to commit to becoming a full-time student-athlete.

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Contact Claudia Yoon at [email protected]