Student Perspective

The Value of Intramural Sports

by Benjamin Skye | July 7, 2011 | Student Perspective 0 Comments

For an international student stepping into an American university setting for the first time, it can be quite a shock to witness just how most Americans seem to take college athletics so seriously…

As much as I still think the shape of the American football is weird, I decided that it was worth giving a shot. Here I am running towards a touchdown at Flag Football.

As much as I still think the shape of the American football is weird, I decided that it was worth giving a shot. Here I am running towards a touchdown at Flag Football.

When I first came to Texas in 2007, I had the misfortune of mistaking a burned orange t-shirt with the words “TEXAS” splattered across the top of an image of a longhorn head as just another piece of souvenir someone would pick up from a visit to Texas. This was, after all, exactly how I ended up with that t-shirt packed into my suitcase for my flight to Abilene from Penang, Malaysia. My father, who worked for Dell computers back in the day, had brought back this very shirt from his visit to Dell’s headquarters in Round Rock, Texas during a business trip.

My first few days in Texas, I wore that shirt with pride, hoping that it would help my fellow American classmates notice how enthusiastic I was about coming to the Lone Star state for college. Turns out, the shirt I was wearing was not one that represented the great state of Texas. It was during this time that I was introduced to the great sporting rivalry in college-level American football between the University of Texas’ Longhorns (their mascot) and the Texas A&M University Aggies.

In America, college athletics represent more than just simple school pride. For many big state schools, a prestigious college athletics program, whether in football, basketball, baseball or soccer, provides opportunity for lucrative income from sporting events and sponsorships. Student athletes with a dream of making it into the professional arena participate in college athletics with the hopes of being one day drafted into a top professional team in whatever sport they might be in.

The glories of top college student athletes’ aside, there remain a vast number of students who take part in sports for the love of it. This is where college intramurals come into play (no pun intended). Most universities in the U.S. acknowledge the need to cultivate well-rounded students, and intramural sports are where the non-college athlete gets the opportunity to play a sport just for the fun of it.

Like the students at St. Johns’ College, most of them self-confessed “bookworms”, I was never really the athletic type growing up, even though I did end up playing soccer and running track for high school while I was back in Chung Ling High School, Penang.

(Read this article about “Bookworms” at St. John’s College Discovering their “inner athlete”)

I also tried playing volleyball for the first time when I got to university. College is a time to try new things!

I also tried playing volleyball for the first time when I got to university. College is a time to try new things!

Being in university in America, however, made me realized just how far ahead America as a country is developing young athletes to become professionals. Most of my friends who play soccer here started training when they were 4-5 while I did not start playing until almost age 14. Here is a culture that greatly values talent in all areas, with proper structures and avenues in place to allow such talents to grow and succeed.

Yet at the same time, I have been just as impressed as just how most students here enjoy the thrill of sports, even if it is just playing for fun. Leo Pickens, St. John’s college’s athletic director was quoted as saying in the article above, “The fewer the spectators, the purer the sport”. Such is the spirit and the attitude that most American students that I have come in contact with display towards sports.

Personally, I would encourage any international student who is fit and healthy (without any major physical ailments) to participate in at least one intramural sport while they are here. The beauty of participating in a casual sporting event lies in the fact that there are so many good values to be learned – values that should not be left only to those athletes who are deemed more “skillful” than the average student.

So what have I learned from participating in intramurals at Hardin-Simmons University?

Winning the Co-Ed division of intramural soccer was one of the highlights of my freshman year at HSU. I have remained close friends with many of my teammates since then.

Winning the Co-Ed division of intramural soccer was one of the highlights of my freshman year at HSU. I have remained close friends with many of my teammates since then.

1.The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Gestalt psychologist observed that the value of an individual or an item is multiplied instead of increased when connected with other individuals or items to form collective unit. In other words, a team that comes together is capable of achieving more than any single individual. The value of teamwork is undeniable. We tend to associate growing up with achieving “independence”. In reality, we can never be isolated in life. In order to be successful in whatever we do, we need to depend on others, as well as making ourselves someone that others can rely on.

2. Winning is not everything.

It took me a really long time to figure out that winning is not the only way to enjoy a sport. One of the t-shirts I won for winning an intramural championship for men’s soccer at HSU had the phrase “The Journey is the Reward” printed on the front – a very valuable reminder that winning is just a bonus. Being too obsessed with winning will cause us to lose out on other things that are more important: friendships, dedication, passion, confidence, belief, and so on.

April 2011 - Winning the Men's Soccer Championship with my buddies, a great way to cap off a wonderful undergraduate career.

April 2011 - Winning the Men's Soccer Championship with my buddies, a great way to cap off a wonderful undergraduate career.

3. The world is bigger than we think.

During my time at HSU, I have played soccer with friends from Malaysia, Nigeria, China, Germany, Brazil, Mexico, Jamaica, Honduras, Japan, South Korea, Macau… You get the point. Of course, being at a university that has a huge student population will allow you to meet people from all over the world. But how often do you get the opportunity to find something in common that all of you are passionate about? For me, intramural sports (specifically soccer) have allowed me to be on a team with friends from all over the world. We were united not because of our language or race or nationality, but because we shared a common love for sport.

"Work hard, play harder!"

"Work hard, play harder!"

4. A healthy body is just as important as a healthy mind.

Our time in university is not just an important season to grow our minds. It is also a season to grow physically. Holistic education has to emphasize growth in every area of our lives. I have learned through intramurals how to manage my diet, how to take care of my body (i.e. the value of warming up!), and so on. Intramural sports give me a reason to take time out of my schedule to visit the gym and get in shape for the sport I love to play. It has helped me cultivate healthy lifestyle habits that I will hope to maintain the rest of my life.

5. Work hard, play harder – the key to making beautiful memories.

A university education is worth more than just the diploma you are given at graduation – it is an accumulation of all the wonderful memories you have made during those formative years of your life that will continue to form a lasting impression on you. At HSU, I have played in 6 soccer intramural finals and won 3 championships. Along the way, I have made wonderful memories of games and people I have encountered that I will hold dear for the rest of my life.  There is great value in working hard in school and making good grades (I know that personally, since I graduated with a 4.0 GPA), but at the same time, it would be such a waste if you were to miss out on other unique opportunities that you have while in university.

To read the article that inspired this blog post, please visit the link below:
At St. John’s College, Bookworms Discover Their “Inner Athlete”

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