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MIT Students’ Top 7 Reasons for Joining a Club Sport

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For many MIT students it can often seem like there are simply not enough hours in the day to take care of academics and still do the things which make them feel human. So what could possibly be so fulfilling as to convince hundreds of people in such a predicament to devote even more of their time to a competitive organization? The answer is simple: the joy of MIT Club Sports!

That’s right, the Club Sports Office offers over thirty clubs ranging from gymnastics to sport pistol and everything in between. Whether our athletes are curling or perfecting their cricket game, our clubs are a labor of love made by students, for students. Although they regularly succeed in the competitive arena, MIT club sports could not exist without constant participation and support from their dedicated membership.

But there’s no need to take our word for it! We interviewed dozens of club athletes to find out the MIT community’s Top Seven Reasons to Join a Club Sport.

1. Owning Your Own Time

It may be hard to believe at first, but becoming the newest member of a sports team can actually improve one’s time management skills without offsetting an already precarious work/life balance. MIT students are no strangers to tight timing or regimented routines, but many lack structure to their week which feels like it’s truly their own. Thankfully club sports are one of the few things flexible enough to enrich a busy day and still fit into your pre-existing plans. Marlis Denk-Lobnig, a veteran member of the gymnastics team who regularly devotes eight hours a week to practice, put it as such:

“I just have to make the time. In my experience if I make the decision, ‘this is when I’m going this week’ and then you just do it—then I can always make it work somehow even when it doesn’t seem like it. So in a way gymnastics makes me more efficient during the time I put into my other work." — Marlis Denk-Lobnig (Gymnastics)

2. Stress Relief

It’s no secret that pursuing an education at MIT can be one of the single most stressful endeavors known to man. While a great deal of the student body has found well adjusted approaches to relieving that stress or circumventing it all together, many individuals, particularly newer students, may still struggle with unloading at the end of the day. We spoke to one such student, first semester freshman Alex Encinas, during his first practice with men’s ultimate frisbee. Alex illustrated his situation as follows:

“Now that I’m three months into my first semester I’m getting tired of just going to school, going back to the dorm, studying, going to sleep, and repeating that. Back in high school I always used to throw around a disc with friends to destress. So [this club] could be really really good for me when I’m trying to take a break and do something different.” — Alex Encinas, freshman (Frisbee) 

3. Continuing a Passion

Many MIT students were athletes out on the field long before they became students in the lab. However not everyone has the time or energy to continue their athletic passions from before college. Through the flexible scheduling and supportive communities of club sports, however, there’s no need to abandon something you’ve been practicing for years because it would be “in the way”. Moreover, MIT offers a host of club level athletic options that have no varsity counterpart, rendering many clubs the university’s competitive flagship in their respective field. Here’s how Shannen Wu, a devoted member of club figure skating, described her experience:

“I’ve been figure skating since I was six, that’s twelve years now, so I didn’t want to just stop doing it when I came to college. I also saw this club at orientation so I knew it was something I was definitely going to join because it was a top-of-my-list priority to find a skating community. I was surprised because I thought no one here would have time for the sport but it’s actually a really tight-knit community.” — Shannen Wu (Figure Skating)

4. Being Part of a Team

MIT is positively brimming with communities to join. These groups root their identities in everything from residence halls to sorority charters and can be as small as two people or as large as hundreds. The numerous options may seem daunting, but we can help narrow it down for you. The MIT Club Sports website contains a detailed list of our over thirty clubs, each of which is bolstered by a tight-knit community of athletes that are always looking for new members. Best of all, no previous experience is required and every club is happy to train new students from the ground up. In fact, many athletes, such as men’s hockey captain Henry Merrow, joined as undergraduates, became leaders in their community, and continued to play well into graduate school. In Henry’s own words:

“I knew that I wanted to play a sport here at MIT, and I kind of stumbled upon club hockey. The chance to play competitively with so many great guys on the team has been a really special opportunity. The team aspect is really important. Being a leader on the team and having the chance to learn from so many other people has been very helpful to me as a person.” — Henry Merrow, club captain (Hockey)​

5. Group Exercise, Personal Fitness​

Maintaining physical fitness helps regulate the sleep cycle and bolster mental health, but it requires discipline, routine, and proper instruction to become a lifelong habit. While many of us are capable of doing so individually by hitting the gym, it can be difficult for others to self-motivate without a team sport to back them up. Fortunately, MIT’s club scene holds regular practices on a flexible schedule. Some teams even scrimmage at night while only requiring attendance to one or two practices a week! Joining a club sport makes exercising genuinely enjoyable, and with a little planning it will never compromise your schedule. Graduate student and veteran member of MIT’s men’s rugby club, Zach Boswell, has been doing exactly that despite a heavy workload and personal obligations for his entire career at the university. As Zach describes it:

“I’ve been playing for six years at MIT. This club makes it manageable to still do your studies and then do a sport like this that’s got a lot of physicality, demands a lot mentally while you’re on the field, as well as making you physically tough enough to do it. We’re in an off-season right now but we still train, we still work out. It can be a year-round sport if you really want it to.” — Zach Boswell, grad student (Rugby)

6. Coaches that Care

For many students, the only person capable of being as inspirational as a good professor is a sports coach. Often we associate these figures with elite varsity programs and giving big speeches in the locker room before an intercollegiate matchup. But did you know that MIT club sports offers its own host of seasoned coaches and instructors, many of whom have worked for those elite programs and given those speeches? No matter whether you choose archery or karate, there will be someone experienced there to help you establish and achieve goals new and old. Take wrestling coach Tom Layte for example. In Coach Layte’s own words:

“I’ve been coaching wrestling here since ‘99. We were a varsity program until then. I like coaching, I like seeing guys improve. Maybe it’s kinda selfish that we get to watch guys get better and we know that it’s because of what we’ve done and what we showed them. I mean the two huge goals for us are first to have fun and then to have success. We make it as fun as possible for [athletes] but we also try to show them what life skills they’ll really need.” — Tom Layte, coach (Wrestling) 

7. Intercollegiate Competition​

Both team and individual sports are excellent for staying in shape, making friends, and creating structure, but ultimately most athletes compete to win. While club sports easily accommodate those who prefer to practice for purposes of self-improvement, they also give you the opportunity to see where you stack up across multiple teams, leagues, and universities without the obligation of varsity athletics. In other words, if you’re in it to win it, DAPER has your back and can find you a place to show what you’ve got.

“Going to the gym is nice but I’ve grown up playing sports. The competitive nature of sports is, I guess, embedded in my DNA. It’s nice to get out there and not just lift weights--being part of a team again. It’s nice to be out there competing against other schools.” — Brett Lopez, grad student (Hockey)

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