Regular readers may be aware of my longstanding disregard towards certain aspects of the AU, and their ‘performance sport’ programme is one such element which, in this writer’s opinion, is symptomatic of an even greater issue with our approach to sports at this university.
While our AU professes to encourage “excellence” through its performance sport program, the only truly notable athlete to have ever studied at St Andrews was Sir Chris Hoy, who then left after 2 years to complete his studies at the University of Edinburgh for the sake of his sporting career.
Therefore, the only truly excellent athlete the University has ever produced left as he knew remaining here would not benefit his sporting ambitions. This is hardly a glimmering record, therefore, in terms of the sporting excellence which our university supposedly encourages.
Rather than suggest a removal of our university’s performance sport programme, many of the students who partake in them certainly appreciate the extra funding and manpower dedicated to them, I would simply like to use this article to suggest that, occasionally, the University could take itself slightly less seriously when it comes to sport.
Directors of sport seem to be a significant expense for any sports here and, although they are admittedly reserved for the sports which, in theory, most require them based on results and quality of athletes, one could certainly argue that, given we are by no means a sporting university, it would be fairer to share resources more equally across all the sports.
From my personal experience in the Football and Hockey Clubs here (both performance sports) the quality and commitment of the individual team coach is far more important than any involvement by the Director/Head Coach. However, during my research for this article, it certainly seemed that the opinion of the team coaches was that the directors of sport were instrumental in the background work they did to help the coaches.
Indeed, it may be the case that, because we work much closer with our coaches than with the overall Director of Sport, our view of their significance is somewhat weighted unfairly. There is certainly also a feeling among the coaches that the long-term vision provided by directors of their respective sports is undeniably valuable in terms of providing a plan for the future and progression of the club which will be resistant to changes in staff and students.
Thus, although I personally feel that directors are surplus to the University’s sporting requirements, I willingly recognise the fact that this opinion is by no means shared by the coaching staff themselves and that part of the reason for our fantastic team coaches is the actions of the directors themselves.
Although we have now established that directors of sports within the performance programmes are a key part of the overall coaching structure which trickles down to the players themselves, I think it is certainly worth asking whether the overall approach of our institution to sport is appropriate given the characteristics of the student body.
Elite athletes do not come to this university, unless they happen to be even more elite academics, and thus one could certainly question whether treating our sporting programmes in such a professional manner is necessary or even desired by the students.
We all certainly appreciate the fantastic coaching we receive here and enjoy the opportunities afforded to us by the various sports clubs at this university although, from my experience of various sporting clubs here so far, the balance between results and the social aspects of sport is of paramount importance.
In certain sports here, either on account of the sheer sporting workload (on top their academic commitments) the first team players fall far short of those in lower teams in terms of balancing the two with the lower/mid-tier teams within sporting clubs regularly contributing most to the social side of sports here.
Of course, no one should feel pressured to join in any social aspects of sports clubs if they don’t want to and indeed some clubs unintentionally drive capable athletes away through excessive focus on the social side, but I have found that sport here at the University is best enjoyed when there is a healthy mix between tough training sessions, gritty fixtures, morale-lifting socials and informal sessions (such as Mixed Hockey or Sunday League Football).
Thus, if there is a specific message from this article, it would be that I strongly encourage you all to embrace all aspects of your sporting clubs equally and not to get too hung up on the performance and results side of things if it comes at the expense of your overall enjoyment of the social and informal elements of the club instead.