Quick advice for anyone who wants to play elite level sport while they’re studying abroad in North America.
(experience from the University of Toronto in Canada)
What is Varsity?
It is essentially the first team for any sport at a university in North America, except they receive far more funding than UK sports teams do as they tend to lead into American and Canadian professional sports like in the NFL or NBA, and there’s usually only one team rather than A, B, C teams. It also gets big crowds as school pride is huge in North America, so be ready to play in front of hundreds or even thousands of fans.
How High is the Standard?
I was playing soccer (I know it should be football, but they get confused out here) and I was expecting the standard to be low because Canada isn’t exactly famed for its soccer ability but I was very wrong. It was evident even from just the first few weeks of training that my teammates had little else that interested them and so they were a high standard, and most had played in specialist academies or had international club experience. Therefore, if soccer can have such a high level, then so can any sport in North America.
What is Involved?
Varsity is a great experience in elite sport but it does take an incredible amount of time and can force you to sacrifice other experiences, so you have to be sure that sports is your main focus of your year abroad. I had to wake up at 6am for 7am training most days and gym sessions in the evening which meant sacrificing nights outs with new friends as well as passing up on travel opportunities as matches are usually at weekends.
However, the additional opportunities you get are great (Although I can only speak from a Toronto perspective). You get elite level coaching and physiotherapy daily, priority access to counselling services and dietician services. Away from sport varsity athletes are often recognised on campus and are always the centre of attention – especially with a British accent.
Is it Worth it?
This is a question only you can answer. On one side, it is a great opportunity to play elite sports in front of large cheering crowds. On the other, it does take a lot of commitment and may detracted from the myriad of other experiences that can make a year abroad even more special. The choice is yours and good luck!