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In the months leading up to my arrival in Cambridge, I was apprehensive about whether I should join any college sports teams. I had a complicated relationship with sport during my time at school and sixth-form and worried that the sporting scene at Cambridge might be similarly negative

While I loved playing sport at my all-girls school, my experience was undoubtedly tainted by the cliquey atmosphere generated by teachers who consistently selected their favourite students for the best positions. Despite turning up to all the training sessions and trying my best, I received little encouragement and was judged if I made even the smallest mistake in a game. For me, school sport had a spiteful side which often left me with low self-esteem and feelings of self-loathing. 

For me, school sport had a spiteful side which often left me with low self-esteem and feelings of self-loathing. 

Much to my dismay, the situation remained broadly the same when I moved to a mixed sixth-form. The netball team there had changed little since junior school and so the girls were all very good friends and were hostile to newcomers. Determined to make a fresh start with sport, I threw myself into weekly training sessions and competitions, intent on giving it my best shot. However, each session increasingly left my self-confidence in tatters. 

Having come home from sixth-form in floods of tears for the umpteenth time after a netball session, I decided to stop playing sport in sixth-form altogether as I knew it was having detrimental effects on my self-esteem. Whilst quitting sport helped me to erase those feelings of negativity, cutting out exercise during my sixth-form years was a terrible decision for my mental health. I began to feel lower than I had ever done before, my body confidence plummeted and so did my productivity, all because I was not experiencing the endorphins and happy feelings that exercise is scientifically proven to release. 

Gradually, I began to realise that despite my negative experience of sport, I needed to introduce exercise back into my life. My mum encouraged me to join a local running club on my gap year and I began running 15-20k a week. I regained my fitness and my mental wellbeing. I fell in love with the simplicity and independence of running – the way you can spontaneously slip on your trainers with only your own body and stamina to rely on. 

I didn’t run for fitness – I ran because I found that it cleared my headspace. When you run, you are acutely aware of your breath more than usual and so you are put in touch with your physicality and the space you inhabit as a human being. This focus on the physical helped me to forget the things weighing on my mind. Running became my new favourite hobby and I ran a few different races throughout the year. 

I didn’t run for fitness, I ran because I found that it cleared my headspace.

But despite the mental respite running afforded me, I began to find its solitude overwhelming and I started to crave the thrill of team sports. I looked towards the sporting scene at Cambridge as an opportunity to regain what I had lost. 

When the day came for college netball trials, I came very close to giving it a miss, worried that it might be a repeat of my experiences at school. Fortunately, I went, and I found that my initial assumptions about college sport could not have been more wrong. 

The netball girls at my college were so welcoming to newcomers, and the atmosphere was relaxed, positive and encouraging. No one is singled out for mistakes and everyone is included. I found that college sport is a great way to socialise with people from outside of your staircase and subject, and is a great complement to more solitary forms of exercise such as running. 


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I still run regularly to complement my netball training and I love the contrast between the two different types of exercise. Running is about solitude and self-reliance whereas netball revolves around teamwork and interdependence. Running gives me fresh air and some space away from the claustrophobia of college life. Netball is the antidote to the individualistic competitive nature of Cambridge as you have to work together in a team.  Both have been invaluable to me in relieving the stress of life here at Cambridge. 

Sport has become a kind of healing for me: it cures writer’s block, fatigue, stress, and sadness. If I am not being productive, the knowledge that I am playing a netball match or going running makes me feel that at least I did something beneficial for myself that day. So if you run but you’re craving that team spirit, rest assured it’s not too late to join a college sports team and notice a decrease in your stress levels and boost in your happiness and general wellbeing.

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