Students tout benefits of joining a club team

Sophomore international business major Isabela Fernandez takes a swing at the ball during a tennis match. (Photo courtesy of Isabela Fernandez)

Lacing up his cleats and taking a deep breath, junior journalism major Ryan Bough prepares for the rugby game that lay ahead of him. The sound of laughter from his teammates, the smell of the green grass and the excitement in the air take his mind off of everything else; academics, family, relationships. 

It’s all about rugby at this moment.

“When I’m on the field, when I’m with my brothers it’s all about rugby,” Bough said. “We’re not thinking about what’s due next week for homework. We’re not thinking about the upcoming midterm. It’s just right in the moment.”

Bough is one of 125 Pepperdine club sports athletes who has found physical and mental health benefits from playing. Students participate in women’s lacrosse, men’s rugby, tennis, surfing, beach volleyball, and various esports teams. Roughly 400 to 500 students, faculty and staff are involved in the flag football and volleyball intramural sports teams offered this semester. 

Around 2 million college students participate in club sports nationally, a national average of 17% of students, according to the American College Health Association

Social benefits

Making the leap to join a club team can seem like another commitment on top of a hectic course schedule, but competitive play can provide many social and mental benefits and give students a break from classes.

“Everybody who is on a club team is part of a full-on team,” said Julian Baker, the coordinator of Recreational Sports. “So there’s that aspect of it, the community and the connection and the cohesion with your teammates. It’s a different type of bond than you might have with some of your just everyday friends, or even your family or your co-workers. So I think that community aspect is really great.” 

Baker has worked for Campus Recreation for four years now, and graduated from Pepperdine in 2019. 

Continuing sports comes with many health benefits like any other form of exercise. But joining an intramural sport in college can also help decrease chances of obesity, symptoms of depression and overall mental health, Tyler Ward wrote in his 2008 study,  “The Effects of Intramural Sports on College Students.” 

“The mental health aspect of it as well is something I really try to preach with our club athletes and also our intramural student athletes,” Baker said. “But still it’s a balance with everything that they’re doing with school and work and their personal life.”

Getting involved with a club sports team allows students to participate in something a little more fun and lighthearted with other students and break out of the routine of studying.

“It’s a great workout and getting to meet new people and just having a break from stressing out and worrying about school and doing homework is really nice,” said Joy Kim, first-year education major and intramural volleyball player.

Joining a team can also provide a community for students to have as an outlet and create more friendships.

“Just being with the Brotherhood again has kind of fixed my mental state here at Pepperdine as a transfer student coming in,” Bough said. “You’re kind of just thrown into the fire. You don’t really find a group and a lot of transfer students don’t ever find their group until they graduate. So I was really thankful to get on the rugby team and kind of find my group with those brothers and continue on till I graduate.”

For those who played sports throughout their high school career, joining a club team can provide some of the same community and fitness characteristics while also being less time consuming during a busy college schedule.

I loved playing volleyball in high school,” Kim said. “I wasn’t going to pursue it in college or anything, so just finding something that was super low commitment that you know, I didn’t have like scholarships depending on it was just something that I could still do and play the sport that I love has been really great.”

Academic benefits

Club and intramural sports can help students relieve stress and create long-lasting bonds, but playing on a recreational team can also boost their grades.

The average GPA of first-year club athletes was 3.25 compared to 3.07 for those who didn’t play on a team, according to 2019 Michigan State University study on club sports. The same study also found that students who took part in recreational sports were “less likely to drop or fail any classes their first year and were 40 percent more likely to move onto sophomore status. They also were 2.5 times more likely to come back to the university.”

The benefits reaped from joining a club team can help provide or improve long-lasting skills that students can take into their careers.

“Having practice daily forces me to be more responsible and organize my time better,” said Isabela Fernandez, a sophomore international business major who plays club tennis. “Plus it creates a scheme for how my day will look and whatnot.”

Having a regular practice schedule along with games promotes better time management for students to stay on top of their work.

“It definitely helps with time management, trying to fit it into an 18-credit schedule,” Bough said. “You’ve got two practices and then a lot of the guys go to the gym every day so they don’t get injured. So you’ve got to figure out how to get a three-hour practice in when studying eight hours a day.”

Exercising improves blood circulation, ultimately providing more blood to the brain, along with more energy and oxygen that can help increase concentration and brain performance, physiologist Sarah Evans wrote in a 2020 article. Participating in exercise can help students prevent disease, and also improve their academic lives.

Health benefits

Any form of exercise is important to staying healthy, and joining a club team is one way to get involved and stay fit during the busy college schedule.

The average Pepperdine student on a club team devotes at least six hours a week practicing, along with games on some weekends, Baker said.

Evans reported that the UK Chief Medical Officer recommended spending around 150 minutes a week doing moderate exercise, which can help lower the chances of cardiovascular disease by 35%.

Staying fit and joining a club or intramural team in college can bring many benefits: a sense of belonging, increased academic performance, and a healthier lifestyle.

“It just gives you that support network when you’re on the field with these guys,” Bough said. “When you’re working hard, when you’re sweating, when you’re bleeding with these guys. They really become brothers. So I know I can go to any one of my teammates and I can talk to them, I can ask them for help. And for the most part, they’ll help me and we kind of want everyone to succeed. We want everyone back on their feet. So we’re all together.”

Ashley Paulsen completed the reporting for this story in Jour 241 under the supervision of Dr. Christina Littlefield and Dr. Theresa de los Santos. Dr. Littlefield supervised the web version of the story.