When college students arrive on campus at the beginning of their freshman year, many are anxious about making friends. Living in a new place with entirely new people makes students crave the sense of belonging they felt at home. There are many places that students can make friends, though many see rushing a fraternity or sorority as the best way to acclimatize to college life. Most colleges and universities across America have students that participate in Greek Life. Some schools, like DePauw University in Indiana, report 79% of their male population participated in Greek Life. These students join sororities and fraternities with the hopes of making new friends and finding their place in this new environment.
Greek life offers a lot to incoming students, but rushing a sorority or fraternity is not the only option for students who want to find a family at school. Joining a Rugby Team is an excellent way to branch out at college. And it's exciting to see that there is more rugby in college than ever before. But rugby teams are different than other sports teams because team camaraderie goes way beyond what happens on the pitch. For a Rugby team to be successful, everyone must work together. Since every player is crucial and cohesiveness is paramount, teams become more like families than athletic organizations. Rugby culture is rooted in tradition as much as it is rooted in athleticism and competitiveness. Many traditions exhibited in rugby culture mirror Greek culture. The main difference being, that Rugby players are best friends who work hard together on the field before playing hard off the field. Both Greek Culture and Rugby Culture offer a place for students to find close friends and attain a sense of belonging. Though in my opinion, Rugby does it so much better.
Finding a place at college
When I walked onto the field for my first rugby practice as a rookie, I was nervous and self-conscious. The pamphlets taped around my dorm assured me that everyone is welcome on the team, no tryouts or experience necessary. Even so, I was still shaking in my boots. I arrived 15 minutes early and sipped nervously on my water bottle, waiting to catch a glimpse at the returning players. I spotted a group of fierce and fit women who seemed eager to begin the first practice of the season. The captains instructed us to line up to run our warm up lap and stretch. I looked around for someone I might know, but since I was a Freshman I was still unfamiliar with most everyone at the school. My captain stepped in front of the players. She shushed the returners who were excitedly catching up and introduced herself. She told the team that she was excited that we had come out, and was excited for us all to get to know one another. We started that practice with funny introductions and ice-breakers before going nervously getting into the game.
Most of the new players had never touched a rugby ball in their life, including me. We were apprehensive about the priority, and weren’t sure whether or not we would be talented enough to remain on the team. I was used to selective sports teams in high school that would never accept a player who had no idea what they were doing. I soon realized that on the rugby pitch, no one was frustrated that we were dropping the balls and tackling incorrectly. The older players helped us to get better, and they were patient teachers. They greeted the freshman rookies with enthusiasm and kindness.
What is even more valuable than the warm welcome received on the field was that we began to know our teammates on a personal level and frequently bonded with them outside of the game. After the very first practice, we were invited to eat dinner with the team, and after our first game the upperclassmen invited us to a post-game social with them. It became clear that being together off the field was an essential part of the sport. To mesh well during a game, we needed to trust each other and have one another’s backs.
Learning to manage an organization
The opportunities of Greek Life are not limited to socialization. One thing that sororities and fraternities teach their members is how to run an organization. These sororities and fraternities are essentially small organizations which need to be funded and managed by the students who participate in Greek life. Sororities and Fraternities often run fundraising events for their own chapter, as well as contribute to many charities through both labor and fundraising. Not every member is required to participate in running the chapter, but those who do can often apply their experience to future endeavors like a career or even just personal finance.
Just like Sororities and Fraternities, rugby clubs in college teach their players how to run a successful organization. Since few American undergraduate institutions recognize their rugby team as an official NCAA sport, most Rugby clubs are run by current players. That is why most rugby teams are club sports which require representation to their student activities organization. The representative will attend budgeting meetings and ensure that the rugby club is getting sufficient funding. These rugby clubs are also responsible for keeping up with USA Rugby guidelines. For a team to exist, they must CIPP, or register with the USA rugby organization. To CIPP, teams must have a minimum of 15 players and a registered and qualified coach to be recognized as a legitimate team by USA Rugby. Registering the team provides insurance for both the team and the players which are vital considering the contact nature of the sport.
Another regulation that clubs must follow is to provide an official referee at their games. Rugby clubs must also have an on-site medic, and often an ambulance, in case any serious injuries happened during a game. Some teams even provide a physical therapist or trainer on the sidelines of their games. There is also the added expense of travel to away games and the occasional overnight stays known as rugby tours. All of these expenses add up, and money must be handled carefully to provide ample funds for each of these essential services. Everything from purchasing balls to organizing matches is a duty performed by a member of the team. There is a lot to juggle in running an organization like a Rugby Club or a Sorority. Sometimes there can be a steep learning curve to learning these organizational skills, but once a person gains that kind of experience, they will be better equipped to manage all different challenges.
Challenges and conflict resolution
Learning how to handle money and follow official rules is valuable, but perhaps the most important education that comes from rushing Greek or joining Rugby is how to work with a group of people and how to solve conflict effectively. Younger members have to learn how to respect the students who have a leadership role within their group. The rookies have to listen to their rugby team captain, within reason, for a team to run smoothly. Just like pledges must respect the customs and decisions of the senior members of their sorority or fraternity. These groups also teach students how to be effective leaders. Eventually, those pledges and rookies will find themselves having to assume a leadership role. They will able to draw from their experiences of being an underclassman, and apply their knowledge to leading and improving their organization. Sometimes it can be difficult to lead a group of people who are so similar in age, but learning how to lead your peers is a phenomenal exercise. Since Greek life and College rugby teams are separated by gender, it provides equal opportunities for both women and men to learn how to be a good leader as well as a good follower.
Things may not always run smoothly within a college rugby club, sorority, or fraternity. After all, families fight; that is an inevitable facet of life. But, it is how these groups learn to cope with the conflict that nurtures personal growth. Whether the conflict is resolved between two members, a group, or by the intervention of a leader, experiencing this as an undergraduate teaches students important lessons about conflict resolution. When students graduate college and join the workforce, many will be required to work in teams. They will likely face conflict at their workplace or other challenges that arise when working with a team. Individuals who were part of Greek life or in a Rugby club during college will be better equipped to solve problems, and their emotional quotient is likely to be higher as a result of their experiences in college.
Rugby is based on physicality
Though Greek life and rugby culture share many similarities, they are fundamentally different at their core. Rugby culture is based on athleticism and competition. Rugby players are brought together on the field to play a sport together, to push their bodies to the limit, and to push their fitness boundaries as a team. Though for many, the fitness aspect may be of secondary importance to the family they gain when joining the team, the fitness benefits of playing rugby are not insignificant. Most teams practice multiple times a week and are required to train in the off season to keep up their endurance and strength. Exercise is an effective way to cope with the stress a lot of students feel while they are in college. Carving out time to go to practice or workout helps me to stay focused on schoolwork. Rugby practice is also a fun way to workout because you are playing a game alongside your friends which helps motivate players to get their workout in at practice.
Most people will never have the vast amount of free time that college students have. For most students, classes take up a small percentage of a student’s day. The rest of the day should ideally consist of homework and study, though that usually takes up only a portion of the time. The vast amount of undirected time often leads to procrastination. As an incoming Freshman, I had a lot of trouble trying to figure out how to budget my time. Having a set practice or workout time during the day helped me get ahead of work. I may enjoy rugby immensely, but my first priority is always school. If I am going to commit a couple of hours of my afternoon to the sport, I have to make sure that I complete my homework. Greek life may offer a place for like-minded students to socialize and flourish, but Rugby provides an outlet for stress and a love for fitness that becomes ingrained in the players for a lifetime.
College rugby teams and Greek life both provide students with a sense of belonging when they are away at college. They allow students to branch out and meet new people. They also provide students with organizational skills that their academic schedule will not. College education should be about so much more than just mathematics or history. It should teach students how to live on their own away from the safety net that many parents provide. Students should learn how to make friends and try new things that they never thought they were able to do. The four years spent at college should teach young adults about finances and running an organization. Most importantly, students should gain experience working with a group of people, resolving conflicts, and understand what it takes to be a successful leader. In my opinion, rugby can offer an excellent alternative to Greek Life with all the same benefits.
Photo Credit: K.M. Klemencic