The Value of Varsity Athletics: A Rebuttal

“You should reconsider where your priorities lie. Figure out if it is in academics or sport.”

That moment when. Photo Credit: Ron Leblanc

This statement was made directly to me in a meeting with a professor upon returning from England with the Canadian National Development team. To be sure, I did very well in the course, so I am not complaining about the mark. But those words hurt; they came as a shock, completely blindsiding me. Who doesn’t understand the importance of dedication, acquiring skills, developing oneself – be it in an academic or sports setting? Clearly not everyone thinks the way I do.

For several weeks, I could do nothing about this but sit on the experience, chewing the words over and over, wondering if what was said is true. But after weeks of thinking about it, I can no longer remain idle. I feel too strongly that athletics has been crucial to my education and growth as an individual – and not just for me, but for my teammates, friends and others who share similar passions.

My priorities are in order as a student, as a varsity athlete and as a person, as they are for many others who share similar goals. That being said, I would like to take the opportunity to share my experiences and perhaps give some more insight into how.

What being a varsity athlete means

Being a varsity student athlete is an honour and privilege that many people will never get to experience. To be one of the lucky few who represent their university is an exciting accomplishment. You get to meet others who share common interests and go through the journey that university presents. Practicing six days a week, three gym sessions and two conditioning sessions, on top of studying for three to six classes, volunteer coaching, as well as balancing a job takes dedication, organization, commitment, and desire.

So how, you may ask, exactly does sport relate to school whatsoever? Well, UVic encourages learning outcomes associated with encouraging students “to study and expand expressions of the human spirit,” which for me involves travelling for rugby, learning on the field and in the classroom, and experiencing special moments that I will never be able to re-create again.

Many of those special moments have come through the Vikes athletics department. From winning the school’s first ever Women’s Rugby Canada West Title, to qualifying for Nationals while helping build a program from the bottom is one of the most special experiences anyone can ever have. I would state that it’s a significant expression of the human spirit and has helped me gain a “rich understanding of cultural and global contexts that will prepare me [you] for life and work in the twenty-first century”.

Classroom vs field learning

IMG_2729I could argue that I have learned more valuable lessons about the world and about myself on a field, in a gym or on a tour than I ever could in a classroom. However, such lessons were learned in conjunction with being in class where those skill sets transfer nicely to both worlds.

A rugby field is a dynamic classroom that changes its environment every few seconds. You need to be able to adapt to changes in schedules, to read a situation in front of you in seconds and solve a problem to get around an obstacle while working with over 25 other individuals, on and off the field to achieve a common goal.

Workplace-related skills

Those skills of communication, leadership methods, cohesion and getting along with different individuals are learned and easily used in the workplace. Not to mention how off-field skills learned in a classroom are used in outside contexts.

One such example is video analysis, much like editing. You scrutinize every single aspect of your game to find the tiny mistakes that make a huge difference in the overall result.

I am fortunate enough to be not only a varsity athlete but a national team athlete as well whose experiences on the rugby field have translated to all areas of my life – from creating valuable networking opportunities, to my work at CARSA, my academic pursuits and personal development.

Athletic career reality

I have my entire life to build a career and be a student, but a very short window to be an athlete at the CIS and international levels. At any moment, an athletic career could be over in the blink of an eye. I have suffered from a herniated disc, a stress fracture and countless other injuries that left me sidelined for months, and have watched numerous friends encounter similar roadblocks. Those experiences built resilience and made me look at my athletic career as one aspect of my being, rather than being the defining pillar of my individuality.

There is a life beyond sport and one day the time will come when I can no longer play.

This is where academics and the importance of acquiring those skills comes in.

In the cutthroat world of sport, at the elite university and international levels, people train just as hard as professionals but without the benefits and comfort of salary. Hence, it is crucial to find balance in life between all the things you love. Life is too short to focus purely on one thing when you have the ability to combine what you love, and combine it well.

Dedicating myself to being the best I can be

I am lucky to be a part of an environment that is highly supportive at UVic, and that pushes me to become a better individual athletically and academically. Athletics teaches you to embrace the challenge that comes along with the position. You dedicate yourself to being the best you can be, whatever the objective is – a class, a game, a race, a test.

IMG_2638As ultimately everyone has a unique pathway to future careers. Mine just happens to involve a love for a sport paired alongside academic pursuits; which so far are setting me and my colleagues up for future success. I can do both – successfully. Many do. You don’t need to choose. They augment each other.

Still not convinced?

Just watch me.

Thanks for reading,


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9 Responses

  1. Nia says:

    Amen, Jess. I’ve seen you do it from the age of 12. In fact, you’re basically a pro now on balancing school, rugby, and life, so I don’t know why he’s concerned. I can’t wait to watch you achieve everything you set your mind to.

    I once had a university instructor who made a similar comment, of sorts. The best thing I’ve ever learned is to accept the comment and use it as motivation to prove them wrong.

    I’ll see you in Dublin in 2017 😉

  2. Frank Yakimchuk says:

    I was coaching young women in High School, I was told that some of the male teachers would say to the players, “why do you want to play rugby? “, “you going to get your nose broken or damage yourself”.

    • Jess says:

      That is absolutely absurd!! I can’t believe attitudes like that still persist today given all the activism around eqaulity in women’s sport. Although speaking from first hand experience and stories like this, we still have a long way to go! I hope those girls you coached stuck with it!

  3. Gillian says:

    Good for you, Jes. I Know that there are many of us who support you, and those like you, on your path. We must support all those on campus who are trailblazers and change-makers! We are not the troublemakers but the sun and the water that leads to growth. Well done.

    • Jess says:

      Thank you kindly Gillian, I know I am supported well (and my teammates/other athletes) by MANY at the university thanks to individuals like yourself!

  4. CB says:

    Great work Jess! It just goes to show that you CAN achieve excellence in both sports and academics at the university level. This is a fantastic post that I sincerely hope is read by prospective students everywhere who aspire to become varsity athletes. #GoVikesGo

  5. DaveK says:


    You’ve got it right. Ernie Gare started the first athletic scholarship in Canada, and It’s still running today. Athletics and Academics have equally as much to teach us. From the core, what we do in University only sets the stage for life-long learning. Anyone that thinks academics are the be-all are dead wrong.

  6. Mark Pratt (former Velox Coach) says:

    You nailed it with every point you make Jess, and any one of them could stand on its own to validate varsity sport ,