A Semester like no other

Saturday 19 December 2020

Sport at St Andrews abruptly stopped in line with Scottish Government restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak at the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

At Saints Sport we were committed to ensuring a swift reopening of our facilities and services as restrictions were lifted and when it was safe to do so, and in a phased way that helped to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

From pitch to court, gym hall to water, thousands of students have persevered through this unrivalled and ever-changing Semester, following Sports Governing Body guidelines to help maximise the experience of their peers.

Over the Summer, Saints Sport opened its facilities with a phased return to sport following a period of rigorous planning and review. This involved changing facility layouts, such as the setup in the gym, providing alternative routes into the building and shifting away from usual practices.

We were pleased to be able to host a series of sports camps over the Summer holidays to provide an opportunity for local children to take part in physical activity after an elongated period of lockdown. The re-opening of the gym for staff, students and the community, was also a welcome addition for many of our members.

At the start of term, we were delighted to be able to host our annual Sports Fayre, which after careful planning offered many students the opportunity to find out about our sports clubs in a safe and socially distanced setting. The event was held outside over two days during Orientation Week and was followed by a virtual event for those who were unable to attend in-person.

With clubs and staff working hard to adhere to Scottish Government, University and Governing Body guidelines, as sport slowly returned, albeit in a different way, it was pleasing to see an increase in participation within our clubs.

Most clubs reported a rise in membership numbers, with many outdoor sports seeing their figures rise twofold. Moreover, most clubs have continued to report high turnouts and levels of commitment throughout the entirety of the Semester, indicating the importance participating in sport and physical activity has been for our students’ health and wellbeing during the restrictions.

In line with Scottish Government guidelines, the Saints Sport team has tackled a wide range of obstacles presented throughout this Semester. During the voluntary lockdown in October, the gym was closed. The subsequent ‘Tier 3’ announcement saw a tightening of regulations with certain contact sports and activities being guided towards other forms of exercise, and a larger focus on number capacity in sessions.

One of the most recent developments was the COVID Asymptomatic Test Centre being set up in the Sports Arena, which ultimately limited the space available for sport and exercise. Sports Clubs have remained understanding to the changes and have worked hard to provide alternative and creative opportunities for their members at every turn.

Coaches in particular have been monumental in ensuring sport can continue at the University. They have faced numerous challenges including coping with a decrease in resources, ensuring they are providing a safe environment for participants, working with limited or reduced training times, shifting to outdoor provision, having a strict commitment to monitoring numbers at sessions whilst all the while embracing precautions required as a result of COVID-19. This is all alongside being a main source of motivation for many students. Nonetheless, a number of coaches have emphasised the resilience that every single member has shown within their sport.

Likewise, safe sporting practice would not have been possible without many of the new improvements within clubs. Alongside bubble leaders and COVID-officers, sports clubs have placed a huge emphasise on wellbeing and mental health initiatives. Throughout the Semester, our sports clubs have continued hosting social events for their members – albeit online or in a strict and controlled outdoor setting – and placed a large emphasis on new initiatives, as can be seen in the majority of the sports’ social media pages. On top of this, many athletes have taken advantage of the spare time resulting from a competition-free season, to undertake coaching qualifications, courses or to volunteer.

Although one of the main impacts to the Semester has been the lack of competitive sport, this has allowed students and clubs to focus on new initiatives or challenges.

The most notable achievement of the Semester was Emily Dark’s call up to the Senior Women’s GB Hockey squad for their games against The Netherlands and Belgium. Emily, a third-year physics student is a Scottish Senior Women’s Hockey Internationalist and part of the performance hockey programme at the University.

It is very clear how important sport has been to thousands of students across St Andrews this Semester. As we embark on the festive period, Saints Sport is proud to be a part of the University wide Can Do initiative, which will see opportunities provided for staff and students who remain in St Andrews over the break. From free giveaways for personal training and gym memberships, to free golf lessons, free range balls at the Links Academy there is something for everyone staying here in St Andrews over the break.

More information about our Festive Sport Programme can be found on our website and for the latest news and updates from Saints Sport please follow our social media accounts.