Try a new sport with the 'Turn Up and Play' sessions


Henry Gee attends a 'Turn Up and Play' Volleyball session for a new, supportive and volunteer lead fitness experience

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Image by University of York Volleyball Club

By Henry Gee

I saw an inspiring quote online that I’d like to share – “Every year you make a resolution to change yourself. This year, make a resolution to be yourself”. It was anonymous, presumably because whoever wrote it was chased out of town immediately after they said it – the message asinine, the turn of phrase pretentious. Yet it did, however briefly, give me pause for thought.

I’ve always liked to think that I was fairly good at being myself. But lately, it seemed that being myself was beginning to resemble simply not caring about myself. I was unfit, unmotivated, and un-whatever-I-naively-thought-I-was. So, against the advice of an anonymous internet idiot, this year I made a resolution to change myself in order to better be myself.

One of the problems I have with personal fitness (some might call them excuses) is that too often this involves running. I find running incredibly boring. Especially on a treadmill – going nowhere, slowly getting wet and out-of-breath. Not a metaphor I find particularly appealing at this stage of my life. However, I understand its usefulness, so I’ve started to do it.

But there must be more to fitness than just going through the motions. I wanted more. I wanted it to be fun, competitive, and welcoming. Sport is the only thing that can offer this. But I’m not good enough for any University or College sport. What to do?

I went onto the YUSU website, looking to see if there was anything on offer that I would not only be interested in, but suited my less-than-ideal sporting prowess. And whaddayaknow, a University that contributed £5 million to a new sports centre, did in fact offer a sporting thing that piqued my interest.

“Turn Up and Play Sessions”. Free, beginner-friendly, volunteer lead sports sessions held every week. A chance to get fit, learn a new sport, and meet people, all without having to pay £320 a year for membership. I could have chosen from the likes of football (but I haven’t acted in a long time), futsal (just sounds like a 6-year-old failing to say football), or touch rugby (lawsuits pending). Instead, I chose volleyball, a sport I have never played, and didn’t even know the University offered. Admittedly, I am not a very good barometer for knowing what sports things the university offers.

The sessions are every Friday in Arena 2 at whatever the sports centre on West is called. I went along to the first one of this term (20 January).

As ever, I am the first to arrive. I took it really well, only freaking out and having to call my girlfriend to calm me down once. Quite proud of myself, actually. I tend to not be the most graceful when it comes to entering new spaces, so to not bail after freaking out was a genuine indicator that I was serious about wanting to get fit and make a permanent change.

Slowly, people begin to filter in. No one really making eye contact, a lot of crossed arms, a lot of comfort fidgeting. About twelve people eventually turn up. We’re given an introductory speech that highlights what these sessions will be about.

Above all else, the prevailing message was one of fun. Yes, you’re here to learn a skill. Yes, you’re here to get some exercise. But if you’re not having fun, then in some regards they’ve failed at what these sessions are ultimately supposed to be about.

As it turned out, the volunteers have been running these sessions since the beginning of the year, meaning I was one of only two people who hadn’t ever played it before. We were given our own little corner of Arena 2, and taught the basics whilst everyone else began hitting volleyballs at each other.

Volleyball is essentially made up of three things: digging, setting, and smashing.

Digging is what I would think of as the classic volleyball pose, hands interlocked, elbows locked together, breasts plumped. The volleyball is supposed to hit you on the forearms, so we practised getting into the position and consistently hitting the ball straight up and down. Totally didn’t hurt one bit.

Smashing is where, well, you, like…smash. I don’t know how else to…that’s it.

Setting is the soft, pushed lay-up so that someone else can smash the volleyball. You have to pretend you’re part of the Illuminati with your hands, and simply push the volleyball straight upwards.

Watching the volleyball leave and fall, all in perfect perspective from your face, staring upwards. The rafters fade away, only the volleyball, leaving and falling. Hypnotised. I snap out of it when I miss and get smacked square in the face.

Anyway, all this culminated in a 6 vs 6 match, rotating positions every couple of sets. No one was especially great; the volleyball very rarely got over the net (that thing is a lot taller in person!). But every time someone would almost get to it over, or a little rally would miraculously happen, everyone claps. Everyone gives, and is given, words of encouragement.

The support from everyone, participant or volunteer, was amazing. I’m terrible at remembering people’s names, but I wish I could because everyone was really lovely. It’s clear that every volunteer is doing it because they love the sport and want others to feel even a fraction of that love.

Was I terrible, yes. Will I go again, absolutely. I felt great after, my mood massively elevated. I made a resolution to change myself, and feel so much better for it. I hope I can sustain that. Seems that anonymous exile was wrong. My face is still really sore though.