Joining Sports Clubs or Teams Abroad

When I was originally thinking about studying abroad, one of the most difficult parts of that decision was knowing that I would have to either end or put a hold on my gymnastics career (little did I know, a blown out knee would basically make that decision for me). It’s not always easy to take a few weeks, let alone, a few months off from the sport you’ve been practicing for most of your life, and be able to jump back into things without missing a few beats.  Many college athletes, especially those on scholarships, feel they can’t take the time away from their sport or their teams to study abroad. But we want to encourage student athletes to realize that they can, in fact, find ways to take advantage of these global opportunities and even benefit from them!

Tips for joining sports clubs and teams abroad:

1. Research. Check with your program provider or the overseas university’s website to search for sports teams and intramural clubs that may be offered. Some programs are even catered to students who want to focus on a certain sport!

2. Contact someone on the team or club and schedule a time to meet. You’ll likely have a few days, if not more, between the time you arrive at your university and when you start classes.  You’ll have a better chance of scheduling a meeting time if you do it before you leave, otherwise you might get to your host country and be overwhelmed with all the fun and exciting options that will be available (though that’s not entirely a bad problem to have).

3. Don’t be intimidated by new team members.  They don’t know what your history is, so you’re starting with a clean slate. If you were known as “butterfingers” on your football or rugby team, or missed that crucial goal during your soccer team’s playoff match, your new team won’t know about that, and will likely be excited to just get to get to know you and see what you can bring to the team.

Benefits of joining a sports team or club abroad

1. Learn the game from a whole different perspective. Some countries have various techniques that you may not be used to seeing or using, but it doesn’t mean their ways are wrong.  This opportunity will truly challenge your ability to adapt and be open minded to new ways of doing things.

2. Helps you stay in shape, both mentally and physically. Be ready for the season when you return by staying involved in what you love.  Doing things you enjoy will keep you happy and decrease the chances of feeling homesick.

3. The immediate comfort and support of a team. This aspect alone was the reason I valued my collegiate athletic career so much. Knowing I had close to 20 friends who really cared about my well-being offered a sense of security that was similar to what you get from your friends and family back home.

3. Looks great on a resume. You already know that studying abroad in general is a great resume booster. But think of the implications when they see you took the initiative to join a sports team in a different country! It shows your ability to work together with others who have very different backgrounds to achieve a common goal: to be successful and win.

I became good friends with Kurtis Rayfield while we were both studying at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and ended up studying abroad the same semester, though in different countries. During our break, he and made the trek from Perth, Australia to come visit me in Auckland, New Zealand for a few days of adventurous road-tripping (and tandem bungee jumping).  As an extremely talented rugby player, he didn’t let his time away from home hold him back at all on the field, and joined a competitive rugby team in Australia for the semester! He is currently a graduate assistant for Stanford’s Sports Performance team after completing several impressive internships including working as the strength and conditioning coach for the Chicago Bulls. I had a chance to interview Kurtis about his rugby experience in Perth and how it has impacted him culturally as an athlete, as well as professionally.

How did you become involved in playing rugby in Perth?

I knew I wanted to study abroad in Perth because of the reputation of the university. I also knew that I wanted to continue to play rugby while I was studying abroad. When I had decided on the university I just selected a club that was close to where I was living. I contacted the coach there about a month before I was meant to arrive. The great thing about rugby teams is they are very open to people to coming out to play. I started practicing with that team immediately after arriving in my destination. There were no try-outs but when I started practicing I was expected to be playing at the same level as everyone else. After only 1 day of practice someone had seen me training and had asked me to come play for another team.  So in this case the team contacted me about coming to play for them.

At that point, I was traveling by train about an hour and a half each way twice weekly. Luckily, they were just starting their pre-season training and allowed me to get acquinted with the higher level of play.

There were no tryouts, but each practice served as an evaluation of all technical and tactical aspects. When the regular season came, the coaches utilized all of the previous practices and scrimmages as an assessment to place us on the appropriate grade team.

Describe your relationship with your teammates.

The relationships I had with the senior team I played with were great. The gentleman that “recruited” me to come play was very helpful in getting me accustomed to the new team. He picked me up from the train station before every practice and was like an older brother to me. He later started to suffer from some chronic injuries, so I would be picked up from other people on the team.

With my background in physical preparation, I was able to introduce several different recovery and training techniques to the team. Furthermore, just as interested as I was in other cultures, the teammates were interested in the culture of the United States. Many of them asked questions regarding what it was like to play rugby in the states, what different cities were like, etc.

Overall, the majority of the players on the team were very open and welcoming to me. There was not that sense of me taking a playing position. They allowed me to flourish and grow as a player, but also as a person and culturally.

What did you learn from your experience? Do you think it helped your rugby game?
One thing about playing a sport like rugby in the United States is you are substantially behind both in the sense technical and tactical preparation in relation to players who have played the sport their entire lives. Thus, one of my greatest gains in knowledge was about the game of rugby. My game improved substantially and I feel I came back to the states a better rugby player.

More importantly, I came back much more culturally diverse. I spent a lot of time with the foreigners. Actually, the majority of my team was made up of people from every other country other than Australia (my coach was Scottish, the players were from Kenya, South Africa, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, Somoa, England and Ireland). Our culturally diverse team afforded me the opportunity learn about each of these individuals and how they grew up culturally in other countries. The most important thing that I would stress is that you have to be inquisitive. I asked a lot of questions.

Going back to my rugby game once I returned to the states. As I mentioned earlier, I felt that I had improved and had become a whole different player. I was able to come back and implement what I had learned right away. The issue was that playing styles differ from country to country. My new playing style made more sense and allowed me to play a faster, more efficient game.

Has this experience helped you professionally?
I think playing a sport abroad has definitely helped me in the professional setting. The experience has given me an insight into how the sporting structure is in different countries. It gave me the opportunity to play at a higher level of competition than I would have been able to playing collegiate club rugby. It gave me a strong knowledge of the sport and a different way to play it. In interacting with international athletes and coaches, it put me on common ground with them and has allowed me the opportunity to develop international relationships. Most notably, it has given me a goal, a dream; which is the ability to be able to go back to Australia and coach.


To learn more about different study abroad programs, check out student reviews here!