From PE Loser to Netball Winner

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Photo: Polly McDonnell

Those of you joining Lancaster University this year ought to know that university sport could not be more different to PE at school. Esther Jewitt relates her own story of her surprising transition.

I hated PE at school with a passion. I remember dreading every lesson. I was bottom of the class, far too embarrassed to actually try, but also terrified of being the one no one wanted in their team. I remember inventing elaborate excuses as to why I couldn’t join in today; all kinds of illnesses and ailments.

When I did participate, I would be the one making daisy chains during rounders; tactically swapping teams and hiding at the back so I never had to field or bat. In badminton tournaments my friend and I resolved to always stay at the bottom of the leader board, so we didn’t ever have to play anyone else.

Our school used to award ‘Woman of Steel’ to the girl who had excelled the most in sport that year. One memorable year, during the end of term assembly, they read my name out… by mistake. For a moment, the whole school turned in shock to stare at me, before the laughter broke out all around me. I think I was too astonished to react – had I even played any sport that year? A few moments later they corrected their mistake. But the idea was so ridiculous that it became a running joke, which I have not been able to live down since.

It came as blissful relief the day I joined sixth form where sport was no longer compulsory. I truly believed I would never touch gym clothes or trainers ever again. Of course, to my amazement, I was wrong.

In autumn 2013, I’d made the terrifying move to Lancaster University, 230 miles from my hometown in the South, without a soul I knew. There’s something about fresher’s week that made me rather reckless, perhaps it was because I was getting quite used to being hurled out of my comfort zone.

A friend of my fresher’s rep invited me to join Furness College netball team, and before I’d even realised what I was doing I agreed to go along to try-outs. She assured me it was all a bit of fun, and that no one took it too seriously. And I was drunk enough to think it was a good idea.

When the day came, the shame of not turning up after I had promised to overcame my terror, and I found myself traipsing to the netball court, feeling like an unsporty slob, my legs like jelly.

I arrived, and to my astonishment, there was a whole crowd of other new girls looking just as queasy as I felt. And all the regular netballers wearing all the right sporty gear looked welcoming and friendly, not judgemental and mean. Gone were the cliquey hierarchies of schoolgirls. Us new girls quickly overcame our shyness and started chatting, all clearly in a state of relief at for once not feeling like the class loser.

I soon found out that in Furness netball team, it really doesn’t matter how good you are(n’t) at netball – there were even total beginners – because everyone is lovely and just there to be social and for a bit of fun.

I am now going into my third year, and have been in the netball team for two years. For my team, I will happily put my all into the game and try my hardest in pursuit of victory. At the same time, I don’t feel like a burden on the team, or any pressure about not being good enough. I’m a loyal C team member and am perfectly happy with that! I still can’t believe how much my attitude to sport has changed in such a short time.

I absolutely love my team; we have so much fun together both on and off court, and I am thankful for the fantastic friends I have made as a result of joining. And when we win, it’s the best feeling in the world.

Now I am an active member in the college leagues, being vice captain of Furness women’s pool as well. And as if all that wasn’t dramatic enough, I am also SCAN’s Sports Editor. So take it from me, whatever person you were at school, you can change everything at university, and become something totally different and unexpected. I would encourage all this year’s freshers to seize this experience and never, ever feel afraid that you won’t be good enough.