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Natural Selection

Words by Thomas Rutherford

Selection for your University sports team, in my experience, is unlike any other.  It certainly isn’t easy, yet it is also too easy for a select few. All of us sports enthusiasts obviously want to win when we take to the pitch, court or whatever may be your preferred terrain on a Wednesday afternoon. We train hard, prepare well and show commitment beyond what we can probably afford both economically and time wise. Plausible and professional you might say? Yes, but in the main, for many of you out there, it is all in vein.

Despite what most ‘elite’ athletes at our university might kid themselves into believing, sport at our level, where money in particular is at a premium, is amateur and seems destined to remain that way. So no matter how hard you might train, how good you are, or how ‘deserving’ you are of your spot in the 1st team, it is largely irrelevant. Why? Perhaps one of the main facets (not including the economic aspect) that marks the difference between a professionally run club and an amateur one is the way in which it is run. Committees are often close-knit groups of friends and then what perhaps is the most regressive consequence of a University Club is that the supposed 1st or ‘best’ team becomes another group made up of those friends on the committee. Fresher students, unless quite obviously a cut above the rest, get discarded into the second team and beyond. If lucky they might sneak a game on the bench. As for the rest, hidden talents become disinterested and anonymous with phrases like ‘politics’ ‘bias’ and ‘cliques’ being all too commonly used when asked why they don’t turn up to training anymore.

Of course, I’m being highly cynical and overly stereotypical, yet not without foundation. Having been part of three different sports here and living with a house of full of Rugby lads, I’ve become wise to the sometime dodgy and unfair goings on in a sports club. This isn’t to say I am criticising their processes, far from it. Quite understandably 1st team selection, all too easily, becomes a natural process. Put yourselves in a Captain’s shoes. Pick a 3rd year player/best friend who has put on a bit of timber, yet has got the experience and prowess? Or do you plump for an ultra-keen and lean fresher student who will add a lot more to the team than just experience? I’d tend to think that the majority of us would stick with our third year pal, simply because it’s easier. It would be a brave individual who would introduce an unknown entity at the expense of the popular, yet slightly portly postgraduate.

Therein lies the dilemma that officials across the sporting community face. At a university where at the moment, it has to be said, participation rules the roost, does putting the best possible team out on a Wednesday actually matter? After all the younger members of the squad will get their chance on the big stage in the future will they not? In my eyes, it does matter. True, Essex might not be renowned for outstanding sporting achievement, but this shouldn’t prove a stumbling block for any team who wants strive to be the best they can possibly be. Indeed, it is pleasing to see that even within the last three years, some clubs have adopted a more professional and winning culture within their ranks and success hasn’t followed far behind.

Sporting politics is a complicated beast. I’m a captain of a relatively small sport’s club and I can tell you it is probably more hassle than it’s worth. You want to please everybody and so in clubs where your teammates are often your drinking partners, becoming unpopular because of your Lombardian approach to team selection is sure to cause a few fallouts. But a few bruised egos and the odd drunken argument is surely outweighed by seeing your team improve and succeed on match day. Go on captains, be brave.