For those Yalies who want the satisfaction of serious athletic competition without the time commitment trappings of a varsity program, club sports offer the perfect solution.
From badminton and lacrosse to tae kwon do and ultimate Frisbee, there are over 30 club sports to choose from. Club soccer, for example, offers a less intense version of its varsity counterpart while the men’s rugby team is the only squad of its kind at Yale. Regardless of their varsity connection, club sports offer an outlet for athletic energy at a more competitive level than intramurals that can lead to friendships and accomplishments similar to those experienced at the varsity level.
This year the ultimate Frisbee team ranked in the top 30 nationwide and qualified for the national championships in Spokane, Wash. The men’s rugby team has placed either first or second in the Northeastern Rugby Football Union for the past two seasons. Like other club sports, the rugby team does receive some funding from the athletic department and enjoys competing in much the same way as a varsity team.
The men’s club volleyball team also enjoys competition on a level comparable to varsity.
“We have an incredible group of guys who love the sport,” said Diego Panama ’03 of the men’s volleyball team. “We compete every weekend just like a varsity team.”
Part of the intensity behind club sports comes from each team’s traveling schedule. The men’s ultimate Frisbee team has traveled to San Diego over spring break and to Baton Rouge during Mardi Gras, while the badminton team competes all over the Eastern seaboard. The women’s ultimate Frisbee team took a weeklong trip to Italy this year.
One appeal of club sports is the less rigorous time commitment. Whereas a varsity football player may spend about 30 hours on practice and conditioning in a week, a member of the men’s rugby team typically practices only 12 hours a week.
“The practices are fun, and we get to have the competitive sports experience even though we’re not varsity athletes,” said Luis Neiman ’03.
Some varsity athletes play on club teams, too. David Farrell ’03, who has been a starting center on the offensive line for every football game since the second contest of his freshman year, has no trouble finding time to compete on the wrestling team during the off-season.
“The seasons don’t overlap, and the time commitment is such that it’s very doable,” Farrell said. “I like both, so it’s great that I get to play both.”
Another advantage to club sports is that they offer Yalies the chance to try something new. Unlike recruited athletes who will usually play a sport at which they excelled in high school, many club sport athletes learned how to play their sport upon arrival at Yale.
“We expect that about 90 percent of our team will have never played rugby before coming to Yale,” said Neiman. “But it’s fun to watch, easy to pick up and even more challenging because many of us are learning together.”
Club sports teams greatly encourage new members and “converts” from other sports to participate in their teams.
“Some of our best players played some other sport in high school,” said Sasha Waring ’03 of the men’s ultimate Frisbee team.
The club sports teams hold an orientation bazaar at Payne Whitney Gymnasium during the first days of the fall semester. At the bazaar, the athletes provide information about their respective teams and entice freshmen to join. Many teams say they exert no pressure on freshmen to join, but merely encourage incoming students to give their sport a try.
“There’s no downside,” said Neiman. “Come out and give it a shot — there’s nothing to lose.”
Many of the teams that do make cuts for their top squads offer B-level teams or open practices.
“Everyone who wants to gets a chance to play,” said Dara MacCaba ’02 of the men’s rugby team.
Like other club sports, men’s rugby moves B-level players up to the top squad throughout the year as injuries sideline starters and the skills of B-level players improve.
“Plenty of guys move up,” said Neiman. “It’s an ongoing process.”
Many club sport athletes cite the serious level of competition and resulting camaraderie as the highlights of playing club sports.
“We hang out together on and off the court,” said Panama. “I’ve made some great friends on [the men’s volleyball] team.”
Club sports provide a chance for athletes to have a unique collegiate athletic experience.
“I’m glad I joined a club team,” said Panama. “It gives me a chance to play and still have a life at Yale outside of athletics — I wouldn’t have it any other way.”