How I became an International Sports Scholar

My name is Weronika, I am 25 years old and I am from Poland. I have just completed my postgraduate degree in Marketing Management and at the same time was a Volleyball Sports Scholar. I’d like to share the reasons I chose to study in the UK, why I chose Derby, and how I achieved a Sports Scholarship.

Starting my journey

I started my journey at the University of Derby in September 2015. Coming from Poland, where education is so much different, I did not know what to expect. At that point in time I had never visited Derby. I wasn’t even able to attend one of the Open Days as I lived in the USA back then. My decision was mainly based on online research.

The first couple of weeks were a struggle. I did not realise that not having any family or a single friend in the entire country was going to be as tough as it was. I missed my friends and my family but I was not going to give up the amazing opportunity just because I was homesick. This is when I decided to attend Freshers’ fortnight. I joined the volleyball club on the first day which inevitably kick started my sports career at the University. Looking back, four years later, coming to the University of Derby was one of the best decisions I ever made.

A sense of belonging

I have been very active and engaged in sports competitions since I was young, but volleyball had always been my passion. I played during primary and secondary school and continued through high school, but I never thought of it being more than a hobby. In the UK, volleyball is not very popular so finding a place to play was something I was incredibly happy about. I joined the club and I felt welcomed from the very first session, not only by the coach but all other teammates too who became my very good friends later on. I felt like I was part of a community, like I belonged, and that me being here at the University of Derby had a purpose.

Volleyball – more than a hobby

At the University of Derby, volleyball is one of the five performance sports on their agenda. You are probably wondering what that means. Performance sports are chosen based on the club’s infrastructure, due to the high class facilities at the University or in the city and our excellent coaching network whereby we get access to high level coaches. It is also dependent on the success of the current club, how the club shows further opportunities to develop and improve, and how we have good links with national league sides in the city, such as DarkStar Volleyball club. From this, we had the privilege to train twice a week. We had a strength and conditioning programme at the gym, got access to physiotherapy, had psychology team sessions and got to attend educational workshops such as performing under pressure, sports nutrition and the importance of sleep.

In Polish universities sports are mainly to fill attendance. We do not have clubs to join or any competitive leagues to play in. Sport is more like Physical Education at school, so coming to the University of Derby was something completely different. I was coached by a team of professionals and had access to use all the facilities and gym programmes that would not be available to me back in Poland. I was truly amazed and even more motivated to become better and stronger.

Scholarships

Having classes only three times a week allowed me to commit to volleyball training while still maintaining my part-time job. I was busy but I loved it. I was committed to the programme and progressed as time passed, quickly developing my physical strength and becoming faster. In volleyball, the big advantage is your height. However, I am not a very tall person so I had to work twice as hard to compete at a higher level. I put in extra time at the gym which had paid off. I improved my jump height and my strength. After nearly two years, I was recruited to play for Derby City Volleyball Club – DARKSTAR – in a National League in England. My strength and conditioning coaches saw my commitment and supported me throughout the whole process.

The last year of university passed quickly – as they say, time flies when you are having fun. I was graduating but I was not ready for my university experience to finish just yet. This is when my volleyball coach told me about sports scholarship opportunities and encouraged me to apply for one. She was super supportive throughout the whole process. She saw how much I had developed physically and what a team player I had become. The application process was very easy. My volleyball and strength and conditioning coaches gave me brilliant references, which helped the process go smoothly. A few months later, I was awarded a Volleyball Scholarship. This not only allowed me to continue playing volleyball, but also enabled me to pursue my Masters degree at the University as the scholarship had paid partially for my tuition fees. I was determined and motivated, it felt like my purpose was in front of me.

Balancing act

Throughout my whole studies I worked 30 hours a week, I attended the gym most days and I continued to play for the University’s volleyball team and for Derby Volleyball Club. However, I was still committed to my studies – this was the reason I came to Derby in the first place and I did not want to disappoint myself. My lecturers were very supportive throughout the entire year of my Masters. Sometimes I had to miss a lecture because of Wednesday matches (in the University league BUCS all sports play their fixtures on Wednesdays). However, the lecturers would always meet with me outside of class and ensure I had all of the information I needed so I did not miss anything important.

Despite all the activities and my part-time job, I managed to graduate with a first class honours in BA (Hons) Journalism and I was awarded an Academic Excellence Award. A year later, in November 2019, I graduated with a Distinction in MSc Marketing Management. I was able to continue doing what I love while pursuing further education, what can be better than that?

Find out more about performance sport at the University of Derby.

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