International Students & U.S. Sports

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The U.S. has a rich sports culture that differs from the experience you may be used to in your home country. If you participate or like to watch sports back home, learning about American sports culture is an additional hurdle to clear as many of the popular athletics don’t have the same international reach as football (soccer), rugby, and cricket.

Luckily, colleges across the U.S. offer plenty of opportunities to play sports to promote an active lifestyle and provide a fun competitive outlet that many like to have. Read below to learn more about how you can find an athletic outlet during your time abroad and become better acclimated with the major American sports.

How You Can Find Ways To Play:

Intercollegiate 

Intercollegiate sports are treated with huge importance in the United States. Almost every school supports multiple teams in different sports amongst both men and women. The overseeing body for intercollegiate sports in the NCAA, which hosts over 40 sports championships at three different competition levels (Divisions I, II, and III). For a full list of sports with championships hosted by the NCAA, you can review it here. 

Though many schools do host have these teams, it’s very difficult for you to show up on campus and make one of these teams since there typically is a lot of highly competitive recruiting that goes into roster construction prior to when students arrive at school. However, this does not mean all hope is lost since many teams do hold open tryouts 

If there’s a sport you think want you can play at the intercollegiate level, email one of the coaches to find more information on if/when they hosting a tryout. You should do the same if you’re a high school level athlete looking to come to an American school. You may wind up being recruited and could qualify for an athletic scholarship. 

Regardless of whether you can play for these teams or not, you can still review your school’s website to see how you can support these teams beyond being a part of it. Many teams require equipment managers and administrative assistants which they use fellow students for. 

Club level 

Below the intercollegiate level, many schools will also support club teams for a variety of sports. These teams are typically still competitive to join but are a lot more accepting than the varsity sports teams. There is not as much funding for club sports so they typically only compete against other local club teams or but there still is a high level of competition to be found. 

You can find information for club sports offerings on your school’s recreational or athletics page. 

Intramural/Amateur 

If you’re looking for a fun competition with friends below the level of the club, intramural sports are a great way to play. Schools will often host recreational leagues where students can enter individually or with a team and compete against other students at the school.  

These leagues are varied to allow for students to get the best experience they want, especially if you attend larger schools. You can choose different sports, skill levels and gender makeup and schedules can be customized to work around your class schedule. There may be a small fee to compete in these leagues but they will often be funded by the school and provide the necessary equipment and personnel to hold the competitions. 

If you’re itching for something to do, form a team and compete with your friends, residence hall, fellow international students, etc.! 

Recreational 

If you are not ready to commit a lot of your time and want to stay active more casually, you still have resources you can utilize. Many schools will have gyms or fitness centers, which should offer free access to weight rooms, fields, and/or courts where you can play pickup games with other students or just use yourself to stay in shape. 

Even if your school doesn’t have a gym, you can still make the efforts to stay active by running or walking around paths on campus, utilizing at-home workouts, or finding local gym options. Many private gyms will have student discounts and can offer all of the features that you could expect from a school fitness center at a fairly inexpensive rate. 

Sports to watch:

If you are an avid sports watcher, the U.S. has multiple professional sports leagues with world-class athletes that you can follow. However, many of the sports that are popular in America are not as widespread globally so you may need to take some time to learn more about them before you can fully understand them. We break down the four largest sports in the U.S. below:

American Football

Out of all sports in the U.S., the one that is by far and away the most popular is American football. If you go to any bar or restaurant on a weekend during the Fall, chances are there will be a football game on TV. It is one of the pillars of American culture and is held in the same regard in the U.S. as sports like football (soccer) and cricket are international.

The primary league people pay attention to is the National Football League (NFL), which has 32 professional teams located across the country. Each team plays a 16 game season with games primarily taking place on Sundays. There’s a 14-team playoff at the end of the season to determine who plays in the Super Bowl, which takes place in early February every year. You may have heard of some of the more popular NFL players such as Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes.

College football is huge in the U.S. as well. The college season takes place throughout the Fall with the Division 1 FBS Championship taking place in early January. If your school has a team, try to make it out to a game and sit in the student section to get the full experience of a game!

American football is a tough game to understand but an easy one to enjoy once you get the hang of it. If you want to learn more about the rules of American football, you can click here.

Many schools will have intramural leagues for flag football, which is a variant that replaces tackling with flag pulling. It’s all the fun of football with less physicality and is a great way to stay and shape and compete while learning a new sport!

Baseball

Though American football is the most popular sport in the U.S., baseball is often considered “America’s pastime”. There are few things more American than going to a baseball game on a summer day and sitting back with some ballpark food.

Much of the appeal of baseball comes from the experience of going to a game but it’s also a fun sport to watch with many quirks that make it unique. Baseball also has international appeal since many of the game’s stars are from Latin American or Eastern Asian countries, such as Fernando Tatis Jr. and Shohei Ohtani.

The professional league in the U.S. is known as Major League Baseball (MLB) and there are 30 teams that compete in a 162-game season throughout the summer. Teams typically will play a game 5-6 times a week so there is baseball on almost every night during the season. In the end, the 10 best teams will compete in a playoff for a chance to win the World Series, which is a 7-game series of games played in late October to determine a champion.

The rules of the game are similar to cricket, as the game is completed in innings and features a series of individual matchups between a pitcher (thrower) and batter. It is also regarded as a very easy sport to play and understand, as all you need is a bat, ball, and some markers for the “bases”. For a full rundown on how to play, check here.

Basketball

Basketball confidently holds the title as America’s second favorite sport but in terms of media coverage and discussion, it may be the first. Also, with the number of leagues across the globe, chances are basketball is the most popular American sport internationally.

Basketball is a fairly simple sport to understand (rules linked here) that is more player-oriented and can be incredibly pleasing to watch in a similar way to football (soccer). Stars in basketball are more influential in the outcome of a game and get more opportunities to showcase their talent, making stars like LeBron James and Steph Curry globally superstars.

The professional league in the U.S. is known as the National Basketball Association (NBA), which has 30 teams including notable franchises like the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. There is an 82-game regular season throughout late fall into the early spring to determine 16 playoff teams. The NBA Finals is a 7-game series that takes place around June to determine a champion.

College basketball is also huge in the U.S. with the most notable feature being March Madness, a 68-team tournament that takes place between the best Division-1 basketball teams. Almost every school in the U.S. has its own basketball team so you should look and see how you can attend a game.

Hockey

Hockey is tough to classify as an American sport since it originates outside the country but is commonly considered part of the “Major 4” American sports. Hockey is huge across the globe as well, primarily in Europe and Canada.

A lot of hockey’s popularity in the U.S. because it is a fast-paced and physical sport. Hockey players are renowned for their toughness and the sport plays into it since referees will allow players to hit others into the boards and fight on the ice if warranted. Despite this, it is also a sport that is difficult to play and requires a high degree of skill to be good at.

The National Hockey League (NHL) is played through the late fall to early spring and has a very similar structure to the NBA, with 31 teams and a 16-team playoff bracket. The champion each year wins the Stanley Cup. College hockey also has some following but due to the nature of the sport, it is only really offered at colleges in colder weather states like in the northern U.S.

With these things, hockey might not be the easiest sport to play but it is definitely a fun sport to watch if you get the chance. Pick a favorite team and watch their games to get the full experience!

Other sports competitions

Though most of the broadcast coverage in the U.S. will be dedicated towards the above sports, there are many other competitive leagues and competitions for sports you may be more acclimated to.

Football/soccer– The primary soccer league in the U.S. is Major League Soccer (MLS). There are 27 teams as of the moment that competes throughout the summer into the late fall. There are many recognizable names from global football that have moved over to MLS, including Gonzalo Higuain and Nani.

Many TV networks and streaming services also broadcast international soccer games, particularly from European leagues and international tournaments

Combat Sports- MMA and Boxing are huge in the United States but are difficult to stream due to the pay-per-view model most of the promotions utilize. The UFC (Mixed Martial Arts) is the largest U.S.-based promotion for combat sports and plenty of boxing events held through the World Boxing Organization (WBO) are held in the country.

If interested, there are many gyms across the U.S. that specialize in the different disciplines of marital arts, including boxing, jiu jitsu, Muay Thai, etc. You can look for local options in your area and learn valuable skills on how to defend yourself while getting a good work out!

Golf– Golf is a huge sport in the U.S. with all of the major tournaments being broadcast on major TV networks and streaming services. The U.S. Open is one of the four major tournaments and is held in June every year.

Tennis Tennis is treated in a similar vein to golf. All of the major tournaments are broadcast on major networks and the U.S. Open is one of the “Grand Slam” tournaments held in Flushing, New York every year towards the end of the summer.

How to Stream Domestic and International Sports

For the sports above, they all share a similar model in terms of how they are broadcast domestically. All of these leagues have exclusive broadcasting deals with TV networks such as CBS, FOX, and ESPN. With this, you will need to either have a cable package or purchase a streaming service subscription to watch these events. You can look into sports options through streaming services such as ESPN+, Hulu, Youtube TV, and more.

If you’re looking to watch international competitions from back home, streaming services like Sling TV, Willow, and FuboTV offer a more diverse catalog of sports broadcasts you can stream. Many streaming services offer discounts for college students you can look to take advantage of!

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