I am a fan of football, and when discussing this with a colleague we wondered if we could get enough staff together for a 5-a-side game after work. There were several staff interested and after mentioning the game to some students it became apparent that several students wanted to play too. We got together and had a very enjoyable game and decided to try an organise another.
Over time these games developed and are now we have a regular booking on an outdoor pitch where we have our weekly “Staff versus Student” football matches, with both academic and non-academic staff playing. Everyone is welcome to play and it’s quite a casual (if at times quite competitive) affair which everyone enjoys. We often have up to 20 people per week coming along to play and demand continues to grow.
Aside from it being an enjoyable distraction for both staff and students it has greatly helped the working relationship between all that take part. Students no longer see the staff as a bureaucratic obstacle they need to overcome; they see them as real people who need to have certain procedures in place to do their job. Staff also have a deeper understanding of the students’ issues and as such can do more to help.
Walking around the university now, you will often see students chatting to staff about the previous week’s game or looking forward to the next one. Some of the staff who play are also non student facing so these events are the only chance they get to see the students.
When it started I had no idea that a simple social game of football would have these added benefits. I think it stresses the importance of seeing students as individuals and not just as problems as one can easily do when under pressure. Seeing students in a less formal setting lends itself to this very easily.
Although the football games that I organise have grown very organically it is very much something I would encourage others to create. I think any form of social activities where staff and students can come together away from their university would have beneficial effects on any institution, even if only in a small way.