Athletics in Scandinavia

Athletics have always been a big part of my life, but I understand that athletics are emphasized in the United States in a way that perplexes most of the world. The United States is known for its massive high school football stadiums and marching bands, but after having lived for some time in two Scandinavian cities, it’s interesting to see some other approaches to athletics.


When playing a pick up basketball game in Copenhagen, I asked my teammate Max, a local who is originally from Germany, how popular basketball is in Denmark. He said that basketball is second to soccer, which made a lot of sense considering the court we were playing on. 

Most basketball courts I’ve seen—from the basketball court used at the DIS Welcome Event to the courts at the schools near my housing in Copenhagen—also have a soccer goal included that’s placed underneath the basket. The court I played on, called Israels Plads, had the same design. This design is convenient in some ways, especially for those who are looking to get a game of soccer going. It’s also great for those that want to play handball, a sport that has a long history in Scandinavian countries. However, it was a pain (literally) for me as a basketball player every time I fell on the metal bars of the goal when driving to the hoop. 

So if you’re looking to play basketball in Scandinavia, be mindful of the kind of court you’re playing on.

It’s also interesting to see the cultural effect that American sports has on Europe. In my pick-up games at Israels Plads, I saw a James Harden jersey, New York Knicks shorts, and Max, who I mentioned earlier, had on some Toronto Raptors gear.

For soccer (or football in Europe) fans, these outdoor basketball/soccer/handball courts are a good option, but with soccer’s popularity, you can definitely find an open field to play on. My housing in Stockholm, for example, is located across the street from several full-sized soccer fields. And with soccer being the most popular sport in Denmark as well, you’ll always find a field to play on and people to play with.

DIS student Terry had the opportunity to attend the Sweden vs. New Zealand football game at Friends Arena. He says, “Being at the Swedish national team game felt like such a unique experience. I’ve been to soccer games before, even other international games, but I’ve never been to one in another country. Being at the game here was enhanced by the authentic Swedish chants and the passion that they had for their team.”


Back home, getting frequent exercise is a priority of mine, and I was hoping to find a gym near me while studying abroad so that I could maintain this routine. However, this has proven to be difficult. I’ve explored options at gyms near me in both Copenhagen and Stockholm, and I’ve been unsuccessful in getting any type of membership. This is because gyms here want long-term members and want you to sign up for multiple months at a time, and they won’t give the option of a temporary membership. You can get day passes at most gyms, but they can be quite expensive.

If you are staying in the same city for more than one session and feel that you would consistently go to a gym while abroad, I recommend finding a gym near your housing location before you arrive and creating a membership with them as soon as you can. This way, getting a membership that lasts a month or longer will be worth it, and you can stick to your healthy routines you have at home.

Fortunately, paying for a gym is not the only way to stay active—there are outdoor gyms too! 

Luckily, there’s an outdoor gym just outside my housing site. I’ve been able to use it a couple times, and while it might not offer all the exercises and machines that an indoor gym offers, it’s free, convenient to use, and a great way to spend time outside.

Trying New Things

While I have mostly stuck to playing my favorite sports while abroad, I did try something new: kayaking. 

How did it go? I wish I could say it was great, but I definitely could have benefitted from some lessons beforehand, because I fell in immediately. After this embarrassing start, I was able to somewhat get the hang of it, but after nearly colliding with a much larger boat, I decided to throw in the towel. 

Maybe I’ll have better luck with a sport like handball, which shares some similarities to basketball…and is on land.

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