In Part I of this series (read it here), Andrew discusses the recruitment and commitment stages for a college athlete. In Part II of this series, Andrew delves into some of the challenges of playing college sports and his strategies for overcoming them.
The Challenges of College Athletics
My undergrad experience was everything I had hoped for, but at the same time, a disappointment in some ways. I made some of my best friends, had lots of fun, and I was constantly challenged academically, but my athletic performance was at or below where it was during high school.
College athletics is quite different than high school athletics because a higher level of motivation and discipline is required from the athlete. You still have your teammates and coaches to push you, but you no longer have your parents at home, constantly reminding you to do things like go to bed early and not procrastinate on your work. Freshmen year can be difficult because you must adjust to a whole new lifestyle, and you have to make sure you’re holding yourself accountable.
There are a few things that helped me stay on top of my athletics and academics. First, I never worked past 11 pm on homework. I knew I wouldn’t be productive once it got late, so I set myself a limit and stuck to it so that I could get some rest. Second, I found a group of athletes in my major to form a study group with. You can do this with anyone, but I did it with other athletes because there was a mutual understanding of what our time was committed to. Lastly, I went to lots of review sessions and office hours when I was having difficulty in any class. One thing that holds true across both athletics and school is that you should never be too proud or too cool to ask for help when you are confused or having difficulties.
Because undergrad can be a lot harder than high school, it’s important to set up a good support network early so you always have a place to look for help. A lot of people I had in my own network were my teammates, other athletes and specifically other athletes in my major, my coaches, professors, and teaching assistants.
Another challenge for college athletes is juggling traveling and school. There is quite a lot more traveling for college athletics than for high school athletics. Typically, your college program will take you further away for longer periods of time. This requires you to develop the ability to do homework while on the bus or a plane as well as in hotels.
One of the best parts about the move from college to high school is how much more personal freedom you attain. This is true with athletics as well, and I cannot stress enough how important it is to trust yourself and trust how you feel. I had multiple coaches try to push me beyond the point of benefit to a level which would be detrimental and cause me injury.
Taking Time Off and Living in the Present
Juggling school and sports can be very difficult, so a few final things that helped me make it through: take time off and live in the present. Taking time off is important because both your mind and body need a rest. I always tried to take a full or half-day off from school every week to give my mind some time to unwind and destress. The same thing holds true for athletics: it’s very beneficial to take at least a day or two off each week to let your body recover and repair. Some college coaches and programs are infamous for overtraining and hurting their athletes, so try to avoid that trap.
Lastly, living in the present goes beyond school and sports and is something you can do in every facet of your life. Dwelling on the past and stressing about the future are surefire ways to stop you from achieving what need to be done in the current moment. For sports, making sure to stay present and give your all can certainly boost your performance, and for school, staying focused and present will help you to understand and retain the material.
I finished my undergraduate experience with a much larger family than I went in with, and hopefully I gained some wisdom along the way. For anyone thinking about doing college athletics, I suggest you to dive in head first rather than just testing out the water.