College + Athletics: 10 Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Became a College Athlete
I am a recent graduate of the University of Delaware and a four year letter winner for their Division I Field Hockey team. In honor of National Student-Athlete Day today, I’ve compiled a list of 10 things I wish someone had told me before I took the plunge into college athletics.
- There are always ups and downs in athletics–the best athletes learn how to overcome those challenges and become better athletes because of it. Dragging yourself out of bed at 4:30 am to get to 5:00 am practice/cardio/lifting on time gets old really fast, but it’s your individual and team goals that keep you going everyday.
- I believe it’s a special kind of torture devised by evil people, but it was great preparation for the real world! You will be “that guy” in your 8:00 am that is actually bright-eyed and bushy-tailed; it’s not because you’re a morning person– it’s because you’ve already been awake for 3 hours and got in a crazy workout.
- While many of your peers core responsibilities include getting up in time for their 10:00 am classes and, for some, working at a part-time job, you will be responsible for early morning and late night practices, showing up on time (often at the risk of your peers being punished for your tardiness), and coordinating travel days and assignments with your professors.
- There were plenty of times my coaches pushed me so hard I thought I’d throw up and then drown in my own sweat. When your gas tank is empty in double overtime and your coach just won’t sub you out; or during the last 10 minutes of a “Terrible Tuesday” workout when your legs feel like wet noodles, but your teammates and coaches are pushing you to finish because your success is their success. These are the moments when you will be truly astonished at what the human mind and body can do.
- Lots of acronyms, I’m aware. Let me clarify: FOMO (fear of missing out); NARPS (Non-Athletes, Regular People). Watching fellow students go out on Friday nights and sleeping in on Saturday mornings while you’re at home studying and then waking up early for Saturday morning practices are some of the most frustrating times as a student-athlete. You’ll often find yourself envying all their free time and control over their own time. My advice, stick it out, kid, because the reward at the end is totally worth it.
- It usually comes about halfway through the off-season when it feels like all you’ve been doing is sprints, sprints, and more sprints for months and it looks like there is no end in sight. All those late nights of studying and early mornings of practice have added up and you’re basically just a walking zombie. You see your non-athlete friends relaxing and having all the time in the world to study and think to yourself, “That must be nice, maybe I should just give in and embrace just being a regular student.” But you’re an athlete, and without your sport, you life would feel pretty empty–so you’ll push those thoughts back and hit the gym for your next workout.
- Just like many families, there will be dysfunctional and crazy days; when they hurt, you hurt, but no one else in the world will share those experiences with you. With your teammates, you endure fitness tests that resemble medieval torture, long bus rides, heartbreaking losses, and amazing triumphs. At the end of the day, they will not just be your teammates or friends, they will be your family.
- Time management is one of the most valuable lessons a student-athlete will learn. At my university, we even took a freshman-intro course centered around teaching us to manage our time better. But sometimes, no matter how meticulously you planned out your day, things go awry; sleep sometimes feels more important than studying, and one night you end up pulling an all-nighter for that big test the next day. When you watch the movies, all-nighters seem like the norm in college–but not so much when you’ve got to be ready to go at 5:00 for a lifting session. Having nights of little sleep are inevitable, but unlike when a regular student pulls it off, you will be expected to perform well at practice the next day.
- In high school, you live for the off-season. It’s a time of relaxation and playing around for fun; during the season is when it’s really hard. Not in college–the off season is meant to prepare you for the upcoming season. And when I say prepare, I actually mean cardio. Sure, we played hockey in 30 degree weather and had 4 tournament days throughout the spring, but what I remember most about the off-season were the sprints. This was the time of year when we had 4 morning sessions a week–lifting, sprinting, and practicing. The best thing to come from the off-season is your appreciation of the in-season.
- Whether it’s playing in your first game, winning an award or a championship, or walking off the field for the last time, knowing you’ve accomplished something that so few have is one of the most amazing feelings. When your time is up and you hang up your jersey for the last time and officially become an alumnae (what a dreaded word!), you’ll look back on all the memories with a sense of pride. You won’t remember the sprints or the sleepless nights, you’ll remember your best friends and all the memories you’ve created together. And, yeah, if I’m being completely honest, you’ll remember those times you threw up during cardio, too.
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