Balancing academics, athletics, and a social life in high school can be difficult. However, managing all three aspects can prove to be even more challenging in college. While many students struggle to attend practices daily in high school, playing in college involves an even more serious commitment; the decision to be a part of a college team means the individual has signed off that they will dedicate themselves and multiple hours a day to their particular sport.
First of all, it is important to consider the new NCAA recruiting legislation that bans Division I coaches in several sports from communicating with prospective student-athletes until September 1st of their junior year of high school. Even so, underclassman hoping to be recruited often play for elite club teams that go to recruiting showcases, attend prospect camps, and typically create highlight reels, in hopes of standing out enough for coaches to notice them. Riley Ban, a current RHS senior and Rutgers Lacrosse recruit shared that “the recruiting process I had to go through was definitely a difficult and stressful time. To get recruited, I played club lacrosse and the college coaches would spectate the games. Throughout the whole process you’re kind of left in the dark with no definite answer about how the college coaches may think of you.” Riley was recruited before the policy was changed to its current standard, but like many others looking forward to attending college in the upcoming months, she experienced much unnecessary pressure. The purpose of this new legislation is to encourage young athletes to continue improving while enjoying the experience and without having to keep up with campus visits and correspondence with their future coach. Since many athletes could be late bloomers, the new recruiting rules give everyone an equal opportunity to develop and be seen.
Nevertheless, not all colleges have teams run by the NCAA. If not, most colleges have club teams, which is not as time-intensive as playing for the NCAA. J.P. Kelly, a former RHS Varsity Hockey player and current member of the JMU Hockey team, provided his insight on the difference between college and high school teams. JMU only offers hockey as a club team, but he found that “club is much more related” to high school teams. “Kids are just trying to have a good time. Since it was a club sport, the kids organized most of the games and practices, and the coach did not really do much. It was kind of a culture shock to me because I’m used to a coach being a vital part of the team. We had a lot of freedom to do what we wanted.”
Even so, club athletes are still expected to hold their sport as one of their top priorities and anticipate the sacrifices involved that come with it. J.P. shares, “the most challenging aspect for me to adjust to was the practice. I was used to right after school hopping on a bus and going to the ice house 20 minutes away. At JMU, the closest rink was an hour away in Charlottesville and the practices started at 11:15 at night and I wouldn’t be back in my dorm until around 1:45 am every Wednesday.” Even under such circumstances, J.P. found that it was not difficult to keep up with his academics. His team did not meet during the off season, but even in season, he “was always able to find a way to do [his] work,” describing how he “was never put in a situation where hockey conflicted with school. However, one of his teammates “could not go to [a] tournament in North Carolina because he had a math test and his teacher wouldn’t let him take it another day.” Nonetheless, he did find that practices and games often conflicted with the social aspect of college, “My games were often at night on the weekends, sometimes very far away, so I did miss a couple nights going out. That being said, my coach understands that we are college students and want to go out so we try not to have games both Friday and Saturday night,” while in addition, “the team has three social chairs and schedules mixers with other club sports and sororities.”
When athletes finally start college, much like freshmen in high school, it takes time to adjust. As college teams consist of the most competitive athletes, it is inevitable that many upperclassmen will be at the top of their game. In addition to sports-related challenges, individuals must also be prepared to handle the rigor of a new academic experience. It is essential for athletes to ease themselves in as they adjust to their new environment and their expectations in the classroom and on the field.
The best way for an athlete to do this is to arrive on campus in shape. This advanced preparation will, in effect, reduce wear and tear and limit stress to one’s body for the season ahead. Maintaining a strong academic and athletic fit is critical since athletes are on such a tight schedule. Overall, finding and maintaining a balanced approach to managing time and prioritizing responsibilities is key. Individuals can decide ahead of time gym and study hours, while learning to limit their new freedom since abusing their new privileges could prove to be tempting. Although not all student life programs are available to athletes, participating in some can help encourage keeping in touch with family and friends while also meeting new people, rather than feeling the need to choose between them.
Controlling one’s actions and making good choices may determine personal success in college. While it is important to stay on top of missed work, in the end, it is more than just finding time for practice; coaches notice when athletes are not giving maximum effort or are less committed than their teammates. Especially since college coaches have their win-loss record to consider, it is essential for athletes to constantly react to mistakes and take critiques into account. While you can not control your coaches, professors, or teammates, you can manage your own effort and actions. This means that individuals must go out of their way to get extra help, watch film, and observe others to improve. By being engaged, embracing new experiences, maintaining a good attitude, and keeping an open mind, players can easily make an impact.
Graphic: Nicole Kye