During my third (and last) season of college athletics I asked some of my teammates and competitors if they still felt as excited about the collegiate athletic experience like they did before arriving on campus. Every single person I asked said no and this is what prompted me to write this blog post. Because if everyone I asked felt the same way I did, then I couldn't even imagine how many other collegiate athletes were going through similar struggles.
Here are some of the things I learned about college athletics:
Trust is key, right? Only if it’s mutual
When I was recruited I went into my first year of college expecting to accomplish all of my goals if I did what I was told and worked as hard as possible. I was told by so many others to trust the process. Although this is great advice considering you want to be confident in the things you are doing to improve, your coach has to trust you as well. Countless times I found myself trying to prove myself, only to get let down. I would find out from teammates that a coach was talking behind my back to them or a coach would question if I would put in the work on my own. Trust shouldn’t be one sided in college athletics; if your coach doesn’t believe in you then how are you going to believe in yourself?
Doing your best sometimes isn’t enough
Collegiate athletics is NOTHING like high school athletics. For coaches, It’s not just for fun and there’s no such thing as a low pressure practice or competition. You have to be ready to practice like you compete or you will be tossed to the side. To be brutally honest, coaches care about points and winning and not much else. More wins means more money and more top athletes.
Get ready for your body to hurt. A lot
There’s not much of a transition or learning period when you go from high school to college. Right off the bat you will be thrown in with the athletes who have been lifting heavy and doing complicated drills for years. You’re expected to adapt with no issues and your body will feel it. If your body hurts, you will have to push through it and there’s not a lot you can do about it besides going to the training room every day.
In college, you will be told directly how you are expected to contribute to the team’s success. If you don’t succeed, it will be known. Pressure is an enormous part of college athletics because it either makes or breaks athletes. If you can handle it, it will push you and only make you more competitive.
Aside from your teammates, it’s rare that you can truly rely on someone to have your best interests at heart. I once had to wait weeks to get my diabetic supplies sent to me and it was only one day before I left for the NCAA DI Championships that I got my supplies. Considering I was on my last insulin pump, I underwent extreme added stresses that was completely unnecessary. All I can say is don't put your trust in anyone unless you are certain they are doing what is best for you. Do what you need to do to stay happy and healthy because sometimes no one else can advocate for you better than you can.
6. TIME MANAGEMENT
Your sport becomes your life, job, and passion when you get to college. You have to be committed to going the extra mile in order to succeed. I can tell you it’s much more than just going to practices and competitions. It’s going to meetings several times a week, going to tutoring even if you don’t want or need it, rearranging your schedule so you can practice at the right time, getting homework done during your 15 minute break between classes just so you can stay ahead, and making sure you are going to the training room at least once a day. Sacrifices will HAVE to be made in order to succeed.
I cannot stress this enough: college athletics is a business. So many times I have seen new athletes come in and expect the program to be run exactly like high school except with world class athletes as teammates. These newcomers were completely shocked when they discovered their coach’s true personality didn't match his/her's recruiting personality. Unless you are able to block this out and only focus on you, you will continually strive to be on their good side.
*side note: once I discovered how much of a business college athletics actually was, I decided to invest in myself and my career and be done with college athletics. If it’s a business for them, it’s a business for me too. This led me to realize that I had to focus on pursuing my dreams of qualifying for the Olympics and that I personally could not do that if I remained in the collegiate scene.
Your teammates are going to make your college experience unforgettable. They will be there to pick you up when you’re down and will be there celebrating right beside you when you succeed. Don't be afraid to ask them questions or talk to them when you’re struggling, because trust me, they have been through the same things you are going through. I can't tell you how many times my teammates tried to give me tips on how to improve that sometimes made more sense than what my coaches were trying to tell me. Be thankful and take in every moment because you only have four years to spend with your teammates.
Despite all of this, being part of a team was one of the greatest experiences of my life thus far. This post is meant to be honest and raw so that other athletes can gain insight to the truth. That being said, I am not taking away from the college experience, but hoping to make it easier and more enjoyable for athletes. Not all programs, coaches, and teammates are the same, but if you can prepare yourself for the struggles ahead, you will already be ahead of the game.
IF YOU’RE STRUGGLING
If you're stuck, make a change. You never have to settle for average when you know you’re better. Be brave, because doing the hard thing is always worth it when you know it’s the right thing.