Staying goal-orientated in college

For most people, being a college student is a challenge. However, for college athletes, it is even more of a challenge.  While non-athlete students certainly have their stressors, student-athletes have added layers that only they really understand.

Uncertainties for College Athletes

Bill, a former college athlete, now graduated and employed in the insurance industry, has much to say about his college years, as a football player and business major. He spoke first about the stress of the uncertainties faced by college athletes.

First, of course, is the uncertainty about academic performance. Most athletes realize that they have been “courted” because of their athletic ability, not because of their academic record. They worry about having enough time and the skilled background to meet the expectations of their professors and what will happen if they do not.

Second is the uncertainty about the athletic part of their lives. What if they are injured and unable to continue on their teams, or they fail to meet the expectations of their coaches and are cut?

The stress of these uncertainties is compounded by a practical dilemma – how to divide their time between daily practices (which are year-round), attending classes, and then completing their coursework assignments. Most are realistic enough that they should not plan for a career in professional sports. They must, therefore, keep their eyes on the most important goal – that degree.

1. Setting Priorities

No doubt about it – college athletes have to prioritize their activities on a daily basis. Given that classes and practice take the largest chunk of every day, 5 days a week, there are only so many hours left of those days. And during their season, weekends will involve games, often coupled with travel. But if the top priority is academic success and that degree, then there are some big challenges ahead. How does it all fit in and how does an athlete find a balanced college life?

2. Time Management

Bill’s solution for managing his time meant that he set up a personal calendar. He blocked out the “obligation” times and then established blocks of time devoted to study. He openly admits that keeping to that schedule of study time was the most challenging. There were always friends tempting him to go out for a pizza and a beer. And when he succumbed, that pizza and beer usually turned into an entire evening of fun and no study. It took a few experiences of not having an assignment turned in on time to make a “believer” of Bill, and he became much more loyal to that schedule.

3. Balancing personal and academic life

There is a lot of social time on campuses once classes are finished for the day. Having the extra layer of practice means that the athlete is not around to participate in those informal activities that allow social connections to develop. Establishing relationships is hard, and so most athletes tend to have to socialize with fellow players and not many others. And there is very little time even for that.

If he regrets anything during his college years, Bill states that it was not making more of an effort to reach out to others outside of his fellow athletes. He was not able to experience the diversity that should be a part of everyone’s college years, and it did impact the first couple of years of his work life. College athletics is such a “closed community,” he says, that connecting with people who have no interest in sports was tough.

4. Getting Help

Students need to recognize when they need help and then have to take the initiative to get it. Academics are often too tough for athletes to go it alone, and getting tutoring or joining study groups/sessions is really important. Fortunately, most coaches keep an eye on their athletes’ grades and will take the steps to “force” extra help if necessary. While their goal may be to keep that athlete on the field, the student’s goal must be getting decent grades for the longer-term.

Bill was really struggling in college algebra his freshman year, knew he needed help, but would have to leave practice early to get to the lab for that help. He was afraid to ask. Not taking that step almost ended with an “F” in the course, until his coach approached him and insisted he gets the tutoring.

5. Emotional Health

Keeping emotionally fit is a challenge for all college students. It’s easy to become overwhelmed – a situation that leads to burnout, anxiety, fear of failure, and depression. Some students try to “party” this off; others give in, skip classes, and just get into a general “funk.”

The wise student gets help from the campus counselling office or health centre. When athletes experience these emotional health issues, it is usually the coach who notices it first. That coach should feel a responsibility to assist his athlete, but this doesn’t always happen, according to Bill.

6. Sleep, Glorious Sleep

Athletes are some of the most physically fit students on campus for obvious reasons. They usually eat pretty well too, because diet regimen is a part of their training. Sleep, however, is quite another thing. Just like their non-athlete counterparts, athletes need to “wind down.” They tend to do that late at night – TV, video games, and such – and it is easy to forego sleep for that downtime.

Ultimately it does catch up, though. The problem is athletes don’t get that afternoon nap after classes are over, so they are more vulnerable to sleep deprivation. And it can be “deadly” over the long-term, particularly when a student is falling asleep in class or crash without getting assignments finished.

Final hacks

There are life skills learned on the field that may not be learned anywhere else – collaboration and cooperation, listening skills, taking direction from a superior, and pushing through tough times.

There are also some “hacks” that all college students can use if they are really serious about getting the grades that will make them competitive in the job market later on.

1. Don’t skip classes – it is too easy to develop the habit of not going.
2. Schedule blocks of time for study, and really stick to that schedule
3. Never be afraid to get help. Most of it is free in academic labs. And join study groups for those classes that are really tough.
4. Schedule “downtime” – and some of it needs to be alone.
5. Dorms are noisy – find someplace else to study.
6. Alternate really late nights with earlier ones to get enough sleep
7. Eat a piece of fruit every day and veggies at least 3 times a week
8. Find time to get out of your niche of friends and meet people who are not like
you. It will serve you well later on.

So, stay focused and your student years will give an immense background for a successful life path.

I’m a former athlete and passionate writer. I seek to self-improvement in all areas of life and try to look at and research ordinary things from another angle. To add, I’m a big animal lover and volunteer at San Francisco SPCA Mission Adoption Center. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook