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Preparing for Academic Success in Collegiate Sports

Sports_BooksAre college sports in your future? If your path is leading you to NCAA sports and the life of a student-athlete, the sooner you begin preparing for this enormous responsibility the better. The life of a student-athlete is akin to managing two full-time jobs that cost more than they pay. Yes a full academic scholarship is a significant “payment,” however very few receive a full-scholarship and many that do struggle to take advantage of their education given the immense workload of competitive college athletes. The challenges facing student-athletes, especially those in DI revenue, sports are significant. Beyond athletic and academic responsibilities, these young people also face social issues that further complicate an already difficult time. The life of a student-athlete is demanding but also incredibly rewarding. Here are some things to discuss and prepare for in advance.

  1. Time-management. Managing time is a struggle for all college students. Student-athletes have strict schedules that leave very little room for error and even less for personal time. As soon as possible, try to get an idea of what your athletic and academic schedules will be and make a calendar to see it visually–practices, meetings, travel time, conditioning, training room, study hall (first-year student-athletes are often required to attend study-hall), etc… Talk to coaches and advisers during campus visits and get as much detail as possible. On the academic side think about class times (plus approximately 2-3 hours outside of class/per class/per week), professor office hours, potential group projects, meetings with academic advisers. Don’t forget about eating, sleeping, commuting, and mental health breaks. Some might say it’s too much to try and take it in all at once. I believe it’s important to feel the full weight of the schedule in advance, and then take it day by day. I have encountered a number of student-athletes who arrive unprepared and really struggle with the full weight of this intense schedule. Start preparing senior year, talk with family, teachers, teammates, and other student-athletes about ways to manage time and stay on track. Consider how it will feel to have nearly every moment of every day planned out. Talk about the difficulties of managing all of this with very little free time. Talk about the importance of asking for help and using available resources.
  2. Communication. I can’t stress enough the importance of communication skills.  Building relationships and clear/timely/professional communication are integral to academic success, and something that most all incoming first-years struggle to do well or see as important. Student-athletes need strong communication skills to effectively manage their academic schedules, especially when in-season. The most successful student-athletes in my classes are the ones who show up the first day, travel-letter in hand, and strategically come and speak with me…on the first day! All student-athletes receive priority registration that enables them to schedule their classes around practices and with minimal absences from class while travelling (some sports miss a lot of class no matter what). It is imperative that they approach every teacher on the first day of class and initiate a conversation that will lay the groundwork for success (see First Day of Class: Collegiate Student-Athlete Checklist). Student-athletes who avoid me or wait until week 2 or 3 to discuss travel either end up dropping or struggle the entire semester.  In order to manage classes successfully, you need to be pro-active, no matter how good of a student you are. Clear communication with fellow students is also essential. Seeking relationships with non-athlete classmates is necessary for a number of reasons: group projects, absences, understanding material, and creating class community to name a few. Student-athletes are often fighting negative stereotypes in the classroom. Many student-athletes also discuss feeling alienated from non-athletes which can also make class tough. Making the effort to create relationships with classmates at the start of the semester can be immensely beneficial academically and socially. So, how are your relational skills? Do you feel comfortable speaking with teachers and striking up conversations with non-athlete students? If not, start working on it.
  3. Resources. On the first day of every class I teach each semester, I remind my students that right now there are literally hundreds of people sitting around waiting to help you out with just about anything and everything. One of the most important skills students need to hone is their ability to use these resources now when they are virtually free, nearby, and bountiful so that when they graduate they can seek out and use resources that aren’t as readily available. Resources such as the library, writing center, various departmental help centers (usually math, science, and others), technology help, registrar, academic advising, major advising, career resources, social clubs, and many more can and do help students considerably in navigating the undergraduate experience. Student-athletes also have access to a number of resources just for them via the athletics department such as advising, tutors, study hall, and specific programming for student-athletes (time-management, student-athlete handbook, NCAA regulations, career advising). It never ceases to amaze me how many juniors have never set foot in the library or how students with technical issues have no idea how to contact tech support. Student-athletes do well to access resources within and beyond athletics. Graduating is more than completing classes, there are numerous administrative hoops to navigate and piles of paperwork to complete to successfully graduate. The sooner students take initiative and responsibility of this process, the better.

Student-athletes specifically benefit from taking control of their academic experience. Often times, they are helped significantly along the way by well-intentioned people  who end up inadvertently denying them valuable and necessary experience. All students must learn to take responsibility for themselves and take initiative in their present and future. Recognizing and seeking resources is essential to success. Absolutely essential.

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