My Life As…A Student Athlete

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If you over hear someone talking about NCAA athletics, you probably automatically think of the football and basketball games you see on TV during March Madness and hear about on the news. You may think of swanky warm-ups, the Big 10 teams who win every year, and spoiled brats who don’t work very hard at anything.  But that is not a very accurate representation of the NCAA.  There is more to the NCAA then those two big name sports. There are over 20 different sports, spread over 5 divisions. There are more then 380,000 student-athletes that participate in an NCAA sport each year, including almost 100,000 females.

And I happen to be one.

Many people only see us on TV, or goofing around together in the cafeteria, or maybe see us playing a pick-up game when driving by our field, but we work extremely hard almost every day during the year: pre-season, fall season, off-season, and spring season. We miss class, and have to teach ourselves full lessons. We ride buses for hours and hours, missing out on typical college activities. We go through more laundry soap in a week than most people do in a month and our rooms smells like sweat, feet and Febreeze. But I love it. I love my team. I love my sport, and I love what my college experience has been like because of it.

For the past two years, I’ve played soccer at my university. I started playing when I was 6, and had always dreamt of playing in college. By time I was 16, I had picked out my university, and started my training. Yes, that’s right. While you were picking out your junior prom dresses and worrying about graduation and the cute senior boys, I was already focused on my life as a college student-athlete. It has to be done that early, or you’ll miss so much, and won’t get through all the requirements that make you eligible to play. (The one thing the NCAA loves more then massive championship rings is paperwork.)

Because of where soccer falls in the school year (August-October), I have to arrive at my university about a month before classes start. While you’re on the beach sun tanning on August 1st, I’ll be moving back, unpacking my stuff, and already into the school mode. By August 2nd, I’ll be up at 6 AM to start my training. Every university sport has a two-week “pre-season” and it is the hardest part of the season. We run, lift, pass, kick, run more, press, run a little more, and basically kill ourselves at 6 AM, 11 AM, and 4:30 PM every day, for two weeks. It is not a fun two weeks. It is hard, grueling work. We do have a little fun as a team after workouts, as it’s usually only us and the football team there that early, but there is no partying in pre-season. By the time 7 PM rolls around, we’re all so tired that we just crash in our beds and sleep until the alarm goes off again. Then repeat.

And it only gets harder once school starts. We have practice at 6, classes from 8 until 2, practice at 4 and then a mandatory study hall at 7 from Monday to Saturday. If it weren’t for the Internet, we’d never even get to watch TV!

Part of being a college athlete is, of course, being a student. If you ask any administrator about the athletes at your school, he/she will call them “Student-Athletes,” because that’s what we are. Not only do we have to play our sport twice a day, we also have to stay on top of all of our school work. This gets hard during season, when, thanks to away games, we frequently miss class. You’ve probably seen the athletes going up to professors, telling them that they’ll be away, and been jealous of the amount of excused absences we get. But honestly, missing class is the worst part of being an athlete. First, our GPAs have to remain high or we could lose our spot on the team. Second, there is a maximum number of hours we can take, and usually it is not much higher than the university minimum. That means we really can’t afford to drop too many classes. I basically taught myself Business Calculus my freshmen year, because I missed so many classes due to away games and had to be able to understand what was going on when I got back. You can trust me on this: trying to read, write, calculate, or draw on a moving bus with 30 other girls and all their stinky equipment at 10:30 at night is not the best way to get an A. And because of all those absences, when I get sick (which is easy when you’re on the road so much) I still have to go to class. By time November comes, I can’t afford to take an off day, or not get up for my 8 AM lab.

Having said all that though, I love it. It’s hard work to try and balance school, soccer and attempt to have a social life. I love playing soccer, and I love my team. It is 30 girls who all want the same thing: To win it all. We work together both off and on the field; we run together, we cheer and push each other, we help each other with History, we complain about the cafeteria food, we go out dancing together, we creep cute boys on Facebook, and redecorate our rooms. My team is my lifeline, my best friends. My defense partners will probably be the bridesmaids at my wedding. I chose this life, and I don’t regret it. It has put me on the path to being the best I can – academically, athletically and personally. I strive to be the best I can in everything, because I’m used to having 30 others counting on me. I look to have friends who I can trust to work hard, who have good time management skills and can be friendly and persuasive without being bossy, and I’ve found them all as a student athlete.

[A special thanks to reader Chelsea for submitting her story!]

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