Being a student-athlete at Eastern University is certainly a unique and rewarding experience. The ability to pursue a degree while playing a collegiate sport makes time at Eastern even more enjoyable. While it is fun, it also takes a lot of hard work and responsibility to thrive as both a student and an athlete. If you are someone that values both academics and athletics, then here are some tips that I have learned over the years during my time at Eastern that may help you balance both priorities a little bit easier and prepare for life as a student-athlete.
1. You are a STUDENT-athlete not an athlete-student.
I’m sure you’ve heard it all before: School first, sports second. It may get annoying to hear this all the time, but it is truly a beneficial mindset to have, especially at a Division III level. Simply put, your participation in your sport depends on how well you are doing in the classroom. Most coaches, at least in my experience, share this same mentality. If a practice and a class are scheduled at the same time, class takes priority. It’s so important to keep grades up, attend classes, and get assignments in on time, so that you can be a beast on the field, court, or track.
2. Communication is key…
… with coaches. Keep them up to date, ask questions, and inform them of conflicts. Whether you’re not feeling well (physically or mentally), you’re wondering how you can improve as a player, or you have another requirement during the same time practice is scheduled, keep your coaches in the loop. They are one of your biggest supporters and they want to help you be the best you can be on and off the field, but they cannot do that unless you communicate with them.
… with professors. Unless you manage to have a perfect schedule, conflicts are inevitable. Games (or matches or meets) are really the only exception to tip #1. Game schedules are usually available prior to your respective season, so there is no excuse not to communicate any conflicts with your professor within the first week of the semester. If you are going to miss or leave early from class for a game, that is important information for your professor to know. While most professors are understanding and will excuse the absence, they will still expect you to catch up on any notes and turn in any assignments that are due.
… with roommates and friends. You are going to spend a considerable amount of time with your roommate(s). In order to make that time together as enjoyable as possible, it's important to iron out some details right away. As a college student, let alone as an athlete, sleep is valuable. It’s important to talk with your roommates about a “curfew”, meaning coming to an agreement about when lights are off and the room is quiet, so whoever needs it can get enough beauty sleep. Also, as unfortunate as it is, early morning practices are sometimes on the docket. The polite thing to do is give your roommate a heads up, so that they can be prepared for you to hit your snooze button on your alarm 5 times at 6am.
3. Stay organized and plan your schedule!
Organizational skills are pretty important to have in any aspect of life, but they are especially important when managing academics, athletics, and possibly more! I personally recommend having a calendar/planner–physical or digital–in order to record all of the requirements that accompany your various responsibilities. This can include class times, assignment due dates, practices and games, and extracurricular events. Having these things recorded is helpful so that you can be prepared and plan out times for things like studying, getting homework done, meetings with coaches, or even hanging out with friends.
4. There is no off-season.
For every sport, athletes are either “in season” or “out of season.” However, the term “out of season” can be a bit misleading. Just because it does not consist of regular games or practice-packed weeks, the off-season is still going to require just as much time and effort, just in different ways. While this season is athletically shorter, the off-season will still have scheduled practices and possibly scrimmages that you will be expected to attend. Academically, I have always found the off-season to be harder. When you are in season, between all of practices/games and classes, there is only a small window in order to get assignments done and turned in on time. But during the off-season, you will experience more flexibility, in terms of time. During my freshman year, I was not prepared for this extra freedom and procrastination became my biggest enemy. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy the extra time in the off-season, but if you are not intentional about getting homework completed, you will end up stressed, handing in papers at 11:59pm. Be sure to put forth the same hard work into your off-season as you did in-season.
5. Keep your different “lives” separated.
What I mean by this statement is to keep your different priorities separated in order to be fully engaged and less overwhelmed. Designated time for class and studying/homework should involve being physically and mentally present in that task. Same for practices and games. Your full focus and effort should be given toward your sport, not thinking about how you should have gotten an A instead of a B on that last test or what your plans are later with your significant other. There is a time and place for that. If your “lives” start spilling over into each other, you are going to feel overwhelmed and one is going to affect the other, and usually not in a positive way. This is not an easy concept to accomplish, but actively pursuing this mindset will help balance everything with a little more ease.
6. You got it!!!
Trust me, there are going to be times when you just want to throw in the towel. Your grades are struggling, every body part is aching, you seem to have no time to actually rest, and the list goes on. Giving up will seem like the easier option. But I am going to guess you didn’t choose to be a student-athlete because it was going to be easy. You did it because you love the sport that you play and you also love a challenge. I encourage you all to push through, learn and grow from the adversities, and make the most of your experience as a student-athlete at Eastern University!