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The College experience as a student-athlete

By Aristides Costeas, former NCAA student-athlete

As a college student, you may think that student-athletes have it so easy in college, by being admitted with lower academic achievements and having a support network whilst in college, which includes academic mentors, tutors, coaches, and advisors. Even though all these may be true, is that the whole picture?

The only obvious answer to this question is that this is merely a fraction of the story.

Being a student-athlete is not as easy as most think. It comes with a lot of benefits, but also with a large load of challenges and responsibilities. Having to balance academics with competing in high level sports is not an easy task. The cool aspect, however, is that you get to be part of an incredible and exclusive athletic community, whilst concurrently experiencing part of the non-athlete student community as well.

Before shedding light on the challenges of being a student-athlete, first, I would like to acknowledge some of the pros of being one, which helped make my college years some of the best years of my life. The most important advantage of being a student-athlete is that you do not have to sacrifice doing what you love, in this case being an athlete, to get an education. Many athletes around the globe often have to sacrifice either their education in order to play professionally or sacrifice their athletic career in order to pursue their education as a safer option.

Another great benefit of being a student-athlete is that, even before classes begin, you are already part of a community and a group of people.  Since training sessions and pre-season team-bonding start a month or so earlier, this can aid with the adjustment period of transitioning to college.

However, as mentioned earlier, being a student-athlete has its challenges. As a student-athlete, you have to go through many obstacles, such as stress, adversity and pressure. The main challenge is the task to balance academics and athletics. It may sound easy or even “attractive” to do, since everyone can relate to playing a sport in high school whilst, at the same time, getting an education, but college is much more demanding.

For example, during the competition season, student-athletes have two games per week and sometimes even three, and some of those are weekly games. Some of those games might even be away games, which means that you have to travel and miss a few lectures. As a result, student-athletes have to study and do their coursework whilst traveling and even after the trip they have to do a lot of catching up with course material or they are at risk of failing the class.

And the worst part? If a student-athlete fails to meet the enforced NCAA academic requirements, they are at risk of losing their eligibility, even their athletic scholarship if they were awarded one.

In addition to the above, being a collegiate athlete, you have to fight through many psychological stressors and go through much pressure. You have to manage your time perfectly in order to do well in both athletics and academics, and many times you have to suppress your stress, your disappointments and poor psychological state, that either comes from the sport or from your everyday life and academics.

Recent studies have shown that collegiate athletes are more susceptible to be diagnosed with clinical depression than other students. A set of factors that contributes to stress and depression includes injuries, physical pain, overtraining, as well as the pressure to reach peak performance in both athletics and academics.

Lastly, as a collegiate athlete you are least likely to enjoy much of the college social life. Further, due to the games and trainings you miss out on holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Spring Break. You have to pass on that Saturday night house party of your non-athlete best friend that you desperately wanted to go to, because you need to sleep early for Sunday’s game or Sunday morning training session.

After all, the college experience as a student-athlete is a peculiar experience. It is a tough road to go through, but the benefits and different types of experience that you gain make the ride worth your while.  Only a tiny fraction – approximately 2% – from a pool of very talented athletes makes it to the professional level, and an even smaller fraction of those make a good living.  The fact that you get the chance of pursuing your passion whilst getting an education is, however, priceless!

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