College Athletics Series: Considerations For Incoming Athletes

This three-part series will guide prospective and incoming college athletes through student-athlete life. Part one of this series spotlights advice from a former Division I All-American about what to consider before arriving on campus. Part two will explore the college recruiting process, and part three features SAGE Scholar member college programs with outstanding athletics success.

By SAGE Scholars — July 17, 2022


College Athletics Series:  Considerations For Incoming Athletes

This three-part series will guide prospective and incoming college athletes through student-athlete life. Part one of this series spotlights advice from a former Division I All-American about what to consider before arriving on campus. Part two will explore the college recruiting process, and part three features SAGE Scholar member college programs with outstanding athletics success.

Becoming a college athlete will be one of the most rewarding experiences if you know how to navigate it. Preparing for a fast-paced lifestyle requires time management, work ethic, and balance is important. What I Wish I Knew forwards five important pieces of advice for prospective and incoming student-athletes as they embark on their college athletics experience.

It's About Balance

For incoming college student-athletes, immersion into athletics culture will take place immediately. Your team and athletics facilities are who and where you'll spend most of your time outside the classroom. Particularly for incoming first-year students, college athletics staff and coaches will immerse you in the team and program culture, which means that you'll attend many events with your team and other student-athletes. While these events are important, it's also necessary to develop a sense of self on-campus separate and apart from your identity as an athlete. This separation is not only healthy mentally but will provide an outlet and perspective that can be useful if you end up injured or aren't performing your best on the competition field. Creating these alternative community spaces may not be popular among your teammates and coaches, but it is always the right choice for your long-term growth individually.

Your time as a college athlete will provide you with many invaluable experiences. Still, it can also be detrimental if you do not build community and create connections in other ways. It's easy to socially isolate yourself from campus by the nature of your schedule and the rigor of student-athlete life. Creating a strong social and community safety net will enhance your college experience as a student, but especially as an athlete.

Time Management

Managing your time will save you a tremendous headache during your college athletics career. As a student-athlete, you're not like others on campus. In many ways, your day is structured for you. You'll have classes, mandatory practice, rehab hours, study hall, athletics events, team meetings, and competitions. This means that you will not always have the luxury of afternoons spent with friends, time to visit professors' office hours or weekend hangouts. This is a choice you make when you decide to become an athlete. It's a tremendous privilege that also requires tremendous work.

With solid time management skills, it does and can work out smoothly. Intentional use of time and great communication skills can help you to better utilize small bits of time throughout the day. Clearly communicating with professors during the first week of classes about the fact that you're a student-athlete can also help you establish alternative meeting times for office hours that may conflict with practices and make them aware of potential classes missed because of competitions. Mapping out the times that you'll miss classes for your respective sport at the beginning of the semester can also help you to better visualize how classes and important due dates—tests, assignments, and projects—may collide with competition schedules. Knowing this ahead of time can help you better prepare throughout the semester and will help you to map out time in advance to study.

Don't Compare

As an incoming student-athlete, you're going to practice with teammates three to four years older than you. It's important not to play the comparison game. These athletes have a better handle of campus culture and navigating college generally, and they've gone through multiple college training and conditioning seasons. Their training load and volume will be more than yours, which is ok. You're not meant to jump into the top workout group right away. If you find yourself there, focus on yourself and preforming at your 100% every day, which will look different for every single person on the team. Controlled efforts will remain injury-free and will compound into big improvements over time.

Be Preventative

If you don't manage your time well as a freshman, you'll find yourself running from class to class with what feels like no time to catch your breath. Intentionality, planning, and time management can help create space in your daily schedule that you may not otherwise have if you're racing back and forth across campus because you forgot something. Athletes, especially freshmen, who fail to utilize their time well will often skip the little things like recovery and prehab that keep your body in peak shape and performance. Don't make the mistake of neglecting these things early on. In high school, it may not have been necessary to pay attention to recovery and prehab, but an increased training load, more competitions, and responsibilities in college all add more stress to your body. Adapting to the new training, intensity of college athletics, and change of routine means that athletes must create the time for the little things.

If a small injury does pop up in practice, try not to push through it. As athletes, we're accustomed to pushing our bodies to their limits. Sports culture views this as necessary, celebrated, honorable, and respected. This mentality, however, is not sustainable. Staying ahead of something small by missing one day of practice can save you from missing weeks of practice down the line. Preventative care in this way is not only responsible, but it will also help your team. Sitting out competitions is not helpful to anyone—especially if the injury was preventable with a lighter couple of days.

Use Campus Resources

As a student-athlete, you'll have access to many campus resources—some of which are only available to you. It's important to pay attention to what's offered and communicate clearly with your college athletics advisor. Sometimes, programs and supports exist to help athletes but are not well-publicized within networks of coaches. If you're struggling academically or need some extra motivation and support, check-in with your athletics advisor and see what kind of help they can offer. Many colleges have student-athlete tutors, mentors, life coaches, resume workshops, and community outreach coordinators. If you're wondering about something, need extra support, or have questions, always ask! You never know what hidden resources might be available to support you.

Making a choice to pursue college athletics transforms your college experience. While the deliberate community and experience will no doubt shape the trajectory of your life, it's important to approach the commitment seriously. College athletics require extra responsibility and a level of maturity that not all students come to campus prepared for. By understanding how to navigate life as a college athlete early on, you'll set yourself up for much success and get much more out of your athletic experience.

SAGE Scholars

SAGE Scholars

At SAGE Scholars, we deeply believe in the value and quality of private higher education. Our mission is to provide access to affordable college opportunities while bringing together families, colleges & universities, and benefit providers to create college funding solutions. Since 1995, SAGE Scholars has bridged the gap between students who want a quality private college education and colleges that will work closely with member families to ensure affordability — all at no cost to the families.
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