Life as a College Student Athlete: Keeping the Right Perspective

     It seems that a lot has been written about student-athletes in college, but often this writing skips past the challenges that these individuals face balancing their lives. No matter what the sport, big time men’s basketball or less publicized women’s tennis, student athletes have a difficult task negotiating the academics and athletics. Over my 30 years as a Professor, I have taught and supervised hundreds of student-athletes. I have talked to them a bit about dealing with college with dual-demands, but I never took the time to really understand how these individuals manage their lives. For this post, however, I talked at length with Jenny Schaper, a star catcher on the University of Kentucky women’s softball team (coached by Rachel Lawson) to try and uncover what it is like to be a college student athlete. Below is our conversation.

Dr. Golding: How do you manage your athletic and academic schedules?

Jenny: I have a lot of late nights and a lot of early mornings. I’m pretty much used to it now. It was a lot harder when I was a freshman to manage everything because freshman year you had to have mandatory 8 study hall hours a week on top of class and practice and adjusting to college life so I think freshman year was a lot tougher. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned my own time management techniques.

Dr. Golding Did anyone ever tell you about time management skills?

Jenny: We have an academic advisor and she’s really helpful. Freshmen go through orientation, where they’re talked to about grades, time management, getting your work done, all that kind of stuff, I think that’s really helpful. But it is a lot on yourself just figure it out and kind of learn as you go. There’s usually about five or six other girls in an incoming class who are doing the same thing as you. Our coach actually made us fill out time sheets our freshman year. The day was broken up into 30-minute segments every day, and you had to write what you were going to be doing every thirty minutes of the day. I know, it’s a little excessive, but it helped you think about what you had to get done. Stuff like that was really helpful.

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Dr. Golding: Have there been times where you had to make a decision between studying, for example, and going to practice, or working out on your own? Or do you find that you manage things so well that that doesn’t really come up?

Jenny: You never really have to pick one or the other. Our coach, personally, is really good about school coming first. She’s a very big believer in that. Just last week, one of our girls was struggling a little bit with her grades, so the coach didn’t take her on our away trip so she could stay and do schoolwork. I guess there was a choice where she picked academic over athletic, but personally, I’ve never had to not participate in something in order to get schoolwork done.

Dr. Golding Do you talk to your professors about being an athlete?

Jenny: Most don’t ask. You’re the one who asks about it. I’ve never had any professors have issues with it, but girls on my team have.

Dr. Golding: Professors who said that your teammates couldn’t miss class?

Jenny: Yes. My roommate this year—a professor told that she should quit softball to take the class more seriously. And she’s a 4.0 student, so it’s not like it’s causing problems. She stayed in the class. She was like, “I’m going to prove her wrong, I’m going to show her that I can do it.”

Dr. Golding Are you ever jealous of students who aren’t participating in sports?

Jenny: Sometimes, especially around the holidays I get very jealous. We have to come back January 2 every year, just to start practicing. We get about two weeks for Christmas, which is nice, but most students get about a month. We’ve never gotten a spring break. Plus, I stay here over the summer just to work out. Definitely, at times like that, yes I’m jealous. I’m not so much jealous of the party scene, but just of having free time.

Dr. Golding: When you’re here in the summer, you can’t have an actual job, right?

Jenny: You can, but you just have to register it. And you can’t get any special perks. That’s a really big violation.

studentAthlete-studying.jpgDr. Golding: You’re a junior now. What advice would you give to freshmen about how they have to think about being in college, because it’s so different from being in high school?

Jenny: You have to know yourself, and you have to understand what kind of student and worker you are. The most important thing is your choices. You could choose to sit down and do your homework, or you could choose to hang out with your friends. It’s about where you want to succeed in life. One thing I remember my coach saying was that in college you can be good at athletics, academics, or partying, and she said you can be good at two out of the three, but you can’t be good at all three. So it’s your priorities, really.

Dr. Golding: What keeps you so motivated to do well? A lot of students who aren’t athletes could learn from the athletes.

Jenny: I think that being an athlete has taught me how to work hard for things, and that things aren’t just going to be given to you. You have to actually earn them. I think very highly of myself and of the people I like to associate myself with. I take a lot of pride in being able to be a successful athlete and a successful student, and I think that just being able to say that I do it and I do it well is important to me.

After talking to Jenny (and I hope you will agree), I have a much greater appreciation for what it is like to be a student athlete, and the demands you must deal with to succeed both academically and athletically. Of course, thanks to Jenny and best of luck to her as she moves on to her senior year!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

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