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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Get Things Done…Now!

I recently had a meeting with a student where I was trying to help him think about all of the things he needed to do in order to keep moving ahead with his career plans. Most important in this regard, I reminded him how critical it was to contact the graduate program he was really interested in attending—it was actually on our campus. It was application time, and I told him that it would serve him well to talk to both the staff who dealt with applications and the faculty who were in the graduate program. I emphasized that it was one thing to read about the program, but quite another to talk to someone about what could be the next few years of your life. Moreover, having a one-on-one conversation would make you stand out (in a positive way) as the program decided whom to accept.

After spending some time talking about things, I calmly said, “So when do think you’ll contact the graduate program office?” I was not trying to be hard on him or make him feel guilty that he had not contacted anyone yet. I just wanted him to understand that I thought there were real advantages to contacting the program relatively soon. His answer to me was not what I expected, given his enthusiasm for continuing on to graduate school: “I am really busy, so I’m not sure when I’ll get around to contacting them.” Given his unexpected answer, I thought about whether I should press the issue, but instead I told him I hoped he could do it soon and wished him good luck with his future plans.

procras-town-sign-1865304_1920-2This kind of thinking by this student was not necessarily new to me, but it really got me thinking about the more general problem of college students not getting things done in a timely fashion. It includes the student described above, but also students waiting until the last minute to complete class assignments (written work and reading), and students failing to study in a timely fashion for exams. Finally, there are those students who procrastinate and impact their ability to obtain research assistantships, internships, jobs, etc.

As we all know, trying to solve the procrastination problem is extremely difficult. But, students need to have some way of overcoming the delays that can lead to low grades and missed opportunities, let alone the stress and pressure that result from waiting too long to get things completed. Here are some pieces of advice for students to help overcome procrastination:

1) Don’t think you need to get everything done at once. In my opinion your best bet is to work on things in a distributed fashion, getting a little done every day. The way to achieve this is to set up a schedule, a time management plan that you commit to and will follow throughout the semester. I have written about this in another post (https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/2016/01/20/dont-delay-set-up-a-study-schedule/)—check it out!

2) Write it down! It is not enough to have a plan in your mind. You need to force yourself to write down everything you need to do. This can be on your phone, in a planner or agenda, or on a “To-Do List”, anything that forces you to take the time to actively think about your schedule.

3) Reward yourself! In my way of thinking, you can reward yourself in two ways when you complete various tasks. First, you can reap the psychological reward of completion, by crossing out everything on your schedule, agenda, or list that you finish. It feels great to get things done! Second, you might consider giving yourself a small monetary reward for every task you complete. Then, at the end of some period of time use that money to buy or do something you really like.

4) Think about what it will mean if you do not get things done. Will you be happy when you do not finish your 5-page paper written? Doubtful. How will feel pulling an all-nighter right before an exam? Tired! The key is that you want to get things accomplished and feel good about yourself.

procrasworkspace-2167299_19205) Blah! Blah! Blah! Toss the excuses and take control of your life. Excuses are simply not going to cut it, and are often BS. Be aware of all the excuses you can give for not getting something done (e.g., “I like when I’m feeling pressured,” “I’m too busy”, “I’ll get it done later”), and fight the urge to use these excuses. You may feel better giving these excuses, but they aren’t getting things accomplished.

6) Get motivated. Making sure you complete various tasks requires you to be motivated. One way you can do this is to always set goals, both short term and long term. Setting these goals ties in nicely with developing a schedule that guides you through the semester (#2 above). In addition, you need to set the kind of goals that will move you toward you career after college—what do you want to be after graduating and what do you need to do to achieve this career goal.

7) Avoid punishing yourself when you do not complete a task. There are bound to be times when you want to do something, but you don’t complete it. Accept that this will occur and don’t be too hard on yourself. You don’t want to have a negative impact on your motivation level, and (more important) you want to figure out the best way to avoid having this happen in the future.

8) Remember that overcoming procrastination is a battle. Your inability to get things done is not something that occurred up overnight. In fact, procrastination can be viewed as a habit that developed over time. Because of this, it will take some time to get rid of this habit and replace it with behaviors that work for you to get tasks completed. Start fighting against procrastination today!

I hope you will take my advice and get things done…now!

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.