If you are involved in a sport and are seeking to play at a higher level, I must first commend you for your bravery and discipline to travel a road much less traveled. You’ve made sacrifices and missed parties and passed up hangouts with friends because of your sport. You’ve used your sport as an excuse to get out of things and hated when it’s the reason you have to miss out on something awesome. You’ve done a lot to be where you are, but if you want to play in college, there are going to be a lot more sacrifices in your future. This is an open letter to anyone considering pursuing a collegiate career in his or her sport about the things you need to know before you get there:
1. College athletics is a whole different game.
Whether you play football, or golf, or soccer, or tennis or are a member of the dance team, the level of intensity and demand your sport has on you in college is unlike any you experienced before. It’s not just your sport, it’s your job, and it’s a job that requires you to work 24/7 because, in reality, everything you do affects your sport and you always have to be conscious of the decisions you make.
2. You may be called a "student-athlete," but we all know you're really an "athlete-student."
Everyone tells you academics are the most important thing, which they are, but it’s hard to find the willpower to stay up until 3 a.m. studying biology when you have a 6 a.m. practice the next day. I’ve done it. Others have done it. But at the end of the day, your time and energy revolves around your sports’ activities, and the sooner you realize that, the better off you’ll be learning how to manage time, or learning how to sleep with your eyes open while cramming three chapters the night before a test. Oops.
3. Sports in college will be one of the hardest things you'll ever do.
People are quick to say that college athletes are spoiled, and it’s mainly because of the gear that they get. Here is what I say to those people:
Wake up at 5:30 a.m. to run until you throw up. Workout so hard that you’re certain you’re only a few movements away from blacking out. Try really, really hard at something to only be yelled at and told that it wasn’t good enough, and then work five times harder to make sure it is good enough. Risk your body and health in order to win that tackle, or land that flip, or get over that bar. Sprint so hard that your legs feel like Jell-O, but you can’t stop because you have people relying on you to keep going. Then do it all again. Every day. In season and off-season. Now tell me that I’m spoiled for getting a T-shirt that represents my sport and how I am currently investing the majority of my life. *Mic drop*
4. Expect to be misunderstood.
It’s hard to explain tears of frustration after a rough practice or that you’re moving slowly because you ran a lot of sprints this morning or that you kinda smell because you didn’t shower this morning because you decided to sleep a little instead (guilty), but it’s okay. Don’t be bitter towards the people who tell you, “Oh, yeah, I’m really sore, too; I went for a run this morning.” As much as you want to ask them if they had someone screaming at them to go faster or made them run more than they were supposed to, you don’t need to. Because they probably are sore from their run and they most likely did not have a coach yelling at them. It’s okay to be different from the people around you and to feel a little misunderstood because there are a lot of things that you do not understand fully. You have a unique lifestyle, but it’s good to be kind to the people who don’t know what you suffer through because they have some things they suffer through that you don’t know about, either.
5. You never take your jersey off.
Even when you’re not competing, you are a symbol of your school and what you do is a direct reflection on your program. You should take pride in knowing that all that you do is being watched and monitored by those around you, and with that pride comes great responsibility to bring honor to your sport and school.
6. Remember that you're not alone.
On the nights where you can’t seem to stop the tears from falling because you miss your mom, or your dog, or your bed (guilty again), remember that you have teammates who are in your same situation and understand more than anyone what you’re going through. They have either gone through or are going through something similar to what you are, and it makes things so much easier when you let them into your life and when you share your problems and feelings with them. They are always on your team. Literally.
7. Embrace your forced friends.
For a lot of us, we end up going to a school that’s far away from home in order to play our sport. We leave behind our parents, our hometowns, and our best friends. It’s not easy to pick up and start a new life in a new city with thousands of new faces, but lucky for you, you have forced friends. Teammates. Your team really is your family. Not only because they see you at your worst, bent over looking like you’re ready to die after a hard session of fitness, but because you are literally forced to be around them all the time. Like a family, you didn’t get to pick who each of your teammates were. As I’ve grown closer to my teammates, I have made some of the best friends I have ever had. Even though you are at school to get an education and be successful in your sport, the relationships you make with the people in the jerseys beside you are the most rewarding part of your entire collegiate career. So embrace your forced friends because your college career will end, but the relationships you made along the way will last a lifetime.