Every high school athlete wants to compete in a Division I program. As a society, we have created this stigma that Division I athletes are an elite group that all hope for but few obtain. I mean, who wouldn't want to get their schooling paid for because they can move faster and better than everyone else? College is expensive!
I can't, and won't, speak badly about Division I programs. I have no experience or insight into their daily lives so I have no way to address the challenges they may face. I can, however, speak very confidently about Division III programs. Some may think that Division III programs are barely a step above intramural sports. I want to correct these misconceptions and talk about what it's really like to compete at the Division III level.
It’s important to realize that each Division III team works rigorously to be the best they can be. Competition within conferences, and even within teams, is fierce. I practice a total of ten times in a week. Daily, many athletes find themselves up before 6:00am, putting in an hour or more to practice before their first class. Each athlete does this with the idea in mind that it will all be worth it in the end. You may ask, worth what? That question I cannot answer, because for each athlete the answer is different. What I can say is that to each athlete, their answer to this question is very important. So important that it drags them out of bed at 5:30am and pushes them to work harder day after day and month after month. All the while trying to make it worth it.
A practice schedule of this capacity calls for excellent time management skills. I think the academic side of athletics is too often overlooked. After all, we are student-athletes. It's not easy balancing a full course load, practice, social time, down time, food, and sleep. But it’s a reality athletes at all levels are forced to adapt to. What makes Division III athletes different is that not only are we dealing with practice and class, but we are also involved in clubs on campus, collaborative research, and work study. All of these commitments create organized, well rounded members of society. Which in turn is valuable to our lives after college.
But by far, the best thing about Division III athletics is the team. From day one, you are surrounded by people who are just like you. Athletes do not pick Division III schools for athletic scholarships. It’s well known that Division III does not hand out athletic scholarships. They also do not pick Division III for the fame, TV coverage, and fancy interviews. It’s just not a thing. They are competing for the love of their sport. No one is forcing them to join or show up every day, but they do. They do it for their teammates, and they do it for themselves. Teams stick together like cults, supporting each other both in and out of practice. Who else is going to understand your daily life better than those who are living the same thing? Teams become families. Of course, families have their differences and the occasional fight. But they stick together. They help each other with classes. They help each other with life. For athletes far from home, teammates are more than just teammates, they are their new home.
Division III athletics are about more than just the sport. They are about hard work, family, and dedication. They are about learning to be your best just because you want to. They are about more than money and TV coverage. They are about the heart and soul of the athlete. They are about what you are willing to put your body through to reach your potential. That is why I am a Division III athlete.