This post is the first in a series about NCAA athletics. See the rest of the posts here:
Now that we’re about to start summer (some of you lucky souls already have), high school athletes everywhere are contemplating their interest in competing at the NCAA level.
Seeing as it’s a topic exceedingly complex and worth a lot of thorough explanation, this will be the first of several posts regarding it. Just last year, around this time, I was frantically emailing fencing coaches, trying to figure out all that college sports can entail. So, in remembrance of my own intense confusion, here is an extremely simplified look at a few of the basics:
1. The Academic Impact
Not to state the obvious (but I’m going to state the obvious), NCAA athletics takes up a whole lot of time. Joining a team comes with knowing that, while other students have a significant portion of their day to study for finals or complete papers, you will need to be at practice.
This is absolutely not to say that maintaining strong grades becomes impossible – but it will take greater discipline and time management on your part. For all of the additional hectic-ness that you maybe subjecting yourself too, though, athletics is also the perfect way to clear your head and break up those extensive periods of work.
2. The Social Impact
Along with homework time, you’re going to lose some friend time too…well, kind of. Almost every coach will tell you that, aside from academics, your sport must come first, hands down. This means clubs, internships, the occasional party here or there – they’re all going to have to take a back seat. You need to recognize that on-campus and off-campus events will sometimes overlap with your athletic commitment, and missing out on them comes with the territory.
On the positive side, there is arguably no better way to find friends in a new place than through an already-established team. Right off the bat, you will have a network around you – upperclassmen to provide advice, underclassmen to share your worries with. This level of camaraderie can – and often does – make up for any aforementioned social sacrifices.
3. The Travel
Competing at such an intense level lends itself, naturally, to traveling. The odds are that, as a member of an NCAA team, you will make pretty frequent trips out to other schools across the country. The expenses of this should be covered, but it can lead to conflicts with your other responsibilities. There will be days where you have to miss class, and there will be cases where you have to find an alternate way to take a test or complete a lab.
One of the most important things to look at when considering a college’s NCAA program is how the professors and faculty handle student athletes. Are they flexible? Are they understanding? Will they let you find a separate day to make up whatever it is that you’re missing? The head coach of your sport can usually give you a decent idea.
4. The Additional Perks
While playing sports in college is far from an easy task, it comes with some undeniable benefits. For one: the swag. Oh, the swag. Most schools will fit you with free apparel to train in: t-shirts, hoodies, sweatpants, etc.
Then there’s the first pick of classes. You will get the privilege of signing up before everyone else (seeing as you have to work around practice times) which just about guarantees you the courses that you need. Many programs will also have some sort of academic support set up for student athletes to take advantage of, like free one-on-one tutoring.
5. Your Commitment
Yes, this has been implied in the prior sections, but it’s incredibly essential to reiterate: NCAA athletics is for those truly passionate about and driven by their sport. There will be times when you’re frustrated with your results. There will be times when you’re drained physically and mentally, stressed over the loads of school work that you haven’t been able to do yet. And it is in these moments where, if you do not really love what you’re doing, improving your skills and challenging your capabilities, it may not be worth it.
Competing at the NCAA level is a truly special experience, but you need to make sure it is the kind of experience you want to take on.