The first year of higher education is a time of transitions. These adjustments can be extremely challenging for unsuspecting students. Looking back now at my own experiences as a “freshman” student-athlete on scholarship at the University of Tulsa, I was not prepared – both academically and athletically – for my first year of university.
I remember feeling overwhelmed. Comparatively, the stress I had experienced in high school was now multiplied by five. Every part of my life was placed into a schedule. I felt like a robot. For example, I was not a morning person, but I was up at 6am every day training before class. I was a family man, but I was a 16.5 hour drive away from my home in another country. My nights consisted of Study Hall, rather than watching NHL hockey. My afternoons were spent in the classroom, and every other free moment was spent studying or training. My weekends were spent driving and flying all over the United States at competitions. In a matter of months, my running mileage nearly doubled what it was in high school, and the homework was relentless. Overall, it was a major lifestyle change for me.
Although I had managed to put the pieces together and make it through my freshman year successfully, I was far from perfect and made many mistakes along the way. If I could offer any advice to incoming first year student-athletes about how to handle the stressful first year adjustment period, I would offer these three tips, which I found to be the most important:
Sleep & Diet You need to sleep, and you need to eat healthy if you are going to be successful and adjust to the NCAA. Out of experience, if you fall behind on these two items, it is one heck of a challenge with everything going in your busy schedule on to pull yourself back out of it. You need to sleep and eat healthy to recover from the training in your sport, focus in the classroom, get good grades, and avoid getting sick. I found this was one aspect of my lifestyle, which I had greatly underestimated as a teenager back home, which I had come to fully encounter as a student-athlete. Sleep and diet can easily be controlled by you, so don’t let it slip.
Get Organized Take the time to organize a weekly schedule. Be aware of what you need to take care of during your day, whether it be practice or class, and be sure to know exactly when those events are occurring. Preparation leads to less stress and, in most cases, successful outcomes.
Communicate If there is an issue on your team, in your sport, or in the classroom, talk about it. Set up a meeting, talk to your coach or professor, and get the issue sorted out immediately. If you are injured and need time off running, you need to tell your coach. If you need extra time to study for an exam, talk to your professor. In most cases, everyone is willing to listen and help as best they can. If everyone is on the same page about an issue, big or small, there is a higher chance for success.
As a naive teenager, it was only after I had completed my freshman year that I had fully realized how important the items above where. If I had spent more time to prepare for the adjustments coming in my first year, there is no doubt that it could have been an easier transition. Here is a list of more items other student-athletes found helpful in their freshman year. I hope these pointers offer help to incoming first year students and I wish you all a great first year experience! In my next blog post I will share about my sophomore year as I continue my series – An Athletically Inspired Educational Journey.