What to Know About Being a College Athlete

What to Know About Being a College Athlete
portrait of Min Shin
By Min Shin

Published on August 9, 2021

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Life as a college athlete can be both demanding and rewarding. Student-athletes have the opportunity to be part of a team and compete at a high level, all while getting an education. This experience often helps college athletes learn critical soft skills that are not only applicable outside the sports world, but that a student might not gain in a classroom setting.

Still, playing a sport in college is easier said than done. Here are some things to keep in mind if you're considering playing a college sport or are entering college as a student-athlete.

Routines and Time Management Are Key

From early-morning workouts to late-night study sessions and classes in between, it may seem as though you're always rushing to get somewhere. Having a set routine can help you stay on track with your busy schedule.

Routines keep you organized because you can train yourself to go through your day in a specific order that works best for you. And since you'll know the next item on your agenda, you can learn how to manage your time and plan accordingly in case there's a schedule change.

To create your routine, consider your wake-up time, classes, practices, meal times, study hours, and bedtime. Then, stick to it by staying consistent each day. Don't forget to block off some time during the day to take a break, too.

Your Teammates Can Become Your Closest College Friends

Practices and workouts will naturally cause you to spend more time with your teammates than any other students on campus. You'll most likely grab meals with your teammates before or after practices and may form study groups together. Sometimes, your teammates may even take the same classes as you if you're in the same major.

One of the perks of being a college student-athlete is that you can start the year knowing that an entire team's got your back. There's a good chance you may form strong friendships with your teammates.

Your teammates will also likely be your greatest support system throughout college, both on and off the field. Even if you don't become close friends, make the effort to get along with them because you'll be spending a big portion of your days with them for the next few years.

You'll Have to Make Sacrifices

Student-athletes generally have a different college experience than regular students. Along with classes, you'll have to attend practices, workouts, and games. In some cases, you may be excused from classes to travel for your sport.

Somewhere in all this, you must find the time to complete your coursework and study for exams. Playing a college sport is an incredible time commitment. Being a student-athlete requires you to spend your free time wisely, and you may have to give up part of your social life and opportunities to join other student organizations.

You'll Learn Important Life Skills

While the college student-athlete experience will stay with you long after you retire from your sport, it can also teach you life skills that come in handy when applying for jobs and internships. Many of the skills you learn while being on a team are directly transferable to working with colleagues at a company or organization.

For example, you'll already be familiar with teamwork, leadership, and communication. Other critical soft skills you can learn from playing a sport include organization, time management, and the ability to make decisions under pressure.

Plus, if your interviewer is a fan of sports, you might end up having a conversation about your time on a college sports team, so be ready to share!

College Sports Can Both Relieve and Exacerbate Stress

Playing a sport in college can be an effective way to blow off steam after a busy day of classes. While most students must find their own time to exercise or work out, this time is already pre-scheduled for college student-athletes through regular team practices and workouts.

Though sports can offer a temporary distraction from academics, it can also be a source of stress for some student-athletes. Playing at the collegiate level comes with immense pressure to succeed. If you don't think the hard work you're dedicating to the sport is paying off, you might experience feelings of depression or anxiety.

You may feel overwhelmed with having to balance schoolwork and a college sport, so it's crucial to ask yourself how much you can handle. Always make your mental health a priority.

You're Not Guaranteed Playing Time

Most people assume that once you commit to playing for a college team, you'll automatically get playing time, but this isn't a reality for many players. Some college student-athletes never end up playing for games during an entire season.

Understand that committing to playing for a team means you're only halfway there. Once you commit to the team, you must compete — even among your teammates — to earn playing time. Don't take playing time for granted in college.

Earning playing time requires hard work, determination, discipline, and focus during practices and workouts. One tip is to treat your practices as if you're playing in an actual game. This will help you get into the mindset of playing to win rather than cruising through practice.


Feature Image: Trevor Williams / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Find the perfect present for the college athlete in your life by looking at our gift guide. Help students balance work and play with these fun ideas. The NCAA provides support to student-athletes and oversees the rules and regulations that govern collegiate athletics at more than 1,000 member institutions. College athletes rake in millions of dollars each year for their schools, but these full-time players aren't making any money for themselves from the gig.