University and being a student-athlete is a great experience that many people reflect on with fond memories. Use this article and other resources or support available to you to help you start your journey on the front foot and take control of your experience as a student-athlete.

Student-athletes can be subjected to a substantial amount of pressure to successfully balance their academic studies with their sporting commitments. This greater level of stress may in part be due to the decreased amount of time that they are warranted to complete their responsibilities. Although our discussions are predominantly aimed at those individuals who are at University and studying full time or part time depending on their level of sport competition, many of the challenges and benefits outlined may also be relevant to secondary school and college level athletes.

‘A time of transition’

Transitions such as the move to University can have an impact on a person’s self-perceptions, motivation and moral development. They have been defined as “events or non-events which result in a change in assumptions about oneself and the world and require a corresponding change in one’s behaviour and relationships” (Schlossberg, 1981, p.5). The Athletic Career Transition Model (Stambulova, 2003) reveals that the transitional challenge starts for athletes with the demands posed to them to progress in their development. This stimulates them to mobilise resources and find ways to cope. The effective use of resources to overcome demands will determine the extent to which athletes are able to cope with the challenges they face.

Demands faced by student-athletes

Scheduling / time management

University is a time of significant change in the athlete’s life and with the increased demand of balancing academic deadlines with regular training and competition; student-athletes are subjected to a large amount of stress. It is a full-time job (and more) if you truly want to get the best out of yourself in both your sport and your academic studies. With this comes a huge level of organisation, scheduling, communication and time management.

  • Missing lectures – it is inevitable that there will be clashes between your training / competitions and lectures which will mean you playing ‘catch up’ in your own time.
  • Extending deadlines – You may find that deadlines come around at the same time as key dates in the sporting calendar. This may mean extending the deadline, or if you can, trying to get everything done early so you can submit on time.
  • Food – Planning in time to shop and plan your meals is a huge undertaking especially if budgets are tight. But, if you can get this right it will have a positive impact on everything else you do.
  • Sleep – While there may not feel like enough hours in the day it is important that you ensure you are getting the sleep required to be effective in your waking hours.

Sport stressors

The same as with any sport participation there are the usual sport stressors and demands on you:

  • Injury – However disappointing and challenging it can be, injury is an inevitable part of sport and may become more of an issue if you don’t know the support that is available to you.
  • Deselection – Transitions can come with the challenge of trying to firstly get selected, and then keep your spot on a team. Many student athletes face deselection setbacks through their time at University and may end up competing at lower levels than they anticipated.
  • Conflict with team members or coaches – This can come from trying to get your priorities and time management right for you, and to satisfy the needs of everyone you are close to. Alternatively, as part of the transition to university you are likely to be working with a new coach and new team members which may come with its own possibilities of conflict.
  • Burnout – For many student-athletes the transition to University means an increase in training commitments, if not managed appropriately (and coupled with your academic commitments), you may find yourself experiencing burnout.

Social / athletic identity

Identity development will be something that many student-athletes don’t think about but your time at University will play a part in shaping yours.

  • Social life – Athletes with a strong athletic identity might tend to neglect other aspects of life to fulfil their athlete role, which can increase the potential risk of social problems. Depending on your level / sport you may find that all your social activities are with team mates.
  • Career plans – You may find that you go in to University with vague or non-existent career objectives and invest heavily in your athletic role. You will be juggling dual-role identities, full-time athlete and full-time student, and may find that you only choose to invest in the non-sport identity and explore non-sport career options once your sport commitments are over.

Resources available to student-athletes

Time

An ideal balance of sport and education commitments will take time to develop:

  • Don’t over plan your day / schedule so that your expectations are unrealistic, and you get demotivated by constantly falling short.
  • Identify key times in your academic / sporting calendar and what you can do to get ahead, only extend deadlines if you know this will help (rather than an excuse to put things off).
  • Take control – control will be key to keeping your stress levels as low as possible (this also include using the support available to you, not just feeling like you must do it all alone).

Support

Understand the support available to you as soon as possible

  • Sport and Academic staff – Being proactive and organised will inevitably mean that you will feel like you have more support around you. But, communication will be a key part of the process. Be one step ahead to get required information to coaches and staff members to identify challenging times in the year.
  • Parents – You may be living away from home for the first time but that doesn’t mean that your parents are no longer there to support you. Make sure you keep in touch.
  • Peers – If you can, prioritise some time to socialise with people away from your sport environment. Building a strong athletic identity can really help with your development in sport. But, appreciating the role that a wider support network can play for you is key.
  • Fellow athletes will be a big part of your journey as you are all ‘in the same boat’ so you understand each other’s experiences.

Student-Athlete Benefits

As well as the demands and challenges outlined above there are clearly many benefits to being a student-athlete. Student-athletes often have positive self-esteem and body image; may have a built-in support network through teammates, coaches/athletic department staff and may feel very connected to the campus community.

Here are just a few more benefits to being a student athlete:

  • improving physical health
  • obeying the competition or societal rules
  • promoting societal values, integrity and building character;
  • enhancing confidence, motivation, sense of empowerment, and self-esteem;
  • providing social interaction, fun and enjoyment;
  • offering opportunities for education and career in sports;
  • expanding life experience and making more friends;
  • knowing how to deal with failure and difficult situations,
  • developing life-skills