Choosing Your Own Experience

When most people say that they were a student-athlete in college, minds immediately drift to images of glory, full-ride scholarships, and championship. My college sports experience was nothing of the sort. I played division 2 intercollegiate women’s soccer for Notre Dame de Namur University, ever heard of it…not many people have. I wasn’t the star of my high school, I didn’t have colleges falling over themselves to have me play for their team; I sought out NDNU and made several attempts to get noticed. I managed to secure a spot on their roster in the fall of my senior year of high school, and to me this was the highlight of my soccer career, I was over-the-moon excited. My initial idea of a college athlete was far from my actual experience. I expected to be a part of the stars of the school with a small but mighty support system from my professors; I thought it would be simple, turns out playing sports in college was perhaps one of the more challenging experiences I’ve had to navigate.

argonaut-logoFrom the start it was easy to tell that this small, private, liberal arts college administration put very little emphasis on its athletic department. Athletics felt like a completely different world from the education sector of the school, but that didn’t stop the athletes from copping an attitude that they were better than everyone else on campus. For the most part dealing with game schedules, travel time and school work was challenging but I was able to manage. In my personal experience, I had no trouble in my classes and most of my professors didn’t hold my athletics against me because I made an effort both inside and outside the classroom to seek help and clarification. Some of my teammates were unable to cultivate such a strong relationship with their professors; many were on academic probation due to the lack of respect they had towards their academics. This was a common practice for majority of the athletes at my University, they didn’t care about the academics; so who can blame the professors not supporting the athletics? This trend is common for many colleges, as pointed out in Myles Brand’s article The Role and Value of Intercollegiate Athletics in Universities. The Standard View says that college sports are not a part of the educational experience and that if they were eliminated the educational mission of the institution would not weaken. Furthermore in Psychology Today’s article Collegiate Sports vs. College Education: Why they must be at odds, mentions an important and universal point; “Athletic programs compete for excellence… Academics are interested in education, making their students brighter, more learned.”

The Standard view in Brand’s article is rough to digest for some student athletes; other student athletes look beyond the scope of education and reap the benefits that athletics offer. In Huffington Post’s sport section, they offer 11 accounts of student-athletes and what they learned from playing college sports. One athlete points out the important fact of a support system, “I had a group of 40 best friends. They became my sisters. We ate meals together, practiced together, partied together, took classes together. My coach was a mentor and friend, and I treasure all of those relationships.” In addition, the Academe Blog of the Academe Magazine points out, “the best sports programs offer important lessons that are critical to a residential learning experience. The ability to work collaboratively, learn time management skills, exercise leadership, play competitively but with a sense of ethics are invaluable lessons taken from the fields, courts and pools as part of the overall student learning experience. College is about what takes place in the classroom. Yet the thousand teachable moments outside class often shape the student’s learning environment in profound ways.” It’s an incredibly difficult challenge to balance and maybe that’s why college athletics isn’t for everyone. There’s a special balance between what you learn inside the classroom and what you learn outside of it in your sport. But it’s ultimately up to the athlete to choose what he or she wants out of their college experience and no coach or professor can force a decision upon them.

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Teammates that have become family

In my experience the professors only have a negative view on athletics at a university if you give them a reason to. One of the best decisions I made in college was choosing to develop a relationship with my professors despite the fact that I was an athlete; I took my education into my own hands and made it what I wanted. While this might be a long way off, if each college athlete cared as much about their education as they did their sport then that might just bridge the gap between attitudes of the athletic vs. academic debate.

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