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This is it freshmen college athletes. You are about to embark on your intercollegiate career as a student-athlete. The word student-athlete implies that you are a student first but let's be honest, it's a 50/50 whether or not you chose to spend the next four years at a university for your academics. Truth be told, it's likely most of you gravitated toward the athletic program initially which means that so much of your satisfaction the moment you step on campus will be required to be satiated by your athletic participation.
This is not another one of those articles calling you entitled or a generation that lacks accountability, there are too many of those to go around already. The next several paragraphs you will be completely equipped with everything they never tell you in the recruiting process because well, they can't. However, these valuable tips and this degree of honest insight isn't something you can full understand until you are staring at the ceiling on the first night of sleeping in your dorm room waiting for the alarm to go off so you can avoid being late to 6 am strength and conditioning.
If you are a parent, any kind of coach, or any kind of teacher that knows an athlete who is about to embark on their student-athlete career, urge them to give this a listen.
1. High school athletics is not college. The coaching, the team, the atmosphere and the expectations...leave those behind, they no longer exist.
Your new journey is about forming new relationships with new people and understanding a whole new genre of leadership. You will not always love all of your teammates. Social media for the program you chose to commit the next four years too is no different than any other platform. By design, everything looks wonderful, fun, productive, energizing, and exciting because it's part of the marketing just like anything else that involves buy-in or recruitment. Being a college athlete is dance and like anything else you have to practice for, you can start out with two left feet and work with what you have or you can complain, those are your choices. Your comparison to what once was in high school be it the coach, culture or winning or losing record no longer exists. Athletes who move through their careers consistently comparing old habits and relationships to the current ones are some of the most difficult to get on board in terms of building team culture. The sooner you let go of what you believe was perfect (which is never was to begin with) the faster you will become acclimated to accepting your new environment and the people in it.
2. Mom and Dad are no longer part of this equation in everyday average decision making. You should let them know and work to let go.
There are no more rides to practice from Mom and Dad, filling your water bottle for you and packing your lunch. The sooner you embrace the idea that no one is going to back to your dorm room to pick up your forgotten assignment or that your professor isn't interested in your excuses for late or incomplete work, the better off you will be. You are an adult now. Mom and Dad will have no access to your grades without permission, which means they should have no access to contacting professors when your work rate fails to match the final grade. This is the same with your coaches. Treat your scholarship like your salary and your playing time as a concept of what you earn rather than what the coach gives you. Mom and Dad won't be able to negotiate with your future employer for your salary nor will your boss at work be interested in fielding calls about your level of dissatisfaction with your work environment. This is your opportunity to get a jump start so kiss your parents good bye, FaceTime when you can and choose to take advantage of this dress rehearsal now.
3. Your favorite coach in the world might not end up being your college coach but it doesn't mean the relationship is lost.
Your most valued and treasured relationships will take time. The coach athlete relationship takes work on both ends which means an instant connection is never automatic and yes, the coach you had in the recruiting process may differ slightly or even drastically from the competition and practice coach. If given the opportunity you may even find that you like the adaptive coach far better. Before you grab your cell phone and call home feeling as though the wool has been pulled over your eyes remember, always opt to speak to the coach in person and express how you are feeling. Phone calls to Mom and Dad may help you vent but they will not solve or dissolve your concerns in a productive way.
4. Coaches leave, get fired, resign or retire every single year.
If you chose the program because of the coach, there is no guarantee they will be there all four years. Anyone who says otherwise is not being truthful so do you due diligence in recognizing that it can most certainly happen.
5. The powers that be in the NCAA have made it easier than ever for athletes to jump ship at the slightest hint of dissatisfaction, hence, the transfer portal.
Given the accelerated and accessible platform known as the transfer portal, that option is now readily available and will be a temptation in your first semester for a variety of reasons. Yes, transferring has been a positive addition to thousands of athlete's resumes but if in your first two weeks of preseason you disagree with a new teammate, are not able to secure a class you wanted, dislike your roommate, do not start in an exhibition match or simply miss home cooked meals, remember that making a permanent decision based on temporary feelings can backfire. Try speaking to your coach, your athletic trainer, a team liaison or even one of your professors prior to throwing your name into the portal without consideration that time is one of the greatest remedies to securing comfort and familiarity in a new environment.
6. College is an actual place with real people, real buildings, real success and real challenges. Relationships are not instant.
Social media and Hollywood often do a poor job demonstrating the true student-athlete experience. For the most part you see the popular football or basketball player who has it all and struggles, but wins the big game. College isn't Facebook or Instagram and there are no filters to instantly make it look or feel better when your first day doesn't come out quite the way you want it to. Like your team, relationships take work. Freshmen classes are often silent with an initial looming fear of having to openly speak to strangers or submitting a wrong answer when called upon. Developing relationships with classmates means you actually have to make an effort and speak to people outside of Snapchat.
If you are complaining that you do not connect with anyone, take a step back and examine how often you are attempting to make conversation with anyone on an average day. Remember, it's highly likely in the natural orders of education that the same people you knew were recycled from elementary, middle up to high school so in essence, many of those relationships you recall were nurtured up to 12 years. College is a clean slate so you will have to do some work if you decide that being a lone wolf is the opposite of what you are looking for in your experience.
7. Being sad and uncertain is completely normal.
The amount of new decisions, challenges, successes and failures you will experience as a regular college student feel absolutely multiplied as a student-athlete. You will watch your non-athlete roommates sleeping in, staying out later, sitting in the caf for meals for hours as you wave and grab a PB & J before running from chemistry to practice. These are different kind of stresses than the average student and it's ok to feel overwhelmed in your new environment. The media tells you to be happy constantly. Being sad or uncertain is a normal human emotion. Feeling rushed, pushed for a deadline, nervous about an exam or big competition are absolutely essential experiences for your development. The trick is how and when to accept that these emotions are temporary and a part of life while at the same time acknowledging that perhaps if you are sad or struggling for an unusually longer amount of time, you will likely need some help and that's ok too. Tell a teammate, suite mate, athletic trainer, coach or professor. One of the coolest parts about being a student-athlete is that there is an entire department that has been put in place to see that you succeed. Without you, the department does not exist.
8. If you have issues with your Coach, do not wait until the end of the year survey to share them.
Your generation has more power than any other in terms of the system and using your dissatisfaction to your advantage. Our best educators are being marched out of the profession daily due to small bouts of dissatisfaction. What you do with this power is completely up to you but growth and development, like relationships take not only time but communication. Speaking to your teammates about dissatisfaction or discomfort can feel great in the moment but like venting to Mom and Dad, the source isn't receiving the message. Coaches are people who are hired to share lessons of growth and teach development. This growth comes in the form of lessons and conversations that are often uncomfortable or come with team consequences when standards are broken or violated.
A coach who is verbally, physically or sexually abusive has no place in sport but being quick to place them in any three of those categories simply to vent disagreements with playing time is a dangerous game that you will not likely grasp until you have cost someone their livelihood. If you lack the interest in working toward strengthening your levels of accountability and resilience, your problems will not subside simply by getting a new coach. Be diligent in your pursuit and expectation of excellent leadership but also understand that that definition may vary from athlete to athlete.
9. Female coaches are amongst the most vulnerable population for being fired today in college athletics over claims of abuse and unfair treatment. The ones getting rid of us are sadly, female athletes.
Due to our low numbers at the high school and club level in many sports, female coaches are not always a class or group that female athletes are afforded the opportunity to be exposed to in their age-grade careers. As a result, we are seeing high levels of tension at the college level where female athletes are more likely to challenge and scrutinize their female coaches as opposed to male leadership. Given our minority as a group, female teams and their leaders are often the first to be marginalized, discriminated against, harassed and retaliated against in their departments. As a student-athlete you are the first and most effective weapon for administrations to use against female coaches who have chosen not to remain silent on inequity. If you find yourself invited into an impromptu administrative meeting without your head coach present, be honest but be aware. Unless you are a college softball athlete or a basketball player you are likely not a participant in a revenue sport at your university. Ask yourself if your program has what it needs and if you are treated fairly compared to a male sport on campus with a comparable roster. If you find that your team is randomly interrogated, there is no doubt there will be one or two teammates with something negative to share about your coach but, know that you are likely being exploited as part of a bigger plan for the institution to rid itself of whistleblowers.
10. You have chosen to do something special that comes with rewards, but rewards are not given without sacrifice.
College might be easy for the average student. But college isn't easy for the average student-athlete. Expect challenges that you will overcome. Expect challenges that you will fail. If you chose an institution because they were undefeated or won a championship the year before that doesn't mean you are part of a championship program, it means you are coming to a program with the potential to win another one. If athletic wins and losses define your happiness in college, your character will reveal itself pretty quickly. The teammate who makes it in life, not just in sports is the one that stays true to their workload and commitment to the mission when their team is 10-0 and they do this equally when their team is 0-10.
I wish you the best of luck this academic year and until next time, BE FEARLESS.
Did you enjoy this article? Please hit like, comment or tweet @TFCoachCarlson with #BEFEARLESS. To contact me visit thefearlesscoach.org