Remember when you were a child and you had those dreams of going to college for sports? You were certain you were playing for Coach K or Coach Wooden (depending on your age) or Nick Saban or whoever the best college program was in your sports field. The fact of the matter is that all those times in the backyard turned out to just be dreams for most of the people. Not every kid is going to college for athletics for various reasons; ability, financial restrictions, or anything else. Fortunately for me I got to live that experience of being a student-athlete.
Now for the outsiders who have never played college sports, I suppose you imagine this lavish lifestyle that we live. You see these Division I athletes flaunting the freshest gear out there and their multi-million dollar weight rooms and facilities. But in a first-hand experience, I can tell you it’s nothing like that at all. Quite the opposite actually, and I’ll steer clear of the paying the athletes debate for another article. I’m just here to tell you about the student-athlete life so you can get a grasp on what it’s like.
Let me start off by saying even though I never went to a Division I powerhouse, there isn’t much of a difference between the lifestyles a Division II athlete leads versus a Division I or III athlete. We all have to go through the same grind. And the life is far from easy.
I started my college career off at Rowan College at Gloucester County, a Division III Junior College. I know, really fancy. But it was a powerhouse in athletics and especially baseball, which is the main reason I chose them. Not that I had other offers on the table.
For every sport you have to go through a season before your season. For us it’s fall ball. Fall ball is a total grind. For starters, a typical day would start with a 6:45 AM lift. Then we’d all go to our 8 AM classes and most of us had to get our study hall hours in throughout the week. Practices during the fall were usually 3 PM and we weren’t going home till the sun wasn’t in sight anymore. Basically around 6:30.
Then on the weekends you’d take the trips to go see some D-I, II, or III baseball schools and play them in the longest Saturdays and Sundays of your life. So watching football on the weekends was off the table for us until November. Oh and by the way, don’t forget we still have homework, midterms, finals, and a social life to try and keep up. Granted I understand I only went to a junior college, so the school work wasn’t that hard, but I want you to imagine it for other schools.
We would take a two month break and get right back into it in January. Where we’d have the glory of practicing inside of a basketball gym for two months--thanks to the brutal winters of the Northeast--and we’d only get outside when it was “warm.” Warm meant above 32 degrees.
Depending on the sport, you will be missing certain holiday breaks from school. For football and basketball, there is no such thing as a break for Thanksgiving. Basketball players only get a certain amount of days off during winter break. And for me, I had to miss Spring Break for four years.
When you go on these trips with your team it is strictly business. There’s no off days while you’re down there, so don’t think about making plans of going to the beach. Plan on waking up at 7 AM for team breakfast, getting to the field around 8:30 AM for pre-game, first pitch around 10 AM, and then waiting till about 4 PM till you see your hotel room again. That schedule is on repeat for the entire duration of the trip depending on the times of your games, sometimes you might be lucky enough to sleep in till about 8 AM.
Oh and if you remember all that gear you see us wearing, that comes from our own money. The field we play on, we maintain ourselves. And those fancy meals we get on road trips is anything we can afford for $10. That was just two years at a junior college, now I’ll tell you how it went for my final two years at an actual NCAA athletic program.
Our fall balls at Southern Connecticut were a little different. We had individual workouts that were only supposed to be for a two hours out of the week. As you can probably guess we never stuck to our time limits the NCAA implemented. So we’d wake up at 6 AM every Monday and Friday and do conditioning.
We did that from September to the last week of November, and if you’re unfamiliar with the weather in Connecticut, it’s about 10-15 degrees colder than Jersey weather. So those mornings were ice cold come the end of October. We would practice from 3-5 PM every day. Again going over our hourly limit the NCAA implemented, but that's for another time. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday we would follow those practices up with a trip to the weight room. So we would get done around 6 o’clock on those days. Still with school work to finish up.
Then comes the spring time where the practices get longer. Also a quick side note, the classes you have to choose are never in the time slot you need them to be in for you to make practice. So sometimes you’re going straight from class to practice or vice-versa without a chance of eating. And the professors do not care that you’re an athlete, they will stereotype you into a bad student from the first day, and won’t care that your grades suffer.
Now for Southern we went on three trips. We went a weekend to Orlando, Florida during a quick weekend break from school. Then two weeks later we would go to Myrtle Beach for another weekend. That trip we took a bus down, so imagine that luxurious 15 hour trip in a bus with 30 guys. Also we had assignments we’d have to do on these trips. And then the Spring Break trip.
Our trips went the exact same way as the RCGC trip, wake up before 8 and go all day on the diamond. Not getting back till about 4 o’clock where we became imprisoned in the hotels we were staying at.
I hope that you now understand the life of a student-athlete isn’t easy. It’s a full-time job with no benefits at all. Next time you criticize an athlete for anything, just remember what they’re going through, because being a student-athlete can take a toll on someone mentally, physically, and emotionally.