Student athletes weigh in on juggling school and sports

Alyssa Englert
Alyssa Englert on the court for the University of Hartford.

According to the NCAA, there are more than 430,000 student athletes on campuses across the country. Every fall thousands of freshmen discover they must walk a tightrope between academic and athletic pressures – often with a year-to-year scholarship on the line. As the 2013-14 athletic calendar kicks off, we checked in with student athletes both past and present for advice on coping with the darker side of their experience.

Welch Suggs

Sport: Track and field
School: Rhodes College
Current position: Professor of sports journalism at the University of Georgia
Career highlight: Author of the definitive book on Title IV: “A Place On the Team”

What do you wish all athletes knew before they arrived on campus?
That college athletics are a business, and that is the primary motivator of nearly all the adults surrounding them. That means the schedule may be unfair, and your scholarship may be adjusted. Most athletes aren’t prepared for that. It’s not the most nurturing atmosphere in the world.

Where can athletes go for help and advice?
It varies from campus to campus, but usually there are academic advisers who are willing to advocate for athletes. The catch-22 is that people outside of varsity sports usually don’t understand the pressures on the inside.

Emily Dorko

Sport: Softball and volleyball
School: Adelphi University
Current position: MBA graduate student
Career highlight: .495 batting average in 2013, multiple academic awards

What do you wish you knew before you became a student athlete?
That coaches sometimes forget you’re a student first. When you’re under pressure, it’s easy to let your studies fall by the wayside.

Where can athletes go for help and advice?
Like most campuses, there were multiple places to go at Adelphi: tutors, advisers, study groups. But I think what’s missing at most schools is a liaison between student athletes and their coaches – someone to take the student’s side.

Karen Weaver

Sport: Field hockey
School: Lock Haven University
Current position: Professor of sports management, Drexel University
Career highlight: Coached Salisbury University to an NCAA Championship in 1986

What do you wish all athletes knew before they arrived on campus?
At some point, athletes often realize that there’s a whole other world that they’d like to experience – student government, studying abroad, etc. But they don’t realize that when they take that scholarship, they’re really beholden to the coach.

Where can athletes go for help and advice?
In that case, there is rarely much flexibility. They signed a contract and, if they want the scholarship, the coach is in charge. That’s why it’s so important to thoroughly understand the commitment.

Alyssa Englert

Sport: Basketball
School: University of Hartford
Current position: Point guard for the U. Hartford Hawks
Career highlight: Led the 2012-13 Hawks with 92 assists

What do you wish you knew before you became a student athlete?
I wish I knew the team and the coaches a little better before I arrived. I only visited once. It was a big adjustment when I got here.

Where can athletes go for help and advice?
I’m not really sure. But even if I knew, I’m not sure I would reach out in that way. I like to just kind of keep to myself.


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