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Success in the Classroom and on the Field

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by
Associate Athletic Director, The University of Texas at Dallas

One of the biggest adjustments first-time college students face when they walk away from the carefree days of high school and on to a university campus is learning how to manage their time.

Changing from the stable, daily routine of high school to a class schedule that varies every day; figuring out how to divide your time between school work and hanging out with friends; and learning to avoid the gnawing temptation to stay up late every night and sleep in every morning is no simple transition. Now, take all of these challenges and add the following into the mix:

  • Two to three hours of practice time five days a week, sometimes early in the morning
  • Additional time spent in the weight room or with a trainer, working on conditioning or recovering from an injury
  • Weekly sessions with coaches, studying game films or reviewing play books and game plans
  • Road trips to faraway campuses throughout your season that require additional time away from the classroom along with missed assignments and exams

Yes, if you’ve decided you want to participate in college athletics, then you’ve just multiplied the time-management challenge ten-fold! Every year, thousands of young people at colleges across the nation welcome the opportunity to represent their university, help build school unity and spirit, and continue to play a sport they have enjoyed for years. Whether it’s performing in front of a nationally televised audience and sold-out crowds at a Division I university, or truly playing “for the love of the game” at a lower-division school, student-athletes have learned how to make the challenge of playing college athletics work.

“Making the adjustment from high school to college athletics was one of the biggest challenges of my life,” says Ernie Lowery, former University of Texas at Dallas basketball standout. Lowery earned two honors degrees in accounting and was accepted for a prestigious postgraduate scholarship/internship program while also playing four years of college basketball.

“In high school, you would just basically practice, then play the games,” Lowery explains. “But in college, the talent is so much better, and the preparation becomes so much more serious. Learning to manage my time was difficult, but the rewards and opportunities I gained from playing college athletics were worth it.”

Here are a few suggestions for making the most of a college student-athlete experience:

Make a time-management plan

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” — Alan Lakein, author of How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life

Regardless of how overwhelmed you might feel as a college student-athlete—and as hard as it is to be-lieve—there truly are enough hours in the day to fit it all in. The key is to make a plan and then commit to that routine.

First, take a look at your daily schedule and block off all the times you know you’ll be in class, at practice, or other scheduled activities. Then, find the blocks of time you still have available to do other things you absolutely need to do, like studying, and make a commitment to stick to it every day.

If other things come up that require adjustments to the schedule, don’t eliminate the committed study time. Just make the change and move your study time, for example, from a two-hour block after lunch to two hours in the early evening. Avoid the temptation to procrastinate. Don’t spend the entire evening socializing and then try to get all your home-work done late at night or early the next morning. Days like that negatively affect your performance as an athlete and a student.

Establish a relationship with your professors

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” — Unknown

One of the smartest moves any student can make in a new classroom is connecting with the professor or instructor. Introduce yourself the first day of classes. Get to know the subject matter and syllabus. And find out when the instructor might be available for one-on-one tutoring or outside help (such as office hours).

By engaging with the instructor early, students can establish a teamwork approach to the course and make it easier to get additional help or guidance later on. It is especially important for student-athletes to use this approach, as any semester that is also in season is going to involve more than its share of time conflicts and obstacles. Make sure you and your professors have an understanding and they know your goal is to succeed in the class.

Begin by introducing yourself as a student-athlete who will be representing the university during that semester. Explain to the instructor there may be times when the demands on your time might affect attendance or ability to complete class work in the same time frame as other students.

Most importantly, ask the professor for advice to help you address your commitments and still do well in the class: Can you complete assignments early? Is there a way to get lecture notes or presentations elsewhere, perhaps online? Can you to take quizzes or exams before you leave on a road trip, or can a coach possibly proctor an exam for you while traveling? Are there extra-credit opportunities available?

By showing your professors you are as dedicated to winning in the classroom as on the athletic field, you establish a positive relationship and demonstrate that your academic success is a mutual goal.

Show you are serious about education

“Nothing good comes in life or athletics unless a lot of hard work has preceded the effort.” — NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach

There is an NCAA television commercial where several student-athletes point out that “most of us will go pro in something other than sports.”

Look at your opportunity to play college sports as a privilege and not the only reason you are on a college campus. Take advantage of the opportunity to get a college education, and show everyone—teammates, professors, family members, etc.—that you are also serious about becoming a successful, well-rounded person.

Nothing will impress your professors more than a serious attitude about your academic responsibilities. Sit near the front of the classroom. Engage in class discussions. Do your assignments on time, and excel on your exams to the very best of your ability. When others see how dedicated you are, they’ll be more willing than ever to work with you in meeting your challenges and help you succeed.

Become a campus leader

“Leadership is finding a parade and getting in front of it.” — John Naisbitt, author of Megatrends

Just because you are a student-athlete, it doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be considered a “big man on campus.” However, there’s no reason not to aspire to leadership positions anyway. Use college athletics as a springboard toward becoming a leader. Athletics offers a showcase for student-athletes to become well known and respected on campus. Take advantage of this opportunity to expand your horizons and get involved in other campus organizations, activities, or traditions.

Join an outside club or organization. Participate in a campus tradition like homecoming. Pitch in on a service project, or even better, organize one. Be willing to take on a leadership role.

Nothing looks better on your future résumé than a long list of public service that shows you are willing to take initiative and be part of the bigger picture on your campus and in your community. Showing leadership as a student-athlete can lead to more recognition, additional scholarship opportunities, and even better employment opportunities after your athletic career is over.

In addition, the example you set as a student-athlete will always reflect on your team, the athletic department as a whole, and the university. Remember, student-athletes are representatives of all these groups and are in a prime position to create a positive image for their school.

“I didn’t go in expecting special favors just because I was an athlete, but I showed my professors that I was serious about sports and my education,” Lowery says. “I made the commitment to make it work, and I think that opened opportunities for me later on.”

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