by Camden Carter
Imagine waking up at the a$$ crack of dawn, before the sun has even begun to cast its warm glow on the world.
As most of your fellow students are still nestled in their beds, you're already lacing up your running shoes, gearing up for hours of training.
After a hard practice and possibly a morning weights session, you hustle to class, where laser-like focus is essential.
Staying locked in all day is crucial before switching gears again in a few hours to endure more intense training.
Post-practice, there's little time for recovery because homework and studying are required.
Welcome to the demanding world of being a college student-athlete.
A consulting firm that recently studied this balance among student-athletes at Harvard University reported that the majority (524 out of 827) of respondents said they had difficulty finding a balance between their academic, athletic, and social lives."
Mack Gresham, a former football player for the University of South Florida, said it can be difficult to find time to study and thrive in school when you’re exhausted.
“The biggest challenge I faced while trying to maintain a good GPA and strive in my sport was finding the motivation to seriously study, which is always a challenge after a physically exhausting day,” said Gresham.
The constant push and pull between academic and athletic responsibilities can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Nia Covington, a former basketball player for the College of Charleston, said missing class for games was tough on her schoolwork.
“Missing class was my main stressor as a STEM major, and missing class proved to be harmful to my grades,” said Covington.
Kennedy Rhue, a current softball player at the College of Charleston, said she finds it hard to maintain a social life and still keep up with her studies and her sport.
“The biggest challenge I face as a student-athlete is balancing my school work/social life with my sleep schedule,” said Kennedy Rhue.
Balancing a thriving social life with the demands of being a collegiate student-athlete can be an extraordinary challenge.
“Being a student-athlete weakened my social skills and made my social life stagnant. Due to the time commitment, it prevented me from having the energy to be social whenever we had time,” said Covington.
The rigorous training schedules, frequent travel, and intensive practice sessions can make it difficult to partake in spontaneous gatherings, weekend escapades, or even just catching up with friends. FOMO, or the "fear of missing out," becomes a constant companion.
Student-athletes gain substantial benefits from engaging with peers who share similar lifestyles and schedules.
Rhue states that finding the right support system can help manage the stress and pressures that come with being a student-athlete.
“I found that the best support system as a student-athlete is my teammates and those who participate in other sports. This is comforting for me because all student-athletes face the same struggles, and it’s important for me to remember that I am not alone in what I do/ how I manage my time,” said Rhue.
This camaraderie and shared understanding are invaluable sources of support, as fellow athletes can empathize with the unique challenges of balancing academics and sports.
“A lot of times if I was disappointed about something I would talk to my teammates or call my dad. It is nice to be able to talk to a teammate because a lot of the time they will be experiencing the same emotions as you are,” said Gresham.
While student-athletes' athletic pursuits are undoubtedly a central part of their college experience, a lot of them agree it's essential to explore other interests too.
“It is important to step away from the game and do things that you enjoy, whether it be reading, talking to friends, music, etc,” said Gresham.
The ability to excel in multiple facets of life, both on and off the field, equips collegiate student-athletes with valuable life skills and prepares them for a more fulfilling and successful future beyond their athletic career.
“Investing into activities other than sports, like painting and journaling. Listening to music helps me stay calm and focused,” said Covington.
A balanced mindset empowers student-athletes to navigate the challenges of their collegiate journey with poise, confidence, and a sense of purpose, setting the stage for success in sports and life beyond the field or court.
Gresham said although he is not a college football player anymore, dealing with the constant stressors and responsibilities that came with being a student-athlete are helpful in his current life.
“I think being a student-athlete allowed me to realize that I am capable of reaching long-term goals,” he said. “It was a long dream of mine, and it takes years of dedication just to be able to be in a position to play a sport in college.”