College athletes have become some of the most popular, influential, and followed athletes in the world of sports. Athletes like Baker Mayfield, Michael Jordan, Katie Ledecky, and Hope Solo are just a handful of individuals that have transcended college competition to earn fame and fortune later in their respective sports. To the average high school athlete, it might appear that the college athlete life is a “rockstar” lifestyle with friends, parties, free gear, and – oh yeah – sometimes class. But if you ask most college athletes, this perception couldn’t be farther from the truth. It is a lifestyle that entails nights with minimum sleep, hours of daily practice, food, study hours, more food, ice baths, homework, exams…the list can go on and on. Regardless of the hardships, it is a lifestyle that can bring much benefits if lived out the right way. This page will go into detail about not only different aspects of the day-to-day life of the average college athlete, but also include tips from firsthand experience. Prepare to learn about what really goes on in the college sports world.
- You have a job…one job
- TEAM: your second family
- Food, food, and more food
- The injury bug
- The free swag
- The athlete community
- There it is
You have a job…one job
The most important thing to realize about the college athlete life is that it is a legitimate full-time job (think about it, you are pretty much working for the school). Just like a 40 hour-a-week job, being an athlete for a school takes up more of your life than you would think. Early mornings, late nights, and constant traveling make the week go from Monday to Friday in a blink of an eye. The months during the regular season for any given sport is obviously the most crucial and demands the most focus. Lets break down an example of a typical day for a college athlete:
- 5:30 am – wake up from a nice, warm bed to go to morning lift/practice.
- 6 – 7am – somehow manage to put a good effort in at practice while still waking up.
- 8 am – 12pm – sitting through classes and trying not to fall asleep from exhaustion.
- 12:30 – 1:30pm – grab lunch at the dining hall and start walking over to the day’s main practice.
- 1:30pm – 2pm – head to the athletic training center to receive any treatments you need for your aching body (heat pads, ice, stretching, etc.).
- 2pm – 4pm – giving your best during a grueling 2 hour practice.
- 4:30pm – 5:30pm – run to dining hall with the team for a early dinner.
- 6pm – 10pm – work on homework and papers, or study for upcoming exams and presentations.
- 10:30pm -11:30pm – manage to get in a shower at the residence hall bathroom and get ready for bed. This is also the time to make sure you have all of your things ready for the next day because you’ll have no time for organization tomorrow.
Now again, this is just a brief and generic example of how a typical day goes for a college athlete. But as you can see, there is very little time during the day where the athlete can go work a job, spend time with friends outside of the team, or even make a simple phone call home to family. Another thing to remember here is that this daily schedule repeats everyday, Monday through Friday. You can now see how exhausting this whole thing can get and why it is considered a full-time job.
Author’s note: It took a long time for me to really adjust to this lifestyle. Going to bed early might sound like a ridiculous thing for a college student, but for an athlete it is a must. If you don’t, you really will start falling asleep during the day.
TEAM: your second family
It used to always sound like a corny and polished phrase: “This team is my family”. In reality, however, the people in which you experience the student-athlete life with actually do become as close to you as your blood family members; maybe even closer. Think about it – you eat, sleep, practice, compete, shower, study, travel, laugh, cry, argue, lose, and win with your teammates. It is inevitable that a super tight bond will form as the years progress. It is also inevitable that you might not get along with every single one of your teammates which is perfectly normal. Depending on your team size and atmosphere, it could be easy or tough to form great friendships, but regardless you are a single unit together. Below are some of the common personalities you can find on almost every team and what effect they have on people. Which one are you most like?
- The popular one(s) – there are always a select few individuals in which it seems they are friends with everyone on the team. Their friendly and kind personality somehow unifies the team into that family atmosphere as they seem like a “big brother/sister” type of figure to everyone. This type of person holds a leadership role on the team regardless of their age.
- The outspoken – these individuals are the team members who continuously make their opinions and comments known, regardless if they are wanted. They tend to be the athletes that always say “I could have played at that school. The coach wanted me.” or “Why is the team getting punished for one person.” No matter what is said, there seems to be something always coming out of their mouths. This could be good or bad, depending on the situation.
- The quiet – sometimes you come across athletes just pass by without anyone knowing they were ever there. They tend to not speak up in team debates and just sit off to the side and watch. Whatever they are thinking, nobody really knows. They tend to not have a lasting impression on coaches or teammates when college is over. But do not write these people off. What they eventually say or do will surprise you.
- The drifters – this is something that cannot be prevented. There will be those select few individuals who just do not want to associate themselves with the team. They show up to practices and games, but don’t expect to see them anywhere else. It could be they just do not like anyone on the team, or they have different interests or hobbies outside of it. They almost disappear out of thin air.
Author’s note: College athletes spend more time with their teammates than with any others. Family and friends outside of the team never really have a chance to spend time with the athletes based off the schedules they have. Most of the time, this can lead to being “homesick” and can lead to some athletes quitting or transferring.
Food, food, and more food
Another important fact to know about college athletes is that they can eat an enormous amount of food. No matter the sport, gender, or body type, the metabolism of an athlete is truly an amazing thing. If you choose this lifestyle, you will realize that even after you have a full diner, you will be starving again in 20 minutes. This is not only because of the amount of calories the athlete burns from activity, but the constant movement through the day.
As already pointed out, time is precious during the day. College athletes have to make the most out of each and every minute in order to stay on task. In order to meet their hunger needs they can easily choose any form of fast food. This would be a big mistake however. The more time spent to buy and prepare nutritious and quality food, the more benefits the athlete will get out of it.
Author’s note: Food became essential in keeping me going. Unfortunately for most college athletes, they do not have all of the money and time to buy top notch food all the time. There are times where an athlete must go hungry for a few hours until team meals at the dining hall.
The injury bug
One of the biggest fears of college athletes all around is getting an injury. Injuries can cause many other problems than just for the health of oneself. First, injuries can cause athletic scholarships to be taken away. If someone cannot perform for an extended amount of time, then there might not be a reason for them to possess a scholarship for the time being. It is a harsh but true reality.
Second, injuries open up the possibility for someone else to fill in for that position. And on the chance that they do well, they can replace the injured individual permanently. Therefore, playing time is absolutely at risk.
Third, team morale can take a dangerous dip. If the team consists of a tightly bonded group of athletes, the mood of the team can suffer if several people are injured and out of the lineup. Depending on the talents of those injured, the success of the team can also be up in the air and cause much uncertainty.
Author’s note: Doing whatever possible to prevent injury (stretching, heating, icing, etc.) is worth the time and effort. Nobody ever wants to be injured and be separated from the team. Take care of the body and the body will take care of you.
Traveling with your team is an experience that depends entirely on what you make of it. If you go into it already dreading it, it will only get worse from the time you step on the plane or bus. Some of the best memories can be made during team travel. Since you’re stuck with teammates, you might as well have the best time as possible with them.
When knowing that the team is about to travel, it is important for college athletes to make sure they prepare in advance with their professors and classes. Quizzes and exams need to be rescheduled or taken ahead of time. Homework and assignments also are a huge priority to take care of before travel. The reasoning behind this is because athletes do not want to be focused or worried about schoolwork when heading to competition. The only thing that they want on their mind is winning and being with their friends.
Authors note: Some of my best memories from being a college athlete come from traveling. There is something about getting away from the usual environment and seeing another school’s facilities that was exciting. The conversations and laughter on the bus or plane help pass by the time. You can easily sleep or watch movies on the trip, but I always made sure to use the time to strike up conversations with teammates or coaches.
The free swag
The gear that college athletes wear is more than just the sweatpants and hoodies that they toss on after practice. Any gear, most of the time free for the athlete, that is graced by the school logo and team name is a message. The message points out to all of the students and faculty on the campus who they are and what they represent. It is common for college athletes to get agitated whenever a regular student wears something with their team name on it. Team gear means that the athletes not only have made it to the college level of their sport, but also that they are an official member of the student-athlete community. Anyone else is seen as an imposter.
As nice of the gear is for athletes, they soon come to realize that those clothes are the ones they really live in. Because of the constant running around between practice and classes, there really is no time to prepare and put together nice clothes or outfits. It is just a hard truth of the lifestyle. This is why people constantly see athletes in team sweats or work out gear.
Authors note: There is no greater pride in being able to walk around campus and have your team’s name on your chest in the newest collection of Nike or Adidas clothes. The students soon start to realize who you are and what you do on a daily basis. In some cases, you earn a certain level of respect. If you have a professor who is a former athlete of sports fan, they sometimes are a little more lenient on due dates and deadlines due to the busy lifestyle.
The athlete community
Depending on the size of the school, athletes tend to form more friendships with other athletes more often. They know that regardless of the sport, everyone goes through a similar way of life. Whether it is sitting in an ice bath together or being in the same class, there is just a feeling of camaraderie with each other. This is definitely one of the biggest benefits of being an athlete in college.
That being said, athletes tend to also spread gossip and information throughout other teams. One wrong choice or decision could ruin your reputation with the other teams.
Author’s note: Keeping a low profile will benefit you in the future. Those that are obnoxious and loud tend to drive people away from them. Maintaining a respectful reputation will go a long way.
There it is
These have been just a few topics about the life as a college athlete. It is a tough and demanding life, but one of great benefits. The memories, friendships, victories, and places are the priceless prize of being an athlete at that level. If the lifestyle interests you and you want to pursue it, good luck on the future endeavors!