The day you sign your national letter of intent is a day full of joy and relaxation. The hard work that you’ve been putting in for years, has finally paid off and that college search is officially over. But… that’s where the relief and relaxation ends. From that moment forward it’s four years of endless activities, practice, community service, working out, homework and traveling. So after four years as a college athlete, here’s 10 things that no one told me before I signed my national letter of intent.
1. You’ll spend copious hours on a bus.
Prepare yourself, this may be absurd for those of you not involved in college athletics. In one season, we spend about 120.5 hours on a bus, give or a take a few and yes, we counted. You may think we have the luxury of flying everywhere we go, but that is not the case. We drive to California, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Canada. And when we do fly, that involves the drive to airport, to the fields and to the hotel. Needless to say, you learn to be productive on a bus and you learn to sleep in uncomfortable, awkward and small spaces. So next time you’re on a road trip that feels endless, just be thankful its not on a bus with 20 girls.
2. Your body isn’t made for the amount of physical activity you put it through.
When you’re 17 or 18 signing your letter of intent your body feels great, indestructible and young. When you’re graduating after four years, your body feels A LOT different. You feel old and it becomes clear that the mileage you’ve put on your body isn’t exactly normal. There aren’t many days where you wake up with out some sort of soreness or ache. It becomes clear that your body has more muscles than you thought because they are ALL sore. The hours of weight lifting, the long practices, the hundreds of games and everything in between adds up and it hits you hard.
3. Sleeping is a privilege.
For some, college means late nights and sleeping in till noon. For college athletes, it means late nights and REALLY early mornings. Imagine working two full-time jobs and well, that’s pretty much what it means to be a college athlete. You’re at school to get an education but that doesn’t change the fact that your sport is what got you where you are. Trying to balance the two often means cutting in to time for sleep. It means finishing the assignment five minutes before it’s due and it means only five hours of sleep before your alarm goes off for weights in the morning. So every once in awhile when you have the opportunity to sleep in, you are beyond thankful and you learn to take advantage of it.
4. You don’t get all the breaks like other students do.
It’s no secret that spring break in college is the epitome of wild, crazy and fun. Well, for some people. As a college athlete who has a spring sport, spring break doesn’t exist. While you’re on your way to Cabo or Hawaii, the softball team is in glorious Ellensburg, alone (except for the baseball team too). That week that is filled with fun, alcohol and sunshine is the week we spend extra time at practice and in the weight room. Even summer break isn’t always what you envisioned, summer break for a college athlete creates a massive opportunity for working out and getting better. So, if you think you want to be a college athlete let the idea of wild spring breaks go now.
5. Holidays aren’t always holidays.
Those long weekends because of Martin Luther King Day or President’s Day are just another opportunity for practice. Although it may seem normal and seem silly to talk about, it becomes extremely obvious that you’re missing something when you are the only people on campus (or in town). Oh, and don’t forget about Easter. For spring athletes, Easter is a Sunday that we have off but it’s not spent with family and it’s mostly exciting because of the chocolate that goes on sale the following day.
6. Being 21 doesn’t mean you can actually drink.
You’re finally 21, you can go to the bars and you can buy alcohol WHENEVER you please. Wrong. Being an athlete severely limits your extracurricular activities. Let me explain, the day season starts is the same day you can no longer treat yourself to a cocktail or a cold brew. You may be 21 but you are now dry for the next five months. This includes attending parties, going to the bars or just having a beer around the bonfire. NOTHING, zero, zilch. So what, right? Well, it’s true what they say, “you don’t miss it until it’s gone”.
7. Your teachers won’t always love that you’re an athlete.
Loved by many, hated by some. Some professors just do not understand. They take it personally when you miss class and they hold it against you. Miss a quiz because you were playing in a championship game? Your loss, hopefully there’s an extra credit opportunity. Getting hand surgery? Get well soon, but you won’t get your participation points and don’t forget to turn in your assignment and finish typing your essay… one handed.
8. You won’t always get along with your teammates.
You spend about 20 hours a week with your teammates, not including travel time and team bonding. They really do become family and with that comes a little bit of conflict. Just like with you brothers or sisters, there’s times when you need to be alone and away from the ones you love most. There’s nothing in particular that you can point out, but you just need time away and that’s okay.
9. You love and hate it all at the same time.
You definitely don’t love the early wake-ups, the 17 hour bus trips, the late nights spent studying, the missing out on weekend activities and you won’t love constantly splitting time between friends. But… you do love the game, you love your teammates, you love the grind and you love the memories that are created without even realizing it. You’ll say you hate it, but you you know it’s not true. You LOVE it, even on the days you think you hate it.
10. You’ll miss it before it’s even gone.
It’ll hit you hard before you know it and the realization that the grind of being an athlete is almost over is overwhelming. When you come to realize that you won’t be with your teammates day in and day out, you won’t be traveling with your best friends, you won’t be waking up sore knowing you had a great weekend and you won’t be able to say “I’m an athlete”, it hurts. And it’s easy to get emotional just thinking about it. You think of the seniors before you and you understand it, and you know why it was so hard. It’s not just saying goodbye to a sport but it’s saying goodbye to the last 15 years of your life and it’s saying goodbye to what turned you into the person you are today. So, even though I’m not quite finished with it, I can already say miss it.