Updated: Apr 30, 2020
If you're a collegiate athlete.. your sport is probably one of the most important things to you. But my most important advice to all athletes is... Don’t stress! Easy to say, but hard to actually live it out. I think the best way to start is by reminding yourself that your sport is NOT everything, it’s just a sport. YOU ARE MORE THAN YOUR SPORT. Not everyone will end up being a professional athlete and even professional athletes at some point part ways with their sport. Don’t ever value yourself based on a performance, your friends, a person, a grade, a coach's thoughts about you, etc. YOU ARE YOU whether you have an NCAA title, straight A’s, or a significant other. My identity is rooted in God but I understand that not everyone is a believer. Find something that is bigger than you to believe in. Friends, sports, significant others, studying, life… will always let you down. They are ever changing, but my God is consistent- the same yesterday, today, and forever.
A book I read called The Coldest Winter Ever described it like this, “if you don’t know what you believe in, everything else in your life will be confused. Knowing what you believe lays a foundation for your life. Then you can have principles and ideas that you follow. Things that you are unwilling to compromise.”
Transitioning: You may have been really successful in high school, but everyone is super talented in college and you probably can’t do the same things you did before and be just as successful. You may have to change eating habits, sleeping habits, and any other bad habits that can hinder your success. On top of that, your college coach will probably be very different from your high school coach. Try your best not to compare or think back to what you used to do. This may lead to you doubting your college coach's workouts and it may lower your confidence overall. Try your best to buy into the coach's workouts 100% and believe that they know what they are doing. I think this really helped my transition because I really knew nothing about my event and learned everything from my college coach.
Competitions: Be content in knowing you gave your best and that’s all you can do. (My motto!) The best time to remember how you felt after a bad game/meet/etc. is when you are at practice. That's the time to do everything you can to get better. A lot of athletes will complain about their competitions, but then in practice they are not giving 100% or focused on making adjustments.
The competition isn’t the time to try something new. Performing on “game day” comes down to muscle memory. If you have been lazy at practice, KNOW that it will be exposed eventually. If you have been having great practices, there’s no need to “TURN IT ON” during the competition, do what you have always been doing. Your body remembers it. We are our habits. Excellence is a habit.
Your competitors are people just like you, don’t be afraid! My freshman year I was mentally weak. I always thought someone else was better than me and would beat me – I told myself things like… “they are older. They are stronger. They know more.” Try to forget all that negativity and defeat those thoughts with truths and positivity. I definitely struggled with believing in myself and what I was capable of accomplishing.
~Story Time~ My freshman year at Outdoor Regionals (a meet that you have to place top 16 to qualify for Nationals), I almost didn’t qualify for Nationals in the long jump or the triple jump despite being ranked #1 in the TJ and top 10 in the LJ. I called my mom crying and upset from the rush of emotions I experienced during the competition - stress, overthinking, anxiousness, doubt, disappointment, then finally happiness. She told me that from now on I was going to call her everyday and we would read the same Psalm together, then pray. We did this day in and day out, and I ended up going to NCAA's after my terrible performances at Regionals and winning. I think the only difference between me at Regionals and me at Nationals was my mind. This routine my mom started with me helped with competitions more than she probably knows and gave me a peace about competing that I still carry with me today. I want to encourage all of y’all to try to find something that calms your nerves during competition and believe/trust that all the work you’ve put in will be revealed when necessary. Your mind is powerful!! It believes everything you tell it. Feed it positive things.
Goal-Setting: Write down your goals – academic, athletic and life goals. You’re more likely to achieve a goal if you write it down. Research has proven this. Put the goals up somewhere you will see them everyday, not only for motivation but also as a reminder for the days when you don't feel like doing what you need to do.
Remember who you are: Don’t ever forget where you came from. Remain humble. There is always someone better than you out there. There are always people working to get to where you are. Don’t ever treat people like you are better than them. Would you want to be treated as less than? I have come across many people that believe they are too good to do something or think they are better than everyone else either because of their accomplishments or because others have fueled their pride. It's not fun to be around that person. (Sn: That humble attitude also has to be combined with the mentality I talked about above with competitors and believing in yourself!)
Coaches: You will hear this from many NCAA athletes…. Coaches, especially in the NCAA, are very interesting. Remember that the NCAA is a business, if you are not producing points, some coaches will kick you to the side or take your scholarship. Coaches get fired if the team isn’t doing well, so their job is literally on the line when you compete. This is why I said earlier to never put your worth in what your coach thinks about you. You are more than an athlete and more than your performance on that day. Whatever your coach thinks about you because you didn’t do well at a meet is irrelevant, you know who you are and you are valuable.
If a coach is not doing things to help you get better and your sole reason for attending that school is for your sport, there is little to no reason to stay. There are coaches and schools out there that would value you much more and develop you as an athlete. You have a right to transfer! If you value the education you are receiving above everything else and the school you are already at is great academically, then you can choose to stay. Either way, never feel like you owe a coach something and have to stay. Just make sure you are aware of the rules if you do decide to transfer because you might be limited to schools not in your current conference or may have to sit out a year.
If you feel like the current training isn’t working for you or you need to be challenged more I would say the first thing to do is sit down with your coach, tell them how you’re feeling, ask them about why y’all are doing certain things (they should be able to explain the benefits of the training), and suggest new things. A coach should be open to this discussion and open about communication. If after speaking to the coach you still don’t feel like anything will change or the coach didn’t listen, you can either stay to see how everything turns out or you can look for other coaches. Before you decide to make changes, talk to the athletes underneath those other coaches you are considering and see if it’s a good move. You don’t want to transfer to a school where you will have the exact same issues.
Always remember that you are the only person looking out for you, so you have to do what’s best for you. Other people are looking out for themselves.
Feel free to comment if y'all have ever experienced any of the things I mentioned or if you have any additional tips for college student athletes. If there are other topics y'all want me to address in this series please let me know! :)
.......To be continued in Part 2 of this Letter to Student Athlete Series........