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How they balance it all

May 23, 2018

I posted a question on social media asking what kind of things did readers want to see in the blog posts. One of the readers commented, “How do they balance it all?” I’ll try my best to answer this question.

When I give recruits a campus tour, I oftentimes am asked about how athletes balance all the aspects of college: academics, athletics, family, friends, future opportunities, jobs and so on. I always grin and tell them the hard truth, “You can’t.”

When I got to campus as a freshman, I found myself getting a workout in with a senior who’s now a big-time medical professional. I asked him all the little questions and he really had to simplify things to me. He stuck up four fingers. School. Sports. Social life. Sleep…then he holds up another three fingers and says…”you can only pick three.” He was right.

But again, I told you he had to really simplify it for me. Little did I know how complicated it was. Let me break it down to you a little more.

1) School.

You’re a student-athlete at Rochester Institute of Technology. RIT doesn’t mess around when it comes to academics. The classes are challenging, but they prepare you for the future. Not only that, you have to make sure you’re in the right major. Taking the right classes. Taking the right courses and the right amount of credits. And having professors who support athletics. That’s only the tip of the iceberg. You have to worry about being a part of the right group of students who will support you, challenge you, and encourage you all the way, up until you walk across the stage.

You are still expected to perform at the highest level on the field when you just were slapped with a 67 on your math exam. At the same time, you have to be able to come home from a grueling two-a-day and be able to knock out all the assignments on time. Your group project doesn’t wait for you. The expectations are high on both sides, and it’s up to you to apply the same kind of grit in athletics and in academia. I personally tried to coast through college with a “good-enough” mentality because I came here to play baseball, not to play school. My baseball career benefited from the extra focus I invested in, but my grades suffered, and I was lucky enough to be able to pull out great grades towards graduation. This kind of “back-and-forth” is not encourage—it only adds stress. I can keep going on and on, but you get the idea—it’s a lot of work. And it’s only a fraction of what you have to do every day.

2) Sports.

Less than six percent of high school students around the country go on to compete at the NCAA level. What does that mean? You’ve got to be really good. Like All-State/All-Conference/All-American good. You are competing with the rest of the country for your roster spot, a chance to be a starter, and a chance to leave a mark on your program. You are on the team for one reason, and that’s to help the team win. You are expected to improve your physical performance from when you step on campus all the way until you graduate. You are expected to lift more weights, run faster times, and play better as time goes on. I have seen athletes get dropped from teams when their numbers in the weight room and on the field didn’t improve. Coaches recruited you to play collegiately because they think you can develop under their tutelage, and they expect you to do so. If you don’t, they’re going to make sure you become a non-athletic regular person (a NARP).

With that in mind, your diet comes into play. Most of the college students hit the vaunted ‘Freshman 15’, and we have to do the same, but we try to do it the right way. Put on some muscle, eat right, avoid the greasy cafeteria food, keeping your body fueled and free of Mountain Dew, and it’s got a direct impact on your performance. When you’re not competing, you’re constantly looking for food, and it’s a part of your schedule now.

At the same time, some students are involved with intramural sports…and that’s another chunk of a few hours out of your day, and some additional effort as well. Most teams ban intramurals during the season, but it’s a big part of one’s college experience. You’re constantly putting your body to use, improving your performance, keeping yourself fueled, and you can’t slack off.

3) Social life.

You’re a student-athlete at RIT, and there are thousands of students on campus to mingle with. There are relationships to be built with your classmates, roommates, friends, teammates, professors, support staff, tutors, community members, coaches and many more. Relationships take time, and it’s harder for deaf and hard-of-hearing student-athletes because they are hopping back and forth between the deaf and hearing communities. You have your set of deaf classmates, roommates, friends, teammates, professors, support staff, tutors, community members and others at NTID while you try to build relationships with the same kind of people at RIT. The language barrier isn’t always helping either, but we make it work.

As a college student, extracurricular activities have to be handled in moderation because most students don’t have anything to do on weekends, AKA they sleep in. Student-athletes can’t always do that. They have practice in the morning, so they can’t go out until the wee hours of the morning.

realize that I have practice soon, and I really don’t want to leave my friends. This is one of the bigger reasons why deaf and hard-of-hearing student-athletes leave athletics—they prefer to be more involved with their friends instead of competing. It’s always a tough decision to make.

Not only that, you have a family in which to stay in touch. You have parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and other families as well. You need to be able to maintain contact and a good relationship with them throughout college because they are your number one support system. Let’s do the math. A solid conversation with one person usually takes up to 15-20 minutes…and you have all these people to build relationships with…that’s a lot of time out of your daily schedule.

4) Sleep.

I personally had an interesting experience as a college sophomore where I lived with three other roommates. Two were involved with Greek life, one was a hardcore gamer, and they all had their own sleeping schedules—in short, the lights were never off. They always had friends over, and no one would actually be asleep at any point throughout the 24 hours. I learned how to balance that while being able to get in my sleep. I napped at least twice every day as an athlete, and it’s helped me maintain mental and physical performance even if I didn’t get my eight hours through the night.

RIT/NTID student –athlete Otto Kingstedt, always gets 10 hours of sleep every day, and he racks up the hours by taking power naps throughout. It’s also how he handles stress. Many other athletes develop the ability to sleep wherever and whenever possible. If you don’t get enough rest, your body won’t be able to recover, and your mind won’t be as sharp. Students get a lot done by pulling all-nighters, but athletes can’t expect to pull an all-nighter, hit the field and perform.

I never did an all-nighter until I was a fifth-year student during the final exams, and I wanted to see what it was like. I did well on my exams, but it ruined me for days. I wasn’t able to get quality training sessions in, and I felt lousy all the way through. It’s imperative that student-athletes be conscious of their sleep schedules and understand the correlation between sleep and overall performance in college.

How do we balance it all? We don’t. We can’t. But what we can do is to touch upon each area evenly. We might focus on school, social life and sleep during the offseason, but then we can focus on sports while sacrificing social life during the season. You can only pick three out of four, but make sure you touch upon all four consistently throughout—without getting things too out of whack. It’ll get crazy, but how you respond to it will determine how well you’ll succeed at RIT.