Following up from a previous post, College Athletics: Getting there… (check it out if you haven’t already – https://thasmoothedge.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/college-getting-there/), it’s time to focus on the other portion of being a college athlete – staying there!
Contrary to popular belief, remaining at a university and actually experiencing success has little to do with basketball and more to do with intangibles. Every time you hear about an athlete getting “released” or “suspended for not upholding team standards”, it’s rarely ever because they turned the ball over too many times. If that was the case, I would have been kicked out of Vanderbilt after my first practice! Regardless, some may see this concept as uncanny, but it’s all relevant. The reason I say that is because the better you are at the little things, everything else will just begin to fall into place. Some of the factors listed below have been discussed numerous times, I’m sure, but they truly are the keys to success.
- Grow, young beanstalk!
While your parents may still see you as their little baby, it’s time to grow up and mature. In the process of maturing, you will learn how to do two things: take responsibility and take initiative. Since you are a college athlete, the coaches and support staff members are going to expect you to take responsibility for your schedule, mistakes, and any other breadcrumbs that could lead back to you when the day is done. It is common to blame situations on things that are trivial and insignificant. When you are in the wrong, just admit the fact that you didn’t do what you were supposed to do, accept the consequence, and learn from it. Here’s where it gets tricky: you may have to do that even when you aren’t in the wrong! Coaches respect players more when they just accept the fact that they messed up. Always remember that mistakes are just data, and guess what – you’ll make a lot while you’re there, so take notes.
While taking initiative is similar to taking responsibility, the difference lies in the timing of events. For example, if you took the initiative to be early to a workout, you will not have to worry about taking responsibility for being late. To me, initiative is mostly about seeking clarification and having uncomfortable conversations. During my final season at Vandy, I went from the starting point guard to the starting shooting guard to the starting stretch four and then back to the point guard position, but coming off of the bench. Confusion was an understatement, but instead of becoming frustrated with my coach’s decisions, I took the initiative to schedule a meeting with her to really get a solid understanding of what she expected of me. Yes, it was uncomfortable and intimidating, but I was perfectly aware of the fact that my role as a senior on the team was to fill in wherever, whenever the team needed me to. Don’t be afraid to seek clarification or confirmation, and don’t take anything that is said, in practice or otherwise, personally. A lack of communication leaves too much room for the imagination.
- Anybody got the time?
Time management has never been more pertinent until you become both a full-time student as well as a full-time athlete. As a freshman, it took me a long time to realize that I was expected to do everything the regular students were doing while also attending morning workouts, getting up extra shots with a teammate, extra films sessions with my coaches, log all of my study hall hours each week, and wait! Am I supposed to be able to do all of this at once? Everyday? Yes. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize! What is the most important thing that I need to do right now? Start on a paper or go out with friends? Read excerpts for my quiz tomorrow or scroll down my Instagram feed?
Pack healthy, on-the-go snacks (Seriously, you haven’t experienced a real dilemma until you have to choose between a nap and a meal) and get your work done on time. Many professors do not care that you will be traveling and will possibly be missing a whole week of class. You are expected to turn in quality work on the given due date like everyone else, so excuses are invalid when ‘academic ineligibility’ enters the room.
- Extra, extra! Read all about it.
This topic pertains to two things: actually doing extra and maintaining a social media status that represents not only your own brand but the brand of your university.
As an incoming freshman, you have not achieved anything in a college uniform; therefore, you ought not to act like you have. As a freshman, you have to take control of how quickly and smoothly you adjust to being a collegiate student-athlete. In order to do that, you need to hurdle the learning curve and doing extra will help. Get up extra shots, watch extra film with your position coach, spend extra time in the gym with a teammate that may not understand the plays as well as you [or vice versa]. Doing only what is mandated of you will never be enough and it will impede your path to success if you only make time for the bare minimum.
Switching gears into the social media domain; I cannot stress the vitality of this enough. We live in a day and age where almost everything revolves around technology and the modes that we use to communicate with one another. CNN reported that teens spend at least 9 hours on social media every day, which is amazing because if you’re getting 7-8 hours of sleep, you’re only awake for 15-16 of those hours. So technically, we are using every other waking hour in a virtual world. There are a lot of videos, pictures and thoughts that we may think are funny and worth sharing, but most of the time, they’re not. Once you arrive at your respective university, you become a representative of your university. There will be fans and administrators all watching you, whether you think they are or not. What you say, show, and even retweet matters and can negatively impact not only yourself, but your fellow athletes and university too.
After you’ve woken up for a morning lift at 6am, made it to your first class that starts at 8am until your last class that ends at 1pm, went to practice that lasted from 2:30pm-5:30pm, then lollygagged to study hall from 7:00pm to 9:30/10:00pm, the first thing you want to do when you get back to your dorm is to press your face into your plush pillow. We all know your pillow is a regular cotton pillow, but it feels plush after the day you’ve had. However, you mustn’t begin the ‘rinse, wash, and repeat’ cycle. Mindfulness is the simple act of acknowledging one’s feelings and thoughts in a therapeutic manner. Slow down to smell the roses, actually taste your food when you eat, take the time to stretch, drink you water, call your mother, but before anything else, stay within yourself. These small tasks may not seem like much but can make a world of difference if done consistently.
- The Red Pill
Is everyone familiar with the blue and red pill example from the movie, The Matrix? The blue pill ends the story and the red pill keeps you in ‘Wonderland’. You are a collegiate student-athlete, so you have taken the red pill. College is all about distractions in literally every dimension of your life, whether it be your social life, personal/private life, or athletic life. Peer pressure is a real thing and everyone wants to fit in. But again, what are you willing to do to separate yourself? Yes, you want to go do activities that the regular students are doing, but you didn’t choose the ‘regular student life’. You have different obligations and different opportunities; therefore, you need to have a different type of focus.
- You can do it!
I’m ending on ‘belief in yourself’ because it is the most important piece of advice I can offer. While being in college will give you some of your most memorable moments, it will also deal out some of your most trying times. Humble yourself within the process, but never mistake modesty for dubiety. Some players become so modest that they truly begin to doubt who they are and what they are capable of. Yes, you will make mistakes and you will fail, time and time again, but remember: you were recruited for a reason.
There was a lot of information given, so if you can’t remember anything else, just know that hard work and details are always an equalizer. Keep your nose clean, literally and figuratively. Lastly, as the great Woodrow Wilson said, “You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”