Congratulations! You are going to University. I hope you are excited for the next chapter of your life. It is quite nerve-wracking but I assure you, you’ll be fine. Starting University is difficult enough due to the numerous changes that occur and with the added challenge of keeping up with sporting commitments, it may seem overwhelming.
I know many athletes who have struggled to balance both aspects of their lives. In some cases they have decided to either leave University or leave their sport for good. I respect both decisions and it is highly dependent on personal goals and priorities. However, I truly believe that it is possible to excel academically whilst training hard and competing at an elite level. I also know several athletes who have done so. You can do it, so don’t fret! With that being said, in this post I am going to share four tips to help you on your student-athlete journey.
1. Plan Ahead
I love a good plan! It is so important to plan your time and stick to a schedule as best as you can. Of course plans may change. However, having a weekly schedule is a great way to manage your time and make the most of the time you have. The best way to do this is to familiarise yourself with your University timetable and also be aware of your training schedule. You may have to change your training schedule slightly to suit your lectures and seminars. However, depending on your contact hours, you may have more options as to when to train.
Don’t just keep this information in your head, write it down or type it up. Utilise a paper diary or even your mobile calendar and note down training times and contact hours. I colour coded my diary, this can also be helpful to make it clear. By visualising this information, it makes you more aware of your free time and this in turn allows you to schedule reading time. For example, I believed I had no time until I realised the hours I had in between scheduled tasks. Then you can take the next step of scheduling study time between lectures and seminars, whether that is to be spent in the library, around campus or in your room. Because most of my training was in the evening, I utilised the daytime to write essays and read. This is dependent on your personal training plan and contact hours of course. The morning is also your friend (unless you have a 9. a.m lecture), a lot can be achieved before 11 a.m!
“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Say No (but have fun :))
University is notoriously known for parties. I’m no party animal but I did enjoy myself. Due to your training commitments you might want to skip the party at times or stick to soft drinks. Don’t be afraid to say no, your flatmates and new friends will be understanding. However, be sure to enjoy yourself when it suits you, being aware of your schedule and goals for the year.
Nutrition is also largely linked to this point. I had to refuse Dominoes on occasions and eat my quinoa and chicken whilst the waft of pepperoni entered my nose. Again, it’s okay to indulge sometimes but it is also important to stick to your usual nutrition for health and performance reasons.
Getting enough sleep maximises athletic performance and brain power. So don’t be afraid to skip the night out for a night in with these points in mind. Coffee is also your friend if worse comes to worst!
3. Get Involved in Societies and Events
One of my biggest regrets of First Year was not getting involved enough in the numerous events that occurred all year round. I did enjoy the food market though, that never clashed with training thankfully :).
I started attending events and societies in Term 2, then Term 3 never happened…
Societies and events are a great way to get to know people. There are many sporting societies that you can join to meet other athletes, but also venture out into academic societies linking to your course or outside of academia for example public speaking, music and media societies or faith groups. There is something for everybody!
4. Get Support
Trying to balance each aspect of your busy life is tough. Don’t try to do it on your own, you are not expected to, that is why sports scholarships are offered at University. If you are not aware of this, check you University’s sports website and enquire about this. The support I received from Warwick University as a sports scholar was really helpful. We had an induction day where I was able to meet the performance staff and other athletes which was fun and informative.
Through the scholarship I was allocated a mentor who I could contact about any concerns, for example having to take a few weeks off for the World Championships in Term 1 last year. I was also assisted in applying for assignment extensions. I gained complementary access to the University’s sports facilities and S&C coaching. if you are a competitive athlete, check the scholarship requirements for your University and apply as this will take some of the financial burden off your training as well as give you more targeted support as a student- athlete.
I hope I have gotten you a bit more excited for University life. Both aspects of your life can complement each other. When training gets a bit too much, there is always an assignment to take your mind off it. Similarly, training can be a great way to switch off from the intensity of study.