The Benefits and Balance of Being a College Student Athlete

By: Lauren Cunningham

Photos:Pixabay & Marymount Flickr

“Being a college student athlete allows individuals to balance and gain benefits from their college experience and apply this to their future endeavors.”

Being a college student athlete allows individuals to balance and gain benefits from their college experience and apply this to their future endeavors. As student athletes, they have to balance sports, school work, and life responsibilities, while living away from home. Through this experience, student athletes develop skills and knowledge that will benefit them in the classroom and future. In addition, they gain benefits through the opportunities they are given once they become a part of a team. Whether they are making connections and networking or given opportunities like scholarships, student athletes have the ability to shape their future through their college experiences. Not only are they receiving these benefits, but they also have an advantage in having an instant community when coming to college. Along with a college degree, student athlete’s experience within athletics teaches them invaluable lessons that will shape their future. 

One of the many benefits of being a college student athlete is the relationships created while being on a team. Teammates will become friends that will be there forever, coaches will consistently stay connected, and alumni will reach out to help. Through an athlete’s four year relationship with a coach, the coach is able to advocate for their athlete and open up career opportunities. Additionally, alumni coming to games and instantly having a connection with athletics, enables potential career opportunities. The alumni will be more inclined to help the athlete because they relate personally to their experiences throughout college. The connections of people within college sports allows student athletes to have a network of people they can reach out to when they are looking for a job. The connection of people that student athletes establish in college develops into a professional network.

Caitlyn Kunz, a graduate student on the Women’s Basketball Team at Thomas Jefferson University, was asked about the connections and network she gained that have benefited her in her professional career. She said it “…puts you on a platform where people know who you are, since I play basketball, people who like the college sport of basketball within the school or are alumni of the school will come to your games and come up and talk to you. Alumni coming back and Coach also having connections while also having a personal connection with him for four years definitely helped with meeting people and other coaches.” She advised, “Getting your name out there, especially in the conference or league in general, people know who you are and that gives you more job opportunities.” Through her networking during her years as a student athlete, Kunz was able to have three internships and continues to use her connections for her future career. The relationships she developed and continues to develop throughout her time at Thomas Jefferson University will allow her to succeed in her future endeavors.

Student athletes receive multiple opportunities within their school and professional endeavors. Within the job market, being able to impress employers during interviews with the experience of being a college student athlete helps a lot. In interviews, athletes can use sports as a talking point and have an advantage if their employer is heavily interested in the individual sport and school. The skills and knowledge a student athlete gains can positively affect an employer’s decision on who to hire for the job. Employers are impressed by student athletes who are able to balance their time with practice, games, and academics. Through an athlete’s time playing a sport, employers can see the professional skills an athlete has obtained. Also, some peers in the classroom have not yet developed these skills because they do not have the same opportunities.  Unlike student athletes’ peers in the classroom, athletes are given opportunities to face adversity in games, work to the best of their capability in practice, and be a part of a team. With this opportunity, student athletes have an advantage due to athletics creating an environment that prepares them for the workforce.

Gabby Haddad, former Women’s Basketball player at Marymount University who graduated in Spring 2020, details how her experience as a student athlete continues to apply in her career of working under an orthopedic surgeon. She states, “I’m like a player, my coach is my authority, I listen to her and follow what she says and I get criticism, but I also relay what I’m thinking. The same way I’m a medical scribe having the orthopedic surgeon as the leading physician. I was helping my coach on the court, similarly to how I’m helping the orthopedic surgeon in the office.” Haddad’s experience working under an orthopedic surgeon still applies to her days as a former player through her skills and relationships.

As high school athlete’s look at potential colleges to further their careers and academics, the financial aspect of college can weigh heavily on their decision. However, student athletes are given the opportunity to receive scholarships through their athletic and academic ability. Athletic scholarships in division I and II colleges open up opportunities for student athletes to receive full rides and have no debt once they graduate. In fact, NCAA Divisions I and II provide over $3.6 billion in athletic scholarships annually to over 180,000 student athletes. Specifically, full athletic scholarships cover tuition and fees, room and board, and course related books. The opportunity student athletes have to receive an education for free while also playing the sport they love is a huge benefit in college.

Division III schools do not give out athletic scholarships, only academic scholarships, meaning student athletes are playing and receiving no money towards their sport. There is a major difference between the mentality of a student athlete on athletic scholarship at a division I or II college versus a student athlete on no athletic scholarship at a division III college. In fact, Caitlyn Kunz who is on a full athletic scholarship at Thomas Jefferson University, stated, “having an athletic scholarship takes a lot of stressors away, like taking off financial pressure for the future, specifically having no debt or loans when I finish my college career.” Kunz details that knowing she is on athletic scholarship allows her to focus and push herself even more each day. She knows that expectations have been set and she needs to perform within her sport. While Aidan Phillips, a Division III student athlete on Marymount University Women’s Basketball Team,who is on academic scholarship describes how being on academic scholarship allows her to focus more on her academics, making sure she is getting good grades. Having an athletic scholarship is a great financial opportunity that allows student athletes to excel in sports because they are expected to perform.

Most importantly, student athletes have an opportunity to make a difference not only in their sport, but through volunteering events. They are given a platform to speak up about current situations that are going on in the world while also advocating for fellow teammates, students of the university or people in general. Specifically, with the Black Lives Matter Movement, student athletes are using their platform to speak up and educate others. In addition, athletes are engaging in conversations that they may have been hesitant to discuss, but due to established relationships with their teammates and coaches they are comfortable. In fact, the NCAA acknowledged how student athletes have been leaders when it comes to making sure that this period of history becomes more than a quick social movement. Through the use of protests, social media posts, and conference initiatives student athletes are making changes to positively impact our world. Not only can student athletes use their platform to make a difference in history, but they are also given the opportunity to volunteer. As a student athlete, volunteering to participate in basketball clinics and camps with teammates and coaches, along with holding events that can raise money for a specific cause that make a difference are great opportunities.

Being able to balance athletics, academics and everyday life displays the prominent skills that factor into the success of a student athlete and their future career. The skills that athletes gain from sports can be applied to their academics and future job. Specifically, student athletes learn time management skills through their rigorous schedules of balancing games, practice, film and academics. Through this, student athletes will learn the importance of prioritizing their time in order to be successful in the classroom and on the field or court. Making sure that athletes do not procrastinate and are constantly looking ahead will allow them to do other activities that they enjoy.

As a nursing student at Marymount University, Aidan Phillips is constantly balancing the rigorous course load of being a nursing student and basketball player. During her four years as a nursing major and basketball player, Phillips learned how to balance academics and athletics while also finding time to do hobbies that she enjoys. Specifically, she emphasized the importance of time management, giving one hundred percent at each task, and prioritizing assignments. Through her ability to discover how to balance academics, athletics and everyday life she gained many skills that have positively affected her nursing career. Phillips stated, “learning the balance of how much you can take before you are like I can’t do this and being efficient in your school work and daily life is very important. Also, basketball has taught me to be on time for things like clinicals and having a team mindset which I gained from basketball is extremely important for me in nursing.” 

During college, student athletes experience valuable lessons where they develop skills that they will carry for the rest of their life. Through the balance of schoolwork, basketball and life, student athletes acquire skills like leadership, communication, and a willingness to learn. Athletes become leaders through captain positions where they are looked up to and set an example for their teammates. With communication, athletes are consistently having conversations with their teammates and coaches, while also having to be vocal on the court in practices and games. Student athletes have a willingness to learn how to get better and improve their skills and abilities which applies to their career. Through a student athlete’s years in college, athletes gain prominent skills and set an example for the incoming freshman each year.

Playing a sport in college allows for an instant community of people that are there as a student athlete enters campus. This is an extreme benefit in being an athlete when entering into an unfamiliar environment as a freshman. Being on a team gives athletes the opportunity to ask their teammates questions and instantly have a group of friends that will be there for the next four years. An athlete automatically has a group they are included in and coaches encourage the team to hangout. As a freshman, one may be nervous when entering college with people they do not know, but knowing there is an instant community of people eases nervousness.

Gabby Haddad describes how she felt a sense of instant community when entering college which benefited her mindset and eased her nerves. She said, “I felt that I had people to reach out to about anything, mostly my teammates but also the coaching staff or athletic trainers. Everyone was super approachable and helped me find my way as a freshman.” Haddad also discussed the benefit of being able to room with another incoming freshman athlete on her basketball team, rather than rooming with a random. She emphasized that knowing she was rooming with someone who had the same interest as her, helped her feel a sense of community.

Being a student athlete has long lasting benefits through connections, scholarships, skills gained from balancing athletics and academics and having an instant community. Through the invaluable lessons, a student athlete is able to play the sport they love while also preparing for the real world. Many student athletes can emphasize the benefits they have gained through their own personal time as an athlete and college student.

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