Tips for College Freshman Student-Athletes

Simply being a freshman student in college has its own difficulties­– from homesickness to defining yourself in a new environment to discovering what you are truly passionate about. Freshman year can be an overwhelming time for many. Now, add on top of that the pressure of being a student-athlete

The transition from high school to college athletics varies from person to person. Some of you will see immediate success, others might struggle at first and then see success, and some of you, unfortunately, may never really adapt to the new level of competition. It’s hard to determine which students will fall into each category when they first step on campus.

Most of you were the best of the best in high school. You were district, regional and state champions. Some of you were national champions and nationally ranked. You were the top recruits from your state and the most decorated athletes on your teams. Some of you had undefeated seasons or never knew what it was like to sit on the bench. Then you get to college.

As I said, some make the transition to competing at the collegiate level with ease, but you won’t know until you get there. Before you get to campus to start practicing and competing, keep in mind these few pointers that can aid in this transition:

1. Use teammates as motivation not as measuring sticks

2. L = learning opportunity not loss

3. Don’t let your sport define you

Before getting started, I do want to say that this advice comes from my experience after competing in wrestling at the D1 level. Wrestling is more of an individual sport, but I believe that these tips can be used in all sports.

1. Teammates are motivation

A natural tendency for us as humans is to compare ourselves to others. This happens a lot in athletics. You get to college and you start comparing yourself to the upperclassmen at your spot or to your recruiting class. It is an inevitable occurrence. If done right, though, it is not a bad thing. If you look at others who are successful and wonder, “What do I need to do to be better than them?” or “What are they doing that I can start doing to get better?” Then you can positively use your teammates to help set new practice or life habits that will be beneficial to you.

The problem with comparing yourself to your teammates without this critical approach leads to you thinking, “They are just so much better than me,” which ultimately leads to “I stink.” You do not want that thought to cross your mind. Anything that you do that places you in a negative mindset is detrimental to your success. That applies to you athletically, personally and professionally. Negativity gets you nowhere.

This concept makes sense mathematically. When you add something negative to what you have, you go backwards. When you add something positive, you go forwards. And going forward is what it is all about.

So when looking at teammates think of them as motivation to figure out what to do going forward, but do not use them as a measuring stick to see where you are now. Because there is no stagnation. Either you are moving forward or you are falling back.

2. L= Learning Opportunity

A new struggle for you can be how to approach losses. Most of us who make it to the collegiate level have been on the winning side much more than the losing side. My junior and senior years of high school, I had a total of 4 losses. My first year starting in college, I had a losing record of 19–20. I know from personal experience how this can mentally affect you. You start to lose faith in your ability as an athlete. You compete not to lose rather than to win. You walk out into competition hoping not to embarrass yourself, and then you start to wonder what everyone else thinks about you because you just can’t seem to win.

Luckily, my coaches were able to help me get through this by changing how I viewed an “L.” Until conference time and playoffs a “L” in the record book isn’t a loss. It’s a learning opportunity.

The way to approach losses is to look at what caused you to not have the results you wanted. Was it form or technique? Was it shape? Was it the strategy of your opponent? Once you identify what caused the unsatisfactory results, then you can take steps to improve future performances. The areas you need to improve on you can call “areas of concern,” or AOC’s, and once you address each AOC one by one, you can improve yourself.

3. Don’t let your sport define you

Lastly, and honestly most important, is how you define yourself. When people ask you about yourself the first thing you probably say is, “I am a so and so player at so and so university or college,” and this is understandable. For most of you, your sport has been your life up to this point. Countless camps, thousands of hours of practice and traveling for competition is what you know. However, being an athlete can’t be the only way you define yourself.

The journey of an athlete is one of many amazing celebrations and triumphs, but also one of upsets and disappointments. If all you have is your sport, then when you do struggle it makes the struggle all the more difficult because there is no escape from these challenges that can allow you to refocus. You won’t be able to separate yourself because you view the problem as you.

This journey is also not everlasting. Your playing career will be over at some point. For the majority of us, it ends after graduation from college. Knowing that your time is limited and the ramifications of letting your sport define you, it is important that while you are in college you take advantage of all the opportunities available to you.

Personally, I believe that athletics is a platform that should be used to help you grow. Because of wrestling, I was able to attend an amazing university, compete alongside guys that I call brothers, and grow as a person and a leader. This is what being a student-athlete is all about. Leveraging the resources and opportunities that you get in order to become the best version of yourself possible.

This doesn’t mean to slack off in training. Quite the contrary. When you are training and competing, you need to be 100% invested. Push yourself to be better every day. It is this mentality that you develop as an athlete that is most important because you take it with you for the rest of your life. But do the extra things too. Explore interests in classes. Volunteer. Join a student organization. Really take advantage of the “student” in student-athlete.

These tips won’t remove all the hardships of the transition to college athletics, but they will help in the process. And you don’t want the journey to be completely without trials because it is through adversity that true growth happens.

At the end of the day, sports are all about your mentality. You can get faster and stronger, but the athletes that you see truly succeed are the ones that have mastered their mind, keeping themselves motivated and focused when they take their bumps and bruises.

On that note, best of luck to you as you move forward. Congrats on making it this far! You have put in the time and hard work to get yourself here. Now continue to elevate yourself and take advantage of your time as a student-athlete. It is an amazing experience, but it goes by fast. Do all that you can in the time given and become someone you are proud to be.