High stakes, high pressure — that is collegiate sports

You know a college athlete when you see one. They are the ones who get excused absences from classes, get tons of free gear and are pretty much the only students on campus comfortable enough to sit through a college lecture fresh off their mid-day, sweaty treadmill workout. Sounds like the life right? In all seriousness, it is much harder than it looks. Let me share my personal experience of playing collegiate soccer.

First of all, we have no off-season. No matter division 1 or division 3, you have no life. Pre-season brings you to campus two weeks before the normal move-in date, where you have two-a-day practices, team meal and team activities spread sporadically throughout each day. From the moment I wake up until the time I go to sleep, I live, eat and breathe soccer for two weeks straight.

Once the season starts, there are practices every day except game days, which every college athlete looks forward to. I mean, who does not like to compete? Soccer season, much like any other fall sport begins in August and can last until the end of November, which means we begin the season playing under the sun, and can end the season playing in inches of snow. From sun burn to frostbite, we endure it all.

Once the season ends, the off-season lifts begin, along with the “non-mandatory,” but totally mandatory, captain-led pick-up practices. Along with team commitments, the self-desire to stay in shape for the next season hits,which basically puts us in the gym every single day of the week. Our in-season is extremely hectic, and our off-season is just as, if not more, hectic. And that is just the physical demand of playing collegiate athletics.

While fulfilling the commitments to the athletic department and to your individual team, you must also keep your grades up. For the average college student without extracurricular activities, maintaining a decent GPA is a difficult task in itself. Imagine completing those tasks while physically drained, sleep deprived and with four fewer hours of your day to complete your work well and on time. Sounds much more difficult now, doesn’t it?

Additionally, if an athlete’s GPA drops below a 2.0 for a semester, you are on academic probation and are no longer allowed to play until it rises above that threshold for an entire 15-week period. Universities and colleges hold their student-athletes to a higher standard, both on the field and in the classroom, threatening athletic ineligibility if there is a slip in academic performance, while also enforcing normal school academic requirements for eligibility which threaten expulsion if you maintain a GPA less than 2.0 for two consecutive semesters.

The equation from the outside looking in appears pretty simple. Work hard and maintain peak performance both on the field and in the classroom. Unfortunately, it is not that easy. Everyone has days were they are mentally and physically exhausted, and they just need a break. Those times usually hit mid-semester, in the meat of the schedule when there is no time to rest. Not only are you depleted, but all of your teammates around you are drained as well. That is when you not only have to take care of yourself, but as a member of a team, you are responsible for those around you as well. These are the moments that you realize that all of the stresses of the high demands and the hard work that has been put in are all worth it, because you have a solid group of people around you who are there to rally with you.

Even though there are moments in the season when you are mentally, emotionally and physically drained, your team keeps you going, and that is what makes every single season worthwhile. During the four years you spend as a member of a collegiate athletic team, you build a second family, and those people make the experience desirable.

Yes, we play for the competition. Believe me, nothing feels better than the sound of a rowdy crowd cheering you on as you play a big rival. The feeling when the final buzzer goes off and you have won a huge game is one of the best feelings in the world, but what makes those moments so great is that you have people to celebrate with.

My teammates have become my best friends — the people I go to for anything and everything. They are my running partners, my study buddies and my absolute favorite people to binge watch TV shows with. You become so close with them because they can relate to exactly what you are going through at all times. My teammates have gotten me through the toughest moments in my life, and that does not just include midnight fitness tests or day-long study sessions before finals. That means the ups and downs of life. No matter what, I always have them to lean on.

That is what the life of a college athlete is actually like. It is admirable, but for completely different reasons than people usually think. The excused absences and athletic gear are great and all, but our lives for the four years we are in school are hectic 24/7. We never get a chance to just sit back and relax, because we, just like everyone in college, want to make the most of our experience. Being a collegiate athlete is great, and I have my peers to thank for that.

College in itself is not easy. Adding athletics to the equation, along with any other extracurricular activity that you partake in will make the experience even more demanding. But being surrounded by a group of people who are there to help you succeed every step of the way makes it 100 times easier. Plus, it is easier to run a brutal fitness test knowing that everyone around you is suffering just as much as you are. Play collegiate sports —  it is worth it.