I spoke on a podcast released last week with the Female Athlete Mission, and we landed on a conversation about some of my experiences at Florida A&M University.
Coming from a junior college to the Division 1 level was a challenge all on its own. My grades slipped, and I felt the pace of my life pick up all at one time. To describe the transition as overwhelming would be an understatement.
Athletes sometimes ask me about dealing with the student-athlete life. “Taneka, how did you overcome the challenges associated with being a student-athlete?”
The truth - I didn’t overcome them.
I coasted by literally running on fumes because I was exhausted. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. Thankfully the grace of God got me through those years until I got myself together, but it was rough!
I started to wonder, how many athletes are dealing with the same issue? Most likely all of them to some degree. From high school to all levels of college there is this balancing act you have to learn.
You must learn to balance your studies, both academically and regarding your sport, nutrition, energy levels, and mood. Those are just a few challenges. Additionally, you have to figure out how to navigate through the external pressures that come from the expectations of those around you.
These responsibilities pile on top of each other, and if you as an athlete aren’t equipped to deal with it, then you burn out. Burn out has several forms, but it usually doesn’t end well. It’s my belief that most student-athletes could be performing better overall if they were more equipped to handle these challenges.
Sometimes I look back and wonder how I made it all the way through, but in my moments of reflection, I’ve gained some practical insight that can help you right now!
Check out these 5 tips for balancing life as a student-athlete.
Find a safe place - If you’re a student-athlete without a safe place you need to find one right now! A safe place is a person or group of people who you lean on for support. Safe places don’t appease you by telling you what you want to hear, but they provide loving support and correction when needed. A safe place can be family, friends, teachers, mentors, etc. This is so important because you’ll need someone to lean on when things get tough.
Embrace routine - The life of a student-athlete is very regimented, and based on repetitive routines. One of my best pieces of advice to you is to embrace this part of your life. As long as you choose to play sports your life will be this way. It doesn’t have to result in boredom or frustration. You have complete control over your thought process, and you can adjust your thoughts in a way that will benefit you daily.
When you start to feel annoyed with the thought of going to practice every day, refocus your mind on your big-picture goal. If the thought of study hall irks your nerves, simply remind yourself that you’re more than an athlete and some of your well-roundedness will reveal itself in the classroom. Take back your power. Learn to control your thoughts.
Learn to say no - Honestly, this could have easily been placed as number 1. As a student-athlete, you will be very limited in your free time. Therefore, you will also be limited to the amount of energy you have to give. It’s Friday night, and everyone decides to go out to the party. Trust me, it’s totally acceptable to turn down the invite. Yes, you may be labeled as boring. People may refer to you as a home-body or think you’re lame. Who cares. Learn this lesson sooner than later. It will save you from feeling too stretched out in the long run.
Breathe - There will be moments when everything seems to be moving at 100 mph. You’ll go from class, to practice, to tutoring, and then you have to go home to do homework, cook, and clean up. It can honestly become overwhelming as fatigue begins to pile up.
One of the simplest and most refreshing things I’ve learned to do is just stop and breathe. It works in almost any situation to calm yourself down. You can breathe and count to ten. You can breathe and say a prayer. You can even breathe and totally think about nothing for a minute or two. Whatever you do, just breathe. Your mental well-being is more important than whatever task you have at hand, and you’ll be more effective for it.
Go to sleep - I put this one last because I didn’t want you guys to stop reading because now I sound like your parents. Go to sleep! The older you get the more you’ll appreciate this one, but just hear me out for a second. Sleep gives your body and mind time to rejuvenate and renew itself for the next day. I know you want to play Fortnite and the new 2K, but if you want to be your best self, you have to get enough rest. Even Lebron James said sleep is the number 1 activity in his recovery routine. It’s super important! Don’t take it lightly. Treat sleep as a part of your training regimen and I promise you will be better for it.
I know you guys have a lot on your plate. I just hope you find the time to take care of yourselves so that you can really put your best foot forward. You may be exhausted at the moment, but you don’t have to burnout. You really do have the power!
Learn these tips so you can avoid some of the mistakes I made. I believe in you!