Thursday, February 11, 2016

What I wish I knew before I committed to play a sport in college

Today marks my 8 year anniversary from when I verbally committed to attend volleyball at the University of North Carolina. My 4.5 years there were full of many great memories, but now that I have a sister who turns 17 years old next month, it's pretty crazy to think we make one of the most important decisions of our life at such a young age. At seventeen I was one of the later of my teammates to commit, with many of them making their decision at 14 or 15 years old. While I do not regret my decision, I do regret not going into my college career with the right mindset, and these are a few of the highlights that I wish someone would have told me.

1. Understand your Priorities. Luckily, I think this is the main thing that helped me have a successful time in my college career. Looking back at old e-mails turning down schools, my immature teenage gave  "silly" reasons- they didn't have a football team, was afraid Hawaii would have a tsunami, or I was worried how I would look in orange cotton spandex. My list of "must-haves":

  • Scholarship
  • Strong basketball or football school
  • Strong undergraduate Business School (sorry dook)
  • I would hopefully start the majority of my career
  • We wouldn't totally suck.
 A lot of my friends or former teammates transferred, and I think a lot of it was not knowing their priorities- some transferred to be closer to home, while others wanted to compete for a national championships. There is no "right" top priority, but understanding them will help have a better chance at happiness.

2. Playing a sport in college is a job. 40+ hours a week of practice, rehab, film, travel, and competition is more than I currently work at my full time job. Add to these hours class, study hall, and the occasional group project- it's hard to understand how it's physically possible to eat or sleep when you are a student-athlete. Non-athletes may see us walking around campus at night in cool Nike sweats, however the reality is that we've probably been up since 5 a.m., haven't showered, and are taking a slightly longer route back to our car/scooter/dorm to avoid the hill on campus because everything hurts and we just want to go to bed but have a midterm tomorrow we need to study for. If you don't absolutely love the sport, I wouldn't recommend being a walk-on, and the money from a full or partial scholarship sometimes seems like a steal compared to the stress and pain you wake up with some days.

3. Everyone wants to quit sometimes. I was lucky enough to be on a full ride scholarship, and understood the above struggles were worth every penny of graduating without student loans. However, that doesn't mean it didn't drive me crazy. One of the Carolina Volleyball Core Covenants was that we don't whine. The truth is everyone is unhappy sometimes, so focusing on all the soreness, long days, and playing-time drama 99% of the time won't make your situation any better, rather just make you more frustrated.

4. You might have these coaches for 4 years. Before college in Club Volleyball, every year you'd have a new coach has you moved up an age bracket. At Carolina I was lucky enough to have a great coaching staff, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't test my coaches patience on numerous occations, and vice versa. On the opposite end of the spectrum, one of my favorite coaches I've ever had, the assistant coach who recruited me, ended up getting a great head coach opportunity and left in the middle of my career that broke my heart any more than any other guy I met in college did. Coaches can definitely make or break your career, so it's important to feel a great connection with all of them.

5. Making friends isn't easy. Go to college, they said. You'll make so many friends, they said. /sarcasm. Fall sport athletes have it particularly tough, while many of their peers are off making friends, we're starting our 40+ hour weeks right off the bat with very little time to socialize at all. I'd say 90% of my friends in college were athletes, just because they understood the lifestyle, and had similar weekend plans (sleep) as I did. While I am lucky my volleyball team did become family, it's hard to make genuine, lasting friendships without putting forth some effort.

6. It's okay to break up with your high school boyfriend. I dated a great guy in high school for 4 years. Although we tried to make it work long distance throughout freshman year, it was taking up too much of my energy in this already stressful time. Growing up, I thought I'd be engaged in college, married shortly after, and poppoing out babies by 25.  I will re-iterate what i said before: I don't think important life decisions should be made at 17, and I'm really glad we ended things when we did. In fact, I wish I would have stayed single throughout college because now I know relationships really shouldn't take that much effort. Side note; here's a list I wrote of 25 things you should know how to do before turning 25, (shocker, having a baby was not on the list).

7. The Freshman 15 is real, and it seems like 50. And no, it's not the good ol' muscle weighs more than fat trick your friends may try to tell you to soften the blow when your jeans don't fit. I wish I could blame breaking up with a boyfriend for my dates with Ben and Jerry's, but that wouldn't be fair to the two men who kept me company nearly every Friday night freshman year. I will, however, 100% blame my unlimited meal plan in the dining hall, what seemed like endless team meals while traveling, and my scale conveniently not fitting in my suitcase for the trip down to NC.

8. How hard it would be to stay in touch with home. Most of my friends played sports in college as well, so they were all spread out, really busy, and trained throughout summer with our teams. As the oldest sibling, my brothers and sisters did a LOT of growing up in the four years I was gone, and unfortunately I missed a lot of it. Although my family and friends from home are still some of my closest relationships, going across the country to go to school makes it hard for you to see friends or family and vice versa, and unless you get in a weekly habit of reaching out, weeks may turn to months, which unfortunately turn to years.

9. There's a big difference in the North and the South. Probably similar to the differences in Canada and Mexico. I remember my first Carolina Football game where I went straight from practice. I was still sweaty in shorts and a t-shirt, only to be surrounded in the stands with girls in polka dot dresses, hair curled to perfection, and pearls. I remember my endless attempt to explain the plural of "you guys" is "you guyses" and eventually did succumb to using "y'all" on occasion. I remember learning to take tarhole as a compliment, and how to hate dook, even though I didn't grow up in the rivalry. Every school is going to have it's own culture, and it's important to get a good understanding of it before you commit to spend the next 4 years of your life there. Not everyone will "get" you, and that's okay, but I do suggest you know what you're signing up for.

10. Embrace your college experience. Odds are YOUR college experience will be different from the Animal House college experience you see in movies. This is especially true as a college athlete, where the partying and sleeping-in lifestyle isn't possible. Although it may not be as stereotypical "crazy" I guarantee memories of locker-room dance-offs, bus-rides with friends, and competing at the college level will make some equally memorable occasions. From crazy roommates and constant soreness, to surviving early morning lifting after late night studying- I promise you it won't be easy, but if you can survive  you'll have one of the most unique, gratifying, and amazing experience that only the elite few are able to experience.