No One Over Your Shoulder: For A College Athlete, Self-Discipline Will Make Or Break You

January 1, 2015 No One Over Your Shoulder: For A College Athlete, Self-Discipline Will Make Or Break You
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You are 100% responsible for disciplining yourself and managing your time when you decide to play a sport in college. Your decisions and time management will determine how far you go, both in your sport and in the classroom. In this post, I’ll show you how to do it.

When I arrived at Penn State Altoona as a sophomore, I didn’t know anything about college life. I mean, I knew about going to class and credit hours and all the basic of the “school” part. What I didn’t know about was hanging out in the Student Center or Natural ice beer or parties with no curfew or all the very available, very interested females living to the left and right and above and below me in Cedar Hall dormitory. At first, all I did was all I knew about: go to class, study, play basketball. That was my college life for my first semester at Altoona.
My teammate TJ came to my dorm room one day asking me if I was coming to some off-campus party that, apparently, everyone but me knew about. I told him I wasn’t going and TJ said, “Man, you can’t just sit in the dorm all day.”

He was right about that.

After making the Dean’s list twice in a row, I found out about all the aforementioned things, activities and people, and saw both my classroom and athletic productivity slip. I was living three lives — academic, athletic, and social — at the same time with no plan whatsoever, and I was only a star in the one that wasn’t being measured.

Socially, I was doing great. People whom I didn’t even know, knew me. I was in all the parties. There were too many females and not enough me. I couldn’t tell one white girl from the next. I once woke up at 4pm with a hangover. When it came to “fun,” I was an All-Star.

I was on the basketball team, but not taking care of my body (little sleep, alcohol, pizza & soda) and far from focused — and my playing time took the hit.

I was in class, but dozing off in lectures and not making time to study, and my falling GPA reflected my focus on academics.

Even though I truly value my personal/social growth in college, there was a point when I had lost sight of the reasons I had even gone to school: to get a degree and improve my basketball abilities to possibly make it pro. I was slacking on both essentials in pursuit of pleasure and immediate gratification. I was lucky enough to crawl through the finish line academically with a couple Ds and Fs along the way, and get back on track athletically after a shocking wake-up call.

What This Means For You

College athletes have a serious challenge when it comes to time management. You need to be competitive in your sport, which requires practice time, and of course, games. In order to even play a sport, however, you need certain grades in class. And you are a young adult after all — what’s all this work with no play? You have friends and need some way to get your mind off things. All of this while taking a full-time student course load. 

Nowhere in the description of a college athlete’s life does it say anything about this being easy. If that’s what your looking for, college athletics isn’t for you.

Each day has 24 hours, and how you manage yours will determine your success or lack thereof. The solution isn’t easy, but it’s simple: prioritize the most important things (i.e., the things that get you closer to your goal), and everything else falls in line behind them with whatever time remains (if any). That’s it.

Your time management system should go as follows. You know there are certain things that are etched in stone that you cannot change, like the times of your classes and the practices and games with your team, right? So those times are marked off on your calendar or in your daily planner, and are non-negotiable. If there’s a big party on Saturday and you have an away game that day, the party will go on without you. if you have a 6AM practice, would it be smart to stay up drinking? Yeah, I know that girl wants to come to your dorm tonight. But if you fail this test tomorrow and have to sit out next semester from your sport because you’re academically ineligible, was that 30 minutes of pleasure worth it in the long run? I know plenty who chose the pleasure — I challenge you to find one who says it was worth it at the cost of their future.

(Just so it’s said: I’m not telling you that you must be celibate; I damn sure wasn’t in college. What I am telling you is that you don’t have to eat the whole bag of candy today, just because it’s sitting on your desk. Those Skittles can last you a week. For every girl you pass up in college, should you make it to the pros, will be replaced by ten girls at the next level. Use your best judgement, be smart — not stupid [ask yourself if what you’re about to do is one or the other], and ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS protect yourself — invest in it and have more than you think you’ll need.)

In order to pass your classes, you need study time, and maybe more study time than is already scheduled for you in being an athlete — schedule that extra time in, and be realistic about the time it takes you to complete assignments and/or grasp the concepts you’re studying.

Is there any empty space left? That’s your social and/or “me” time, where you do anything you want. If this time seems too short, you have options: you can always quit sports or quit school. Is that what you want?

Unlike high school (for most of you), in college there won’t be anyone looking over your shoulder to make sure you’re doing what needs to be done. If you decide to drink or smoke or party your chances away, or you’re not on top of your class assignments, or you neglect to show up to practice ready to work hard, there’s no grounding or being put on punishment. And for most of you, there may not be a second chance waiting. College is a time period for young adults to get a feel for “real life” while still having a lifeline just in case they really screw up. But there are not too many second chances.

Discipline will be either your best friend or your worst enemy. Your choice.

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