Katelyn Speaks: Advice For The Incoming Student-Athlete

Editor's note: Katelyn is a rising sophomore who specializes in the 400m at Ithaca College (NY)

For those of you who are glued to Twitter like me, you have probably noticed that there is always a thread of something floating around. There has been selfie threads, scholarship threads, threads to find who may be attending your school and threads to simply educate people on a particular topic.

As the summer begins to wind down and you as a high school alumni begin to start your journey's on to college, you may realize there is something you feel is lacking. When you attend orientation, all the advice given is mainly for and by regular students. But you guys are not regular students. Sure these pieces of advice will still apply to you but there is a whole list of questions you have that these orientation leaders simply can not answer. I felt that way at my orientation. I was asking questions that made me stick out like a sore thumb because at the end of the day I am not a regular student. I, just like you, are a student-athlete.

As I scrolled through Twitter, an athlete mentioned her concern on how she saw no threads pertaining to student-athletes. She wanted advice too. You will all be diving into different environments mentally and physically. But I will be telling you about some general tips you all can follow. I made this thread on my Twitter page but here I can go into more depth. So, here are 20 tips to help you get through your first year as a college athlete.

  1. Do not feel like just because you are a freshman you can not be a leader. Step up and help lead if you are comfortable. But do not overstep. You can do this by leading by example. Showing up on time, giving 100% effort, showing up to team-related functions, or be truthful about how many sets you have left. What you should not do is start arguments with captains because you disagree or secretly tell people to do something you know they should not do.

  2. That being said, do not feel like you have to slack off in practice so it does not look like you are "doing too much". You all came here to win so do whatever it takes to get there. If you have people saying you are, they probably do not want to see you succeed. Teammates can get jealous so if this happens, avoid them and put your game face on.

  3. Leave 30 minutes to an hour between class and practice if possible. You never know what you may have to do beforehand. During my spring season in track, I acquired an injury. This meant I needed to be in the training room every day before practice began. If I could not do this, my injuries would have probably gotten worse.

  4. Talk to your professors about your schedule. Give it to them as soon as you get it and remind them as the day gets closer. You want to avoid a professor saying you never told them you would be missing class. This can get messy very quickly. My rule is that I tell them twice in two weeks. I tell them any time the week before and again at the beginning of the next week.

  5. This tip may vary based on school and division. Please find out your school's policies on athletic absences first before the season starts.

If you have a professor who says they will drop your grade if you miss three or more classes for whatever reason, talk to your coach about what competitions you can miss. Missing one or two competitions during the season will not hurt you. Or if your school does not allow professors to do this, talk to your athletic advisor. If you do not have an athletic advisor talk to your coach or athletic director. In addition, if it comes down to choosing to miss class for a championship or missing class for competition at the beginning of the season, choose the smart choice. 

  1. Sleep, what you eat and drinking water matters! Please do not expect an excellent performance if you only got 2 hours of sleep the night before the competition and ate a tub of ice cream for breakfast the day before. There is no way to compete at your best if you do not fuel your body correctly. If you say you have, I guarantee you could have done better.

  2. A lot of you will feel like you are not improving very much in your first few months. Your body is transitioning to a new environment. Give it time to adjust. I did not lift in high school, so when I started in college, I gained weight and that freaked me out. It is normal and you must remember muscle weighs more than fat. Additionally, you are on a whole new team, new coaches, new training space and new everything. Your body has to take time to figure it out.

  3. With that being said, it can take a toll on you mentally so go see a sports psychologist if you need to. Your mental health is EXTREMELY important. Know your resources. If you do not feel comfortable seeing a psychologist, talk to a teammate. You will feel like you can tackle the problem better if you are not alone.

  4. A lot of you will be traveling several hours away on the weekends. Do homework on the trip there so you will not feel left behind when the week starts again. You are not just an athlete, you are a student too.

  5. You will have to miss a few parties at some point. I advise getting over it now because competition comes first. Always.

  6. Find athlete friends in addition to your other friends. You will find as the season continues it will be hard to make plans with people who do not have a huge obligation as you do. But the key phrase is "in addition". You need friends outside of sports for a change in mindset.

  7. Try to live close to your practice area or the dining hall. You will appreciate this when you realize you only have to walk a few minutes to practice or food.

  8. If you do not get sleep at night, take naps during the day when you can. Four hours of sleep will not get you through practice. But four hours plus an hour or two worth of naps through the day might.

  9. If you are going to miss something team related such as practice or meetings, tell coaches AND captains. You will want to avoid miscommunication and unnecessary scolding. But if you only have the chance to tell one or the other, tell the coach.

  10. If you get an injury or feel one coming on, go to the trainers ASAP. You will want to prevent injuries and avoid them from getting worse. Missing two days is better than missing two months. Additionally, if you do get a serious injury, please do not isolate yourself. Still, continue to go to team activities. Athlete injury depression is real and can manifest into something serious.

  11. Set goals before the season starts. These goals need to be realistic. If you run a 64 second 400, do not expect to end the season running a 53. Additionally, some of these goals should not just be about improved performance. Some should be about things that will help you get improved performance. This could be trying to eat correctly, get more sleep, drink more water or do more push-ups. This will keep you from getting wrapped up in numbers.

  12. Use ALL of your resources! This includes tutors, trainers, nutrition and literally anything besides yourself that will help you be successful! This is not high school and you can not get through being a college athlete alone. Those resources are there to help you so let them help.

  13. Embrace being a college athlete! You are special! You work hard, you can balance multiple things at once, you are excellent on and off the field, and many other traits. Embrace it and use it to understand that you are more than capable of anything. If anyone tries to doubt you just because you are an athlete, prove them wrong.

  14. No one is asking for peak performance every second of practice and at every competition. They are asking for peak effort. It is impossible for your body to be at 100% all the time especially during your transition. So when your body only feels like 75%, your effort better be 110%.

  15. Allow yourself to make mistakes. What is going to determine your success is if you get up and keep pushing towards your goal. Take it a day at a time because each practice and competition is a new chance to do better. You got time, so take it.

  16. I know I said 20 but this one is just as important as the rest. Please trust the process. Even when it gets rough and you can not see what is coming, trust the process. Always.

As you start your journey this fall, I hope you use some of this advice. Your freshman season will fly by, so make the most of it and avoid wasting time not listening. Your coaches, your teammates and I are rooting for you. You can do it.