5 tips to help student athletes adapt to the college environment
Regardless of what stage you are in life, having to deal with transitions is inevitable. As intimidating as it may seem, looking at change as an opportunity instead of something to be feared will make life's transitions that much easier.
As someone who has been through every transition along my athletic journey, I have first hand experience with the difficulty of walking into the unknown.
I know what it feels like to go from a preschooler racing in the streets all the way to a world championship medaling hurdler competing at three consecutive Olympic Games.
There are several lessons I learned along the way, and I have tips on how to help student-athletes cope with the transition to college.
1.) Understand that you will become a "small fish in a big pond"
If you're an athlete preparing to compete at the college level, chances are you're one of the best, if not the best athlete in your high school. Maybe even in your state. And that's incredible, congratulations.
But be prepared to be surrounded by other amazing athletes who are also standouts just like you. Some of your fellow incoming freshman teammates may be better than you, and it's likely that many of the upperclassmen probably will be. And that's ok. It should even be welcomed and embraced.
If you come into collegiate sports with the understanding that you're going to be up against much stiffer competition both on your team and rival teams, it will make the transition smoother and less of a shock.
I encourage you to approach this shift as an opportunity to learn new techniques from your college coach(es) on how to improve and step up your game. Ask lots of questions, and remember that everyone has to start somewhere; even the best athletes were rookies at one time.
2.) Establish your tribe
Have you ever heard the saying "you're the sum total of the 5 people you spend the most time with"? Well it is very true and we must be intentional with who we surround ourselves with because they can have a profound impact on your success as a student-athlete.
The college experience comes with a lot of freedom to make your own decisions, and that can be good, or bad, depending on how you use it.
Will you choose friends who will encourage you to kill it at practice everyday, or friends who will pressure you to party every day and neglect your sport? Life is about balance, and with good time management, you can have a fulfilling college social life while still striving for greatness in your sport. With the right people in your corner, finding this balance will be so much easier.
I found while I was in college the majority of my friends were also athletes because they understood my lifestyle, and we were able encourage each other in ways that non athletes may not fully understand.
3.) Utilize the available resources
Many colleges and universities recognize how difficult it can be to successfully juggle work in the classroom, and in your sport simultaneously. As a result, they will have resources available to help lessen the burden. These include special tutoring sessions, designated study times or study venues, and trained counselors/advisors, just to name a few. When these resources become available to you, use them!
You will learn very quickly that it's easy to become overwhelmed with the demands from coaches and professors so when there's an opportunity to get help do not be afraid to take it. In fact, it's a very useful skill to know how and when to ask for help.
This is not unique to athletes because many professors offer office hours to help students master the material, and they often complain that students never come. Don't be that person. If you have questions, ask. If you need guidance, seek it out. You'll be a better student and a better athlete for it.
4.) Remember that you're a STUDENT-athlete for a reason
A big part of college is finding your identity and it's easy for student-athletes to fall into the trap of being so wrapped up in sport that they forget they're also there to get an education. If you've made it to the college sports level, it means you're very committed to excellence in athletics, but it's imperative to keep that same energy in the classroom.
As someone who was able to successfully achieve a very high level of success in the classroom and on the track, use my experience as proof that it can be done.
Were there times I felt discouraged about a bad race or bad exam grade? Sure.
Were there days I doubted if I would actually be able to pull off becoming a pharmacist and professional athlete simultaneously? Yes.
Were there moments I felt inadequate and incapable of achieving the insanely large goals I set? Absolutely.
But I surrounded myself with people who encouraged me and uplifted me when I needed it the most. This goes back to the importance of having a good support system.
5.) Keep an open mind
The quicker you realize that things will look different than they did in high school, the quicker you will be able to adjust to college life as a student-athlete.
Your teammates will be different. Your coach(es) will have different styles. Your professors will instruct in a different way. Your classes will be structured differently. The pressures will be different. The expectations will be different.
And these differences should be embraced.
The good news is, you already have what it takes to be successful, otherwise you wouldn't be where you are right now. Take that confidence with you, but also keep in mind that you will have to adjust and you will be taken out of your comfort zone regularly. Keeping an open mind when learning your new coach's methods, or your professors' quirks will help ease the transition.
Congratulations on all of your accomplishments thus far, and I hope that the next chapter in your story is even better than the previous one. Change can be a little frightening, but with the right mindset and perspective, it doesn't have to be. I hope you find these tips useful as you prepare for the next stage in your sports career.
Here's to smashing goals, fostering life long friendships, embracing change, and making great memories.
You've got this!
Meet the author:
Dr. Tiffany Ofili Porter is a Michigan native and currently works as a pharmacist, digital content creator, and sports broadcaster. She is a former world class Olympic hurdler and ran track professionally for 12 years. During that time, Tiffany competed in the 2012, 2016, and 2020 Olympic Games, earned four world championship medals, currently holds the British National record in the 60 meter hurdles, and formerly in the 100 meter hurdles. She was also European Champion, Commonwealth Games silver medalist, Continental Cup silver medalist, World Junior Championship silver medalist, and earned several European medals during her tenure.
Tiffany graduated from the University of Michigan in 2012 where she earned her Doctorate of Pharmacy. During her time at U of M she was a five-time NCAA champion, team captain, school record holder, Big Ten Medal of Honor recipient, Academic All-American, Vice President of SNPhA, and a member of the pharmacy school Leadership Scholars Program. In 2014 Tiffany was inducted into the University of Michigan Track and Field Hall of Fame. To learn more about Tiffany & follow her journey, please visit: www.tiffofili.com