The Balancing Act of the College Athlete
College athletes juggle school, work, training and competing — all while under the microscope of public perception. As a result, they must lead by example.
School is back in session! This means football, cheerleading, band and several other sports are back too. With sporting events come fans and several little fans. These little fans often look up to the players. This brings an added pressure for college athletes to act and be a certain way, especially when it comes to the social world of college. As a former feature twirler at Florida State University, I experienced this pressure firsthand. Under the coaching of two world champion coaches, our rules and guidelines were strict. For college athletes, the influence they have forces them to carefully balance their social impact, training schedule and, what could be considered the most important, their community impact.
Living in a Constant Spotlight
For college athletes, their social impact doesn’t just include their friends and family. With the development of technology and social media, their social impact reaches far beyond what most might think. While their social life might only include a handful of people, what they post can easily find its way in articles or even broadcast on TV. This means athletes have to be extra careful with what they post and even what they say in what is assumed to be private messages. What one might think is a private message could easily be saved in a screenshot and shared all over the internet.
Many people also turn to social media to share their own opinions. While everyone has the right and freedom to do this, athletes need to be extra careful that what they say is clear and does not come across in a different way than wanted. When thousands or millions of people read a tweet or post, athletes have an extra responsibility to make sure what they are trying to say comes across clearly. Some athletes who had some social media blunders include Rashard Mendenhall, Tyler Seguin and Dwight Howard. Others have accidentally posted pictures of illegal drugs. Overall, all athletes need to be sure to filter what they post. This protects their own reputation and prevents them from influencing poor decisions in the next generation of athletes.
Tips for Working, Learning, Training and Competing
Athletes are busy 24/7. When I was a feature twirler at Florida State University, having classes, a part-time job and training left very little free time. This makes balance even more critical. Here are some of my tips for athletes who are trying to fit everything they need to do and stay on track for their sport.
My first tip is to get a planner. This can be a paper planner or even the calendar on their phone. Staying organized is key to ensuring important deadlines and events aren’t missed. My second tip is to plan each day in advance. This ensures that everything they need to do that day gets finished. It will also allow them to better plan their free time. Lastly, I suggest writing down everything they eat and drink — especially if it’s not on the diet plan, like desserts and alcohol. This will make sure they stay on track.
By following these tips, athletes set themselves up for success both athletically and academically. Athletically, they will be sure to not miss any workouts, team meetings or community outreach events. They will also have a better understanding of what they are putting in their body. Desserts can cause weight gain and make one feel tired and sluggish. Too much alcohol can lead to a hangover, which can cause fatigue, weakness, excessive thirst, dry mouth, headaches, muscle aches and much more. None of these are ideal for an athlete who is training and has games every week. Better athletic and academic performance will lead to being a better athlete and person, which will ultimately lead to greater respect and influence.
Your Actions Truly Matter
Perhaps the most important thing a college athlete must balance is their community impact. Being in the limelight leaves a lot of room for influence and change, but with this influence comes a very small window for error. Whether it’s volunteering at the local food bank or going to the local middle school, no community event should seem too small for the college athlete. The NFL (National Football League) has a yearly award given to a player for excellence on and off the field. The winner is called the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year and receives $250,000 donated to their charity of choice. In order to win this award, the player must first be nominated by his team because of their positive impact on their community. The other 31 nominees receive up to $40,000 donated to their charity of choice.
One 2020 nominee is Los Angeles Chargers Defensive End Isaac Rochell. From feeding those affected by COVID-19 to sponsoring wishes for the Make-A-Wish foundation, his community impact allows him to make a change that means much more than what he is able to do on the field. With every community outreach event comes a wave of new respect, fans and followers. This also means the bar to be excellent is raised even higher. Thus, college athletes must think twice about how they show up to these events. It’s important to not only be on time and dressed appropriately, but also show up in the right state of mind. There’s nothing more disappointing to a young athlete than having their role model show up hungover or on illicit drugs. Since community events have such a big impact on so many other people, college athletes need to make sure they show up being their best. This might mean staying in for a night or missing that big party. In the end, the future success and impact will make up for any lost social time.
The amount of pressure on the college athlete is intense. Whether it’s academics, training, games, watching when and what they post on social media or finding a way to positively impact their community, it can be overwhelming. When it comes to drinking, the most important rule for athletes to follow is to keep it minimal on social media and make sure there are no big games or events where alcohol could influence their performance. When it comes to illegal drugs, the rule is simple: Don’t do them. While it might seem like the “cool” thing to do in the moment, in the long run, no professional team wants an athlete with a poor reputation. By staying focused, organized and following those rules, any college athlete can be successful and still enjoy the college experience.
Dimengo, Nick. “10 Athletes with No Social Media Chill.” Bleacher Report, January 27, 2016. Accessed January 25, 2021.
NFL. “Walter Payton Man of the Year.” 2020. Accessed January 25, 2021