A term you hear more and more these days is the term “student-athlete.” Now we’re not talking about the Division I superstar who plays their sport and just happens to be affiliated with an academic institution. And we’re not talking about those people who spend every hour outside of their sport in the library working. So what is a student athlete and what do they really do? To dispel the many myths swirling around about these people, I spoke to two student-athletes right here at Eastern to help get an idea: soccer player Kyle Nichols and cross country runner Jaclyn Helton.
Between games and practices, athletes are forced to give about 10-15 hours to their sport each week. With class and homework and social life needing their share, there is little time for student-athletes to participate in other activities. But how do they find a way to balance all the things demanding attention in their lives? Both Kyle and Jaclyn agreed that there is rest time between classes and it should be put to good use. They also agreed that their sleep schedule gets a little reworked during the season, with a lot of late nights. But besides staying up late, both of them agree that it is important to be able to get up early and use time that could be spent sleeping getting things accomplished. “But you still have time for fun, right?” I asked them jokingly. Kyle told me that he does try to have fun when he can during the week. He told me that Sunday is usually the best day to do it since there is no soccer or class. Jaclyn told me that the fun she has comes from hanging out with her teammates. Since they all have the same busy schedules, the free time they have is usually spent together. Like Kyle, Sunday offers a respite from the craziness for her, as well as the opportunity to go to Church and get refreshed for the week.
Then I asked the million dollar question. “So which do you think is more important, your athletics or academics?” Kyle thought for a moment before responding that academics are definitely of greater value, even though they are a lot harder to put time into. Jaclyn answered by telling me the advice that her coach, Mike Wilson, gives them: academics come first because they are better in the long run, but that an athlete’s body should not be compromised because of schoolwork. In other words, the sport should be dropped before the athlete’s grades suffer.
As our conversation ended, Jaclyn left me with a summary of what it means to be a student-athlete. She said, “I may not have a life in the average sense, but like most of my fellow athletes understand, getting to run in the races, even if it takes up my Saturday, is worth the time it takes. I get to run with an awesome team, so the late nights aren’t so rough.”