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Putting the “college” in college athlete

Making the transition from high school to university can be tough, especially for varsity athletes. First-year students often feel overwhelmed and find it difficult to balance their time between athletics and academics – especially if a student is living away from home for the first time.

The student may have to deal with homesickness on top of the usual rigours of academic life, but being surrounded by a community coming together with a shared goal makes the transition into university living that much easier.

“The biggest adjustment for me was not being at home. It was a good adjustment in the end, but it made things tough for a bit,” says David Kerr, fourth-year student and member of the Dalhousie track and field team.

“University is great. Although some people find the transition hard, it is a great experience,” says Kerr.

Staying motivated during the early weeks of the school year, before the school assignments and team practices really pick up, is crucial.

Devin Errington, another fourth-year varsity athlete on the track team, describes the first few weeks of school as a college athlete: “the workload is still small and assignments are not due for a while… and practices haven’t hit 100 per cent yet, you will feel like you have a ton of time to hangout with friends and procrastinate like you most likely could do in high school.”

Errington warns new athletes not to get too comfortable with the schedule of their first few weeks.

“The reality is that when practice starts and things start becoming due you will have no time for anything, especially downtime, and your performance, your marks or both will suffer as a result. You only have up to five years of doing your sport, so make the most of every year.”

Kerr and Errington both agree that, while it is important to have fun and enjoy the university experience, it helps first year students to stay on top of their work.

Keeping up with schoolwork at the beginning of their university careers will prepare them for third and fourth year, when students face significant workloads even during an average week – not to mention throughout midterms and final exams.

Errington advises first year student athletes to take advantage of study hall, a program that the Dalhousie University Tigers run for every first-year athlete at Dalhousie.

“I ended up coming an hour early (to study hall) and stayed half an hour after. So I could take the next day off, as well as get ahead for the next week, since I was able to power through a bunch of homework,” Errington says. “It was great. Starting with that will make things a ton easier.”

In addition, students should remember to stay organized. Errington recommends creating a  digital or hard-copy calendar to write down all the assignments, due dates and team events such as practices and games. The Dalhousie bookstore sells large dry erase calendars, which are quite popular with students.

By using a calendar, students will always know when a major assignment or team event is coming up and can plan everything else  accordingly.

Kim McCullough of Total Female Hockey, a company that trains female hockey players, believes that academics should always remain the top priority for varsity student athletes.

“Not many athletes are going to make Team Canada. For this reason, it’s always important to choose a program that you are passionate in and stick with it. Because if hockey doesn’t work out, or if you get injured and all of a sudden you can no longer play hockey anymore, you will have a backup plan,” says McCullough.

“It is always important to have fun, “ McCulloch says, “but school and sports come before socializing.” In many ways, student athletes socialize more than anyone; for eight months of the year they spend every single day with a group of fellow athletes.

“I will take away the memories that I have created competing with my teammates, and the sense of community that I feel with my greater Tigers family and my smaller Track and Field family. We have had so much fun together and experienced so much together that nothing could compare,” Kerr says as he reflects back on his three years at Dalhousie.

“It is an amazing experience. I have had the chance to represent my school at a conference and national level, and had the honour to be a captain and conference champ.”

The four-hour track and field practices three to four times a week, mandatory conditioning and study hall were a small price to pay to be able to do something that they love.

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