Being a student-athlete comes with the excitement and added responsibility of performing your best on the field and in the classroom. If you’re lucky you’ll step foot on the field in your freshman year doing your best to make a good first impression on your coaches, teammates, and the occasional critic.
In the following article, I’ll touch on my personal student-athlete experience as a D1 soccer player at The College of William and Mary in hopes of shedding light on a few of the many challenges student-athletes face on a daily basis. I’ll start with providing a little context around my arrival at The College and dive deeper into some specific experiences that had both positive and negative effects on my student-athlete experience.
Year 1: A Bright Start
I arrived at W&M on scholarship in my freshman year. Having been named district and regional player of the year, and second team All American by ESPN, I felt pretty good about my chances of fighting for a spot during my first year. Our starting left back got injured in preseason and I was called on to step into the role. I scored a goal in my first game against Loyola and went on to start and play in every single game that season. Our team finished 9th in the NSCAA coaches poll and made it to the NCAA sweet 16 after being knocked out by SMU, 1-0.
That spring season was the first real opportunity I had to lift weights and after bulking up 20 pounds (a combination of cross fit and sub-par dining hall food) I felt physically ready for years two, three, and four. The icing on the cake during this first year was being approached by a scout from NY Red Bull who told me I was one of the top three left backs in the country and that they would be following my progress in the years to come.
For anyone expecting a success story of going pro, I’ll save the suspense and mention that less than 3% of college athletes go on to play professionally. I’ll also mention that this was the best year I’d have out of my 4 years at The College of William and Mary.
Year 2: Sophomore Slump
I entered sophomore year as the only player to start each of our previous 22 games. We had just lost nine seniors and with the added responsibility of being one of the few players who had logged valuable minutes the previous year, I felt the need to show a bit more leadership in hopes of one day captaining the squad. I remembered my body feeling shattered at the end of the last season and so I tried to manage the physical stress on the very first day of preseason. About 3 games in I lost my starting job and for the first time in my career, I was training with the practice squad and coming in off the bench. For anyone who knows this feeling, you know it’s not easy to hear you won’t be starting the next game. You start to question your ability, you start to question your worth, and you start to over analyze every single aspect of your game.
As a 19 year old with nowhere to turn, you feel stuck in an endless cycle of knowing you’re good enough, but not seeing your game translate on the field. At this point, getting back to my best was not physical, tactical, or technical, it was mental, and this was exactly where the disconnect became clear. The last thing I remember from that season was coming in off the bench at an away match at Georgia State, being beaten by their outside winger and watching the guy go on to score the go ahead goal to win the match. I walked off the field, kicked the plasticover bench, got on the bus, and didn’t speak to anyone on the long ride back to Virginia. At that moment, I knew I wouldn’t be starting another match that season and so the theme of “it didn’t matter” began to infiltrate my life, my friendships, and ultimately the investment my coaches made in me to be at my best. I went from one of the best players in the country to coming in off the bench to play left and right midfield, positions I had never played in my life. The only positive coming out of my sophomore year was that I recorded my highest GPA ever to secure a spot in the William and Mary business school. I knew I was punching well above my weight attending W&M, so receiving this news was a breath of fresh air during an emotionally draining year.
To be continued…