Editor’s Note: Jeffrey Melnik has seen it all. He plays box with us over the Winter in NYC, plays field in college currently (for NCAA D3 SUNYIT), served in the Air Force, runs Conquest Imagery, and is an all around superb person. His first post covers what it is really like to be a student-athlete. It’s a GREAT read!
For any child who participated in sports growing up, there will be the dream of playing their favorite sport in college, and then going onto the Pros. Though the dream of becoming a professional athlete is slim, going to college and being a student-athlete in your sport of choice is not. This can be demonstrated using yours truly as an example.
Graduating high school in 2004, I had the opportunity to go away to college and play lacrosse. I opted not to though and stayed local and attend a college that did not have a lacrosse team. At the time it was disheartening because I love playing lacrosse and it was a difficult decision to make.
Eight years after making that decision, I made another. That was to choose a new path in my life, which was to return to school after I was done with my service in the Air Force. Though I did not play college ball straight out of high school, I continued to play wherever I could because, like I said, I love to play the game no matter where it may be.
In the summer of 2011, I received an acceptance letter from Manhattanville College and so my new journey began. Upon arriving, I immediately sought out the lacrosse coach to discuss the possibility of playing. Though at the time of my acceptance there was only one goalie on the team, I was unaware of two freshman goalies that would also be joining the team.
I knew my chances would be even slimmer when I considered that both of these kids were fresh out of high school, and playing a lot, but that did not slow me down. I worked out with the team when I could during fall ball (since I was a commuter), but it was not until Spring started to approach that it started to get real.
There is not any real story behind the 2011 season. I did not see the field at all other than from the sideline. Due to the stress caused from lacrosse as well as school, I sought out help. With roughly one week left in the season I had to withdraw from the college, shattering what I thought was my only chance to play college lacrosse.
Fast forward a few months and I was applying to my current school, which is SUNYIT. I was not sure if I would be accepted because I was changing majors, and I did not have any background classes to place me on my new career path. Once again though, towards the end of the summer, I received the acceptance letter and within a couple of weeks I was on my to upstate New York.
Once there, I sought out to the lacrosse coach once again. With SUNYIT being a second year program, I was totally unsure of what to expect. Fall ball came around again, I found my way, and I knew exactly what I had to do if I wanted to excel and come out on the top of the depth chart. And in the end, I did just that.
We are two games into our Spring season as I write this piece, and I am currently the starting goalie with a .535 save percentage between the two games. At first glance, it looks like a storybook ending to my journey into college lacrosse, but I have come to realize certain things along this journey which I will discuss below, and one of them is that the journey is far from over…
Before getting the chance to play, I would watch any college lacrosse game on television that I could. I always thought to myself that these guys have it so great. They get to come out on the weekends, play a great sport in front of hundreds, or sometimes thousands, of fans. Shortly after being given the opportunity to play, I could see that this was not all that was involved. Playing any college sport can cause a lot of stress on one’s body, both physically and mentally.
The physical stress is obvious, especially given that I am a goalie. But what happens to your mind? And to your academics? How do you fit it all in?
The common rule I use is that, for every hour of class, you should be setting aside 2 hours outside of class for studying. Lets start off by saying that there are 168 hours in one week. 24 x 7 = 168. Perfect.
On average, one should be getting somewhere around 7 hours of sleep per night. Yes some people can go on 6 or less, and some others need 8 or more, but 7 seems to be a solid number for these purposes. That brings our number for the week down to 119 hours. Now for someone such as myself, who is enrolled in 16 hours worth of class per week, we can take that 16 and multiply it by 3. Now with classes and out of class studying, our number is down to 71 hours left in the week. When we factor in time for eating, showering, commuting to school and so on, we can probably knock that weekly number down to anywhere between 60 and 65.
We can then factor in other variables to that equation but for the most part a non-athlete student will end up with, if I had to guess, an extra 35-40 hours a week. Now enter practices, team-lifts and games. NCAA allows for a maximum of 20 hours per week for practices. With that comes the extra time before to get prepared and the time after to tweak your equipment, shoot around, hit the wall and so on. Some players put so much strain on their body that they have to meet with the trainer a certain amount of days to rehabilitate injuries.
When you factor in these new added hours, the 168 hours at the beginning of the week diminish pretty quickly. I did not even mention the student-athletes who participate in the work-study program. With all this laid out, you must also factor in that not all schedules are back to back and there are certain hours in the day where you might not be able to get the work that is needed done. So how does this impact players?
Growing up I was always told by my parents that “school comes first”. They are absolutely correct and as a coach I always preached that quote as well.
What happens though when you have an exam the morning of a game and, even though you have been studying all week, you would like to spend the night before studying a little bit more and making sure your mind and body has enough rest to succeed on the test but you have night practices? Do you skip practice and risk not playing? Do you go to practice and become useless because all your mind can think of is studying for that test? Do you practice as normal and just worry about studying afterwards? Is it that easy? What happens if you stay up a little later after practice to study and oversleep, missing the test? What happens if you go home and just crash without studying?
I can sit here and make up a plethora of additional questions, but I won’t. You probably get the point, and can see though how stressful it can be. I am writing this from personal experience and for me it is the stress. I will lay awake wondering whether or not if all my homework is done or if I missed something that will be reflected in my grade. Though I might have everything done and know that for a fact, if our practice runs late there tends to be a certain hour mark where my mind knows I can not fall asleep now, because I might not wake up for class.
For others, my opinion would be that if they cannot sleep because of having the same worries as me then perhaps practicing at night gets the mind and body going and by the time it comes down from that “high” the time has reached that point of not being able to fall asleep. How do you plan for that? I never even saw it coming. This isn’t a complaint either, but it’s important to discuss issues openly, if you want to tackle them.
To add in another layer, I also found out that the NCAA tests for high levels of caffeine under their banned substances, which I believe is new this year. What happens to the students who need to drink coffee or energy drinks to wake up or stay awake and function? If they get tested and pop positive for caffeine, they can be suspended for 365 days, although you can appeal the decision. Now coffee is out? That makes it harder!
The reason I decided to write about this is because when I was growing up and going through high school, you had your typical stereotypes. Anyone who played sports was usually referred to as a “dumb jock”. My hopes are to crush that stereotype, if it is even still around, and talk about real STUDENT-athlete issues. For me, it not having enough hours in the day.
Playing lacrosse is something I chose to do, and other athletes choose to play their sports as well. It’s not all we are though. We do not just simply play our sport and skate our way through school and get decent grades because we are on a sports team. Sometimes it is helpful to talk to others and find out how they deal with their stress when it comes to both their academic and athletic lifestyle.
I hope my story has helped you. Please feel free to share your thoughts, or your story below.