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The Importance of University Athletics

by Jacob Gramegna

Body: 

I am privileged to be in a situation where I have experienced both sides of university athletics, as a player and as a spectator. Here is my story of how athletics shaped my life and how they can benefit all students.

 

Two young children on a field

 

I am currently in my third year at Laurentian and I have been a player on the varsity men’s soccer team for that entire period. Playing sports in a post-secondary setting is one of the most fulfilling experiences for a lifelong student-athlete. Most athletes start playing their sport at a very young age, and over time they develop a deep passion for the sport. 

I began my athletic journey at the age of four. I was more concerned with running in circles on the field than the actual objective of the sport. As I have gotten older, my interest in playing soccer has grown. 

Starting university soccer at 18 was 14 years in the making. Being selected for a university sports team is an impressive feat for anyone. University athletes are in the minority of the schooling population. It is likely the furthest that many of the students will ever go in their sport, in terms of the competition level. 

Many student-athletes would not even be attending their school without athletics. For some, they enlisted in a random program only after being selected for a team.They only wanted to go to said school for the sporting aspect, and were happy with whatever education opportunity that was presented to them. 

Others were already going to attend the school before being selected for their sport at the school. For me, it was a 50/50 balance. I was interested in the sports administration program and needed a soccer program willing to accept me. No matter how they ended up at their university, each athlete is a student-athlete, whether they like it or not.

Your coach probably sounds like a broken record explaining that we are students first and athletes second. To a degree, this is correct. Without maintenance of grades you are ineligible to play sports with the school. But how can I pay attention to a test I have next week when we need to win on the weekend to get into a playoff spot? This is the first problem a student-athlete faces: balancing sports and education.

 

Two people holding a trophy each

 

In all honesty, this problem is solely based on time management. You will hear people tell you there is no time to do work when there are constant practices and training sessions. But in reality, there’s plenty of time to get work done. Sure, there are going to be busier weeks than others, and maybe every once in a while some sleep needs to be sacrificed, but that really is not that big of a problem. 

There really should not be a correlation between lower grades and playing on a university sports team. 

The keyword again is balance. I find students who are not involved with sports tend to have more free time than they know what to do with. The student-athletes already have to be aware of the potential time constraints that they face. If the enjoyment of playing the sport does not surpass the desire to have more free time, why play at all? Playing sports is a sacrifice of time for sure. I run the Amateur Hour Sports Podcast on Spotify and iTunes as well as the Hip Hop Anonymous Music Website, but I still manage to attend all of my soccer events and maintain high grades. Time management and organization are the keys to success.

 

Soccer teammates celebrating

 

One of the important things that university athletics offers is the simple enjoyment of playing the sport at a competitive level. It’s that simple. I have more fun playing soccer than doing anything else. The fact that I get to do that in a university setting is just a bonus.

 Playing a sport that I love has enhanced my university experience. An even bigger bonus is receiving funding towards your tuition through your sport. Tuition is expensive and university athletics offers an avenue to subsidize that expense. There are situations where students rely on scholarships to be able to afford school. There is no doubt the exceptional student-athletes deserve this extra support. I see it as a reward for a lifelong investment of time into bettering oneself in a sport. It is also through sport that strong links are formed between people. 

The transition from life at home to living at university is likely the first large and drastic change that somebody will experience in their life.  Everyone adapts differently to this change. Regardless of your personality, it’s a difficult transition. A great way to cope is through the teammates you meet. 

Laurentian’s soccer players are essentially the only people at the school for two to three weeks. Training camp starts in the middle of August. This is how the bonds between players as not only teammates but as people are formed. 

I remember the help I received from the team’s veterans when I was making my transition to the university lifestyle. That was why I was able to settle into university life so quickly. In those early days I made friendships that will last for years to come. These friendships have also enhanced my university experience. 

From an athletic standpoint, it is clear just how important university athletics can be. It can be what determines whether or not somebody will be able to cope with university life. This is only half of the story on the importance of university athletics.

 

Gif of a LU basketball player dancing at the centre of the court with a ball

 

Reality check hits at the end of a season. For soccer, it’s relatively early in the year, usually near the end of October. Now what? You have been playing at least five times a week for over two months straight and now you have an extra 15-20 hours a week on your hands.  Aside from maybe one or two light sessions a week, the student-athlete removes the latter from their title. 

This does not have to be the end though. There is great joy in attending the games and events of other sports teams. In my first year, I found myself invested in the school’s basketball programs, attending any game I could. I found enjoyment in basketball. Others could find it in hockey and maybe some could find it in soccer, just to name a few of the sports available at Laurentian. Sports provide an additional form of entertainment for the student they can attend without cost.

 

Gif of a hockey player hitting a soccer ball with a tennis racket

 

There are many opportunities for students to find employment in university athletics. It can be very difficult to find employment while at university, especially if you are an athlete. Finding the time for a job is difficult considering a work schedule that may not be flexible towards a school schedule. The travel constraints are also a large factor in the amount of time needed for a job. 

The bus system is not the most efficient for a student to get from A to B in a crunched amount of time. Unless you have a vehicle, you probably will not have a job off-campus. This is where athletics comes in as a bit of a saviour. With a multitude of opportunities available, I became a play-by-play commentator for both basketball programs in my second year. This has been the best job I ever had. 

I am in the sports administration program, and I would like to get myself involved in sports media at the completion of my degree. But it’s difficult to find experience of any kind in this field. Commentating the basketball games has given me valuable experience as I watch live games and talk about them. We are also featured on local cable channels since many of the games are broadcast live. 

Not only can university athletics provide employment to students who may struggle to find jobs elsewhere, but it can also provide a great experience for a potential future career. This is just one of the many employment opportunities available. 

There are even analytic trackers, recording crews and announcers, among others. Some people even find opportunities working with the university athletes. There are opportunities like being a trainer, physician or even a sports psychologist for the various athletic programs at the school. There are enough jobs for a large number of students all over the school to be somehow involved in athletics. 

The option to be a fan of a team is also an excellent part of the university experience. Fan sections such as the ‘Pot Bangers’ create a great sense of community and pride amongst the student population.

 

Gif of fans cheering for their team in the gym

 

University athletics is immensely important on a multitude of different levels. From the standpoint of the athlete, there is an opportunity to showcase the talent you have built up over your lifetime at an elevated level. Plus you have the ability to earn scholarship funding towards your tuition.

Scholarship funding is something that you have consistently worked towards in your young career and that you will work hard to keep once immersed in the program. This, along with the bonds formed, carries the athletic experience past the end of the season. The opportunity to find employment and necessary experience for a post-university career cannot be understated. It is even as simple as being a fan, where anybody can find great enjoyment in university athletics.  

 

Gif of a basketball players twirling at centre court

 

Undoubtedly, university athletics are tremendously important in the lifestyle of any student and I believe it is a privilege to play on a university team.