When it comes to being a student-athlete, don’t believe the hype because it’s not what it is hyped up to be. Can I kick it…? I said can I kick it?
A lot of young kids have dreams of playing professional football, basketball, baseball, etc. This is fine but in today’s society we have to be honest with our children. Not every athlete will make it to the pros and make millions of dollars. I’m sure most of you have seen the NCAA commercial that says ‘there are thousands of collegiate athletes and most of them will go pro in something other than sports’… In this case, you should believe all of what you hear and all of what you see because it is a fact, especially for female athletes. As a former student-athlete, I’m here to give it to you real and give it to you raw. For those of you who think athletes have it so good, Picture this: A girl starts playing pee-wee basketball at age 6, has success and is told she has great potential. She continues to pursue her basketball career and is successful on the elementary, AAU, middle and high school level. By the end of her junior year, she has won many championships, received individual accolades, is one of the top players in her state and garners the attention of many college coaches and universities. Everything this young lady had envisioned was happening for her. Yes, she excels in the classroom and could probably get an academic scholarship to attend college; however, to be able to get a full scholarship playing the game she loves at a division I university, her parents not being burdened trying to pay for college, and having the opportunity to play in the WNBA is a once in a lifetime opportunity. As long as the school had her degree program, great coaching prestige and a family environment, she and her family were all for it. She preferred to attend a mid-major, but when a university from arguably the best conference in women’s basketball, the SEC, offered her a full scholarship, she jumps on it because it was her best offer and the university was everything she looked for in a school. Then, the coach that recruited her to play for the university left before the young lady stepped foot on campus. This was only the beginning of the challenges this young lady would face. All her life, she had played the point guard position but was a big guard who also had post player capabilities, so she could play multiple positions. Her freshman year in college she was placed at the small forward position but once the coaches realized she struggled from 3-point range, she was moved to the power forward position. She was big for a guard but not for a post. She could post and out rebound guards but not other posts. She was put at a disadvantage and spent her freshman year trying to please coaches, lost herself as a player, fell out of touch with her game and found herself barely playing. Now that she knew the system and what the coaches expected, she worked extremely hard during the offseason. She worked out twice a day, went on a strict diet, improved her jumper and ball handling and got quicker, faster and stronger in the weight room. Her teammates even saw her improvements. She was determined to be in the rotation her sophomore year. Then she was faced lies, favoritism and unfairness. The team had a 15 player roster but only eight or nine played, four of those were freshman. Now, not saying those freshmen are not good enough to play because they are, but the coaches already had intentions to play them whether they earned it or not. Out of those 4, only one earned playing time because she never missed conditioning, a workout or practice. The other three didn’t make it through conditioning days, were lazy or were injured. Imagine how the young lady felt, never missing a conditioning day, a workout or a practice and people playing over her based on things they did in high school and potential. You know the quote, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” this should never be in any locker room. When you are blessed with extraordinary talents, coaches will tolerate more from you than the average player. It should not be this way but is. Every day this young lady tried to work her butt off until she realized no matter how hard she worked she would not be in the rotation. She worked hard in drills in practice because other than when it was time to do the other teams’ scout, she never touched the floor unless it was under a minute and her team was up or down by 20 points or more. Imagine practicing for hours, watching film, lifting weights, spending time getting treatment because you are hurting, learning opponents’ plays to do the scout to help prepare teammates for a game you know you probably won’t play in… All these things to sit, cheer, watch and hope that your team will win. She sat every game and watched her team continuously lose, the same players who rarely produced continuously played, the coaches were continuously disrespected and they continuously tolerated it from upperclassmen and freshmen, as long as they were the favorites. Her sophomore year, the young lady was not as hurt as her freshman year. She learned to use the game the way it was using her. She went to practice, weights, got treatment when she needed it, showed up for games, collected her gear, money, food and all the things she worked for and were included in the scholarship. She spends most of her energy in the classroom since things were not going to change on the court. She cares but is heartbroken, so she tries not to let it show with an ‘It is what it is mentality.’ Then, towards the end of her sophomore season, the team learns that the head coach will retire at the end of the season and the young lady is excited for a fresh start. She hopes the new coaching staff will respect her game, be fair and give her a chance. The new coaching staff is announced during the spring and the few workouts the players had with the coaches were great. The young lady was confident that her next couple of years would be much better than the previous two. The head coach was a prestigious coach who had won conference titles and a national championship and the rest of the staff were former players who played professionally, had won championships and knew the game. Once again, the young lady worked hard during the offseason and preseason. She did well during conditioning, in the weight room and individual workouts. Once practice started, she had to get familiar with the new system and use to actually playing again, so she struggled a little bit. It got better though. She played during scrimmage games and exhibition games, and was getting her feel for the game back. Then, reality set in: Due to injuries and limitations at the post position, once again, the young lady was forced to play the power forward position. She had her mind set on playing the small forward position but wanted to do what was best for the team and whatever she could to play. But then she notices the coach always found an excuse not to play her, “she’s too small,” “she will get out rebounded” “she’s not strong enough,” etc. The coach does not play her at one position, moves her to one that is supposed to be more suitable and she still does not play. It was déjà vu. The coach would tell her to continue to work hard because he knows she wants to play but no matter what she did, she did not play like she should have. She rebounded hard, played defense and shot with the best of them in practice. The few games she did play, she made some shots and made things happen. She made mistakes just like the next player but she did not have room for those in her position. The new coach reminded her of the previous coach, full of lies, favoritism, stubborn, stuck in his ways and very sarcastic. The young lady could not understand how the first coach could show favoritism and not switch things up, when the team had losing seasons. Furthermore, the new coach came in and did the same thing and got the same results. To this day, the young lady is baffled by these coaching styles and decisions and probably will always be. All her life she had played and been a winner. In college, she barely played and loss like never before. But Fantasia says it best, “Sometimes you have to lose just to win again.” By the end of the young lady’s junior year, she had nagging injuries and her body was breaking down. She had enough and realized that playing overseas or in the WNBA was out of the question. She never found her niche. For three years, she felt like a walk-on, the only exception was that she was on scholarship but she met all other qualifications. However, she would never look down on a walk-on because her good friend/roommate/teammate was a walk- on and worked her way into a scholarship and then a starting position, which is rare. It was not good enough to say she was on the team or on scholarship, put in time and effort and not get anything out of it. She did not even want her family to come to the games because she was embarrassed and felt like a failure. Why should they drive two hours and waste their gas to watch her sit on the bench or get sloppy seconds? It was always good to see her family but it was hurting and depressing at the same time. But through it all, she did not let pride get in the way and she stayed humble. There is a time to stop and a time to press on. In this case, she had to pump the brakes. The young lady had been ahead in the classroom and by the end of her junior season on the court was a senior in the classroom. She graduated and decided not to use her last year of eligibility. She could have transferred to any university and played right away because she had her degree but after three years of unhappiness, she realized it was time to move on. What was once a dream was now a burden. Luckily for her, she did not put her entire life into a sport and had her education to fall back on. Now, it was time to focus on her professional career. Do not feel bad for the young lady because she understands that she had to go through this for a reason. Because of her struggles on the hardwood, she was able to grow spiritually and strengthen her relationship with God. Also, she had the chance to be on the side of the star that plays the entire game and the side of the person who barely played a minute. You understand a story better when you know both sides. Since she knew both sides, she could tell a complete story. The young lady in this story is me. There are others with this same story; it happens every day but this is the side that goes unheard. When I was younger, I thought college athletes lived the life but the lifestyle can tear you apart if you let it. Before I got to college, basketball was fun but once I got to college it was a job and an obligation. It was not fun anymore. From the outside looking in, it seems great, but after looking at the cover of a book, read it from beginning to end or you will miss an important detail. Some people may think that the players on the bench are not good enough but in reality, they may be better than the ones on the floor. It is so funny when coaches say they are going to put the players on the court who gives the team the best chance to win… What a joke. I am not salty nor am I a hater because when things did not go well for me, I still supported my teammates. I do not want to shatter anyone’s dream but I do want you to know what you are getting yourself into before hand, because coaches are not going to tell you this before you get to college. Once you sign your name on the line, you are an indentured servant and you have to learn to make the best of it.
I want to leave you with these tips:
1. Never commit or go to a school because of a coach; coaches change in their attitudes and coaches are fired often.
2. Make sure whatever degree you are pursuing it is what you really want to do after you are done playing. Sports are not eternal so pick a good career.
3. Make sure you are passionate about your sport because your love for the game will be tested. Like a relationship, you are going to have to be in love with the game to stay faithful and committed even when it does not love you back.
4. It is not play or be played because if you play a sport or a game, you will be played. Make sure you do not lose yourself. Be strong and smart 5
. Understand that you are going to college to get ahead. Do not mess over a great opportunity. Plan for life after college while you are in college.
6. Parents, do not try to force or push your kids to play a sport because you want them to. They have to do it every day, not you. Let them find themselves and make their own decisions. Support and be happy for them no matter what.
What I want people to understand is that being a student-athlete has its pros and cons like anything else. Be adaptable and able to handle whatever situation and hand you are dealt. Give God your best and He will take care of the rest. Stay focused stay humble.
Brittany Dionne Young