The most important life lessons from a student-athlete’s perspective.
4:29 A.M. Yes — one minute before my obnoxiously loud iPhone begins its repulsive ringle-jingle morning wake up call. With an extra minute to spare I reach over, and with a single swoop of the arm I snatch my phone from off the charger and flip the switch on the lamp next to my bed. I check the weather — looks like a high of 18 today (it’s February in Cleveland). Welp.
In an hour-and-a-half the sun will still have yet to rise, but myself and the rest of the John Carroll Football squad will be warming up on the frostbitten field at Don Shula stadium for our twice-weekly conditioning sessions with T-Rob — our strength and conditioning mastermind.
This has been the start of every Tuesday / Thursday for the last three years, and looking back, I can’t say I would change a thing.
Call me crazy, but I love the added stresses that come with playing college football. If you haven’t played a college sport, it might be hard to relate, but there is something inherently pleasing about walking into a 9 A.M. lecture and sitting next to a kid who could not have been awake for more than 20 minutes — the stench of alcohol oozing from his pores — knowing that their is no way in hell he could have made it through the 18 endzone-to-endzone sprints in the freezing cold and make it to class, energized, prepared, and ready to go.
As my final season is underway, I’ve begun to notice the little ways being a student-athlete has greatly impacted who I am. Being able to accept challenges, handle adversity, and consistently seek to better myself in all areas of my life stems from playing sports and was brought to fruition during my college career. I owe being hired, receiving a promotion, accepting a scholarship, and many other successes to the lessons learned while playing sports. However, it is the three most important lessons I wish to share with you today. Understanding, appreciating, and practicing these three lessons will completely transform the way you approach your life as it is now.
The first? Self-discipline.
The most obvious trait I’ve developed through my career as a collegiate student-athlete is undoubtedly self-discipline. Self-discipline stems from the ability to set goals, prioritize day-to-day tasks, and willingness to give maximum effort in everything you do. Having the ability to say, “I am going to be successful today by accomplishing goals X, Y, and Z” and being able to follow through on a consistent basis is critical to reaching your maximum potential in any industry. For me, discipline means waking up before the sun. It means eating right and getting enough sleep every night (although, there are plenty nights I use self-discipline to resist sleep in order to ace an exam or finish a 12-page paper). Discipline means staying in when everyone else is going out. It means seeking a tutor if you need help in a class, or staying at work after hours to get ahead for tomorrow. Regardless of the task, the primary differentiator between failure and success boils down to self-discipline.
Work ethic wins every time.
I work harder than you. Not something you wanted to hear? Tough shit. Say it ain’t so? Try me. Why? I’m self-disciplined and I give 100 percent effort, 100 percent of the time — guaranteed. That’s why I’ve been able to maintain a 3.0 GPA while playing college football. I don’t say this to boast but to provide an example of work ethic paying off. To some of you a 3.0 probably isn’t a big deal. But when you’ve got a full class schedule combined with 20+ hours of practice, film, meetings, and lifts — not including games — your time to focus on school is scarce. Am I a smart kid? Depends who you ask. Am I a hard worker? No doubt. I remember long nights studying both the playbook and for my classes. I remember getting to the weight room early and surpassing my goals during testing week. I remember endless nights at the library to go from a B+ to an A- in a course where the class average was barely a C. It’s simple: if you put in the time and effort, results will closely follow.
The grind never stops.
If there is one thing student-athletes — especially at the collegiate level — would agree upon most, it’s this: there is no off-season. For example, our regular season usually begins the last week of August and extends through the first week of November. That’s 11 weeks. Add two-and-a-half weeks for camp at the beginning of August, and say we make it to the national semifinal (which we did in 2016), you’re looking at an 18+ week, merciless grind. When the season finally ends, we have about one week of an “off season” until it’s back in the weight room: our strength program begins. Yep — four times per week from December until the last week of March. Oh, and did I mention we condition twice a week? Yep — 6 A.M. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Outside. On the field. No matter what. And when the snow finally melts as the last week of March approaches, we start our five-week, 20-practice Spring ball program. For those unfamiliar, spring ball is exactly the same as football in-season, minus games on Saturdays. Two hour meetings and three hour practices four days per week, accompanied by three lifts per week to finish out our strength training. Our next break? Finals week. And after that? Our summer strength program begins… ending one week before we start up camp the following Fall. Like I said: never stops.
Like football, life is an non-stop express train gaining speed ad infinitum. It’s a constant uphill battle — we’re faced with new challenges and placed in unfamiliar territories time-and-time again, testing our will to find our breaking point. Having the grit to hunker down and power through each and every task day-in-and-day out is the driving force behind success regardless of who you are or what you do.
Life is a non-stop, constantly changing, mental, physical, and emotional grind.To be successful, it requires relentless self-discipline and a vigorous worth ethic. Thankfully, playing a sport in college taught me that.