Scoring Shots, Taking Shots: How Student Athletes Balance the Demands of their Sport and Social Lives
By ELIZABETH GUMMER
Juggling the identities of college student and varsity athlete can be challenging. On the one hand, your team and coach rely on you day in and day out to maintain and improve upon a certain level of athletic excellence. Everyday you are expected to show up on the court or field, ready to put in your all. Coaches are quick with disciples for lack of effort or preparation, and teammates consistently have a close eye on who is putting in the work and who isn’t.
On the other hand, college is demanding. There are piles of homework that don’t wait for anybody, alongside events nearly every night and parties every weekend. The opportunities and temptations to have a drink or seven on a Friday night are abundant. Whether it be in a friend’s dorm room, house common space, final club, or frat, casual drinking and recreational drug use characterizes the American college experience.
As varsity teams spend nearly everyday with each other, commiserating in a common struggle, connections between teammates tend to be not just out of sportsmanship or sheer familiarity, but out of genuine friendships. Athletes, whether on the same team or not, tend to stick together, forming friend groups and having inside connections within social organization. Alongside hosting general campus-wide parties, most teams have a social chair that plans events and parties for their team. Mixers are planned with other athletic teams, often of the opposite gender, and athletes have the opportunity to bond within their team while mingling with other athletes.
Yet these common practices don’t exactly align with the ideals of an NCAA Division I athlete. Waking up for 6 AM lift after a night of drinking isn’t the most enjoyable way to spend your morning, and running repeat 300’s after staying up until 3 AM doesn’t exactly promote peak performance.
Aside from personal consequences (read: hangovers), the members of an individual’s team both provide and encounter their own punishment. Across the board, drinking while in season is frowned upon. While teammates may address the issue of other teammates drinking in season with simple annoyance or disregard, when coaches get wind the real consequences come to fruition. Think running extra laps, additional reps, or just an old fashioned lecture on underage drinking.
How do teams balance college athletics with… going to college? In general, team captains tend to take on the bulk of the duties keeping teammates in check. While some teams implement strict rules regarding alcohol before games and practices, others throw formalities to the wind, instead trusting individual team members to use their best judgment. One common rule is the “24/48 Rule,” prohibiting alcohol consumption in the 24 hours leading up to a practice and the 48 hours leading up to a game. Each team has their own way to tackle the balancing act.
On the women’s squash team, a junior team member stated, “It’s pretty frowned upon to drink.” Though there is no official policy, most members of the team stick to at least a 24 hour period within drinking for practices, and “definitely stick to a 48 hour rule before matches.” The team opts to have their mixers during the off- season. Instead of an official social chair, junior members of the team take the lead in planning these events. Regardless of the season, squash isn’t necessarily the most rowdy of teams, as “a lot of people on the team have professional ambitions,” and have longsighted goals that don’t align with partying every weekend.
For women’s volleyball, the team strictly abides by the 24/48 rule, and it isn’t taken light- ly. A junior representative for the team recalled that “one year there was a problem where someone on the team found out that a few people had broken [the rule] and it went straight to captains and coaches.” The team utilizes two social chairs to plan mixers with other teams, although the team has a strict schedule of when they are able to mix: only Saturdays during the season, so long as it is a home game. The team “usually has mixers planned for those dates pretty far in advance.” Out of season, the team “will still pregame for other parties together pretty often,” but tends to slow down in terms of organized team wide mixers.
Looking over to baseball, the team does “not have a formal drinking rule” reported a team member, although this is done so “purposefully” and “the upperclassman set an example for the new players to learn from.” Valuing the team and sport itself above excessive partying, “players care so much about performing… they make the team a priority so that drinking does not become an issue.” The team finds time to have mixers with other teams, but as the season progresses partying and drinking tends to decrease with the heightening intensity of the season’s competition.
Women’s rugby follows the common 24/48 rule “but there’s also a ‘be smart’ rule that goes with it.” Exceptions are made within reason, as long as the team member is aligned with the goals of the team. A month before championships the team completely abstains from alcohol and drugs. A teammate reasoned that they “do it more for a mindset exercise, rather than to be super healthy — it’s just to get the team all focused on one goal… even non-rostered players and injured people are expected to follow this rule.” Strictly enforced within the team, captains are on the lookout for those struggling to follow through with the rule. Despite this, a junior remarked that they had “never had to punish anyone during the time [she has] been on the team,” going to show the commitment member have to their athletic performance. While the social chairs plans fun themed parties throughout the semester, they also “plan non-drinking related social events like study breaks in someone’s room or movie nights with snacks and team dinners,” providing the ability to bond with the team away from the drinking scene.
In line with the rest, field hockey also abides by the 24/48 rule. As the team has one day off of practice during season, team members typically use that night to go out together. For instances that may arise during the season where drinks are available, a junior member of the team commented that “we also respect that people on our team are able to make decisions about their social lives – as long as people are responsible, we have a general ‘one social drink’ rule, as long as we don’t have a really important game on the horizon.” In season, the team uses their one-day- a-week to socialize as a team, lending to their connections in the locker room and on the field, a member noting that “at the end of the day you want everyone to enjoy being on the team in col- lege, and getting the balance between on- and off-field enjoyment is important.” Even though they go out less frequently in season, when they do go out, it is always as a team affair.
Though athletes may have to sacrifice elements of their college experience for their sport, it’s clear that all hope of letting loose is not lost on these varsity teams. The life of a college athlete may not always be glamorous or bursting with free time, but they sure do know how to have some well regulated, off-season, fun.
Elizabeth Gummer (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes sports for the Indy.