Life of the student-athlete

<p>Freshman balances crew, school
By Abby DeBruine </p>

<p>Leif Bergquist's back hurts. Maybe that's because he's been sitting in class for two hours straight, the back of an unyielding, plastic desk digging into his spine. Or maybe it's because the hour-long ergometer workout he did in crew practice the evening before is catching up with him. For Leif, it's difficult to tell anymore.
Not even a year ago, Leif was a senior at Brookfield East High School in Brookfield, Wis., playing defensive end and offensive guard for the school's football team. He was accustomed to the aches and pains that come with playing arguably the most physical sport of all. But like all dedicated athletes, Leif fought through injuries and continued to play with the passion and skill that couldn't help but raise the eyebrows of several college recruiters.
So why would Leif, Brookfield East High School's career sack leader, turn down football scholarships to schools like the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Valparaiso and North Dakota to come to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to become the six port rower on a school's crew team that could offer him neither the scholarship nor the roar of the football stadium crowd?
Leif admits that at first it seemed like a joke. Midway into his senior year, he began receiving letters and e-mails asking him to consider becoming a collegiate crew athlete. One of those letters came from UW crew Head Coach Chris Clark, inviting him to Madison to observe practice. Leif decided to make the trip from Brookfield early one morning, arriving before the sun came up over Lake Mendota. By the time it did, however, Leif had decided that this is what he wanted to do.
"I went out on the boat that morning and it was so peaceful out there, so serene," he says. "I knew at that moment that this was my sport, and I thought to myself, 'I'm putting my mind to it; I'm going to do this.'"
The transition from high school to college is difficult for every new freshman. They're on their own for the first time and have to learn how to manage their time without the help of parents and school counselors. But for a freshman athlete such as Leif, the transition can be even more onerous. He has practice six days a week (sometimes twice a day, the first practice beginning at 6 a.m.) that eat up his time and his physical and mental energy, and somewhere in between, he has to fit in studying. This requires him to diligently adhere to the most stringent of schedules.
Wednesday Leif woke up at 5:15 a.m. and biked down to the crew house for early morning practice where he rowed until 8 a.m. Fortunately, he remembered to bring his change of clothes with him because there is no way he could have made it all the way back to his dorm to shower and change before his 8:50 a.m. calculus class. From calculus he went straight to English and at noon he took advantage of some downtime, eating a full meal and catching up on homework. At 2:30 p.m. he was sitting in Spanish and by 4 p.m., he was on his way back to the crew house for the day's second practice. After practice he went back to his dorm where he finally had enough time to take a shower. He studied from about 8 p.m. to midnight and was in bed by his self-imposed curfew of 12:30 a.m.
But if he manages to catch a nap in between kickoff and Anthony Davis' last touchdown run, you can expect to see him out that night.
"Sunday's the only day there's no practice, so on Saturday night, you gotta hit it hard," he confides.
Leif is one of the remaining 40 freshmen on a crew team that started out with more than 150.
"The time commitment, the workouts and school eventually takes its toll on people," he explains.
Not for Leif. He somehow has been able to make the transition from high school senior to freshman collegiate athlete seem easier than it really is. He is doing well in every class, "aced all of my exams so far," and is working on a 4.0 that seems to be less than an oar's length away.
Leif attributes his success with crew and academics to extreme diligence.
"[It's] a lot of late nights, early mornings, time budgeting, list-making and ultimately, the routine," he says.
Although the strict routine he forces himself to follow may get monotonous at times, Leif admits that it keeps him in check.
"The routine helps me out. If I don't vary from it, I'll be able to stick to the same schedule and not let other things distract me that could get in my way of doing what I want to do," he asserts. "And my number one priority is getting the degree I want."
Leif has been able to show his dedication to his individual and team goals by keeping his grades and his attitude up.
"He's a model of everything we're looking for. I wish we had 10 more guys like him," coach of the freshman crew team Eric Mueller says as he points toward a photograph hanging on the wall of what is serving as an office before construction is completed on the new crew house.
The photo is of Beau Hoopman, a 2003 Madison graduate who was seven seat for the U.S. men's eight rowing team that took the gold medal at this summer's Olympics.
Can Leif Bergquist be the next Hoopman?
Mueller says that for a freshman, Leif certainly has great talent and potential.
But if not, at least he'll have that 4.0 to fall back on.</p>

<p>I wish more parents of athletes would post on this forum. The above article reinforces what we have been told by D1 athletes in various sports. What I am trying to get a feel for is what kinds of kids can handle this. My high anxiety daughter is accomplished in her sport and wants to coach some day but I worry that the pressures of simply adjusting to college could be overwhelming, let alone adding practices, workouts, team bonding time to her busy freshman year experience. Daughter responds that she has always been extremely busy and had to structure life around sports but then she has had the support of home, family and a mom who does her laundry. </p>

<p>Parents of athletes, are there any anecdotes you would be willing to share that would shed light on what types of personalities can handle intercollegiate sports and being a college student?</p>

<p>Well, of course I'll bite! My freshman son is loving his experience so far. The quality of the training and the camaraderie of the teammates is something I think he's been waiting his whole life to experience. One of my friends gave a barbecue for the team recently and said that he had never been among a group of more polite, mature, and supportive kids as that team. He is also quite engaged in his classes, interacting with the professors, and enjoying the reading like he never did in high school (e.g., Plato and Virgil came to life for him this fall.....).</p>

<p>I think that the points in the article about the structure and time management skills, and the sense of purpose created by dedication to a sport, all apply in my son's case. I am not sure that I could handle it, and I would be yearning to go to concerts, etc., but for a dedicated student-athlete I think that it is okay. </p>

<p>Also, I think that a major point to remember is that it is perfectly okay, and common, for a college athlete to quit a team if things aren't working out. I think that there is probably less pressure to stay on a team than there might have been in high school, where the teams may be more dependent on each team member, and the student may feel compelled to stay on a team for college application reasons. I know a lot of kids who have done their sport for the first couple of years and then decided after sophomore year (that seems to be a watershed) that they are ready to leave their sport and explore other things offered at college. </p>

<p>However, I also have a high-anxiety daughter so I understand your concerns very well. With my daughter, I tend to talk with her about her feelings about taking on additional dance classes, or a tougher academic load, and invite her to make decisions based to some extent on what will make her feel the most assured and happy. This year, that has meant her decision to not take on the most challenging math class, but to add a number of dance classes. I think really engaging with your child in an examination of their own feelings about these kinds of choices really helps.</p>

<p>This is an interesting topic. The level of committment required in college sports is significantly higher than high school sports, in most cases. My daughter is an athlete at Williams (not a D1 school, but very serious D3), and has two main problems with it. First and foremost: the travel time to play away games is huge. It's not like high school, where you bounce around your county playing all the other schools. You face bus trips of 3 or 4 hours--one way--on a weekly basis, and sometimes bi-weekly, depending on the sport.</p>

<p>Also significant is that the new student athlete, experiencing greater freedom for the first time, has to forgo many of the experiences other freshman students will have for the sake of the athletic committment. This has been really tough for my daughter, and I'm not sure she wants to continue playing varsity sports beyond this, her sophomore year. What types of personalities can handle it? Students for whom the sport is really a consuming passion, part of their identity. They can always do it, and still succeed academically, because they are passionate about it. But it really does take passion for the sport to continue from high school to college.</p>

<p>Wow, great comments, Patient and Driver. I think that the right team can make a difference--if she feels connected with the girls and the coaches on a level more than just technical expertise in the sport. I know she won't feel like a "failure" if she should quit her college team but I guess that I, with an adult's perspective, would encourage her to look at the longer perspective of what she wants to do after college, and not quit because parties beckoned. She is a hs junior and deciding if she wants to play and if so, at what level. And as other posters have previously pointed out, certain D3 programs can be even more rigorous than some D1 programs. It takes a lot of investigation.</p>

<p>My son, a swimmer, has put almost 4 years of intense effort similar to Leif Bergquist (6:00 a.m. practices, etc.) and has informed us he cannot do the same in college. I think he's burned out and has commented at times, "Where has my childhood gone?" He may play a club sport in college at most. Since he wants to pursue engineering, he already realizes that he won't be doing much but studying. I do think he's ready to have a little fun, though; he just turned 18 and finally had his first date - ha.</p>

<p>My son was like Tookie's. Although football was his life for 8 years, and he was a recruited athlete, he decided at the last minute that he did not want to play in college. I just saw him last weekend and his has not had a moments regret. With all the spare time he has, he was accepted into Tulane's student run emergency medical services program. He will get EMT training, serve shifts manning the ambulance, and now plays on two IM flag-football teams. He could not be happier.</p>

<p>dcmom...good to be thinking about this in junior year. Depending on which sport it is, the fall of junior year is the time to start contacting coaches. I know I'm a broken record on this subject, but do get a copy of the DiSalvo book, College Admissions for the High School Athlete. It has a lot of information about all aspects, including I think what college athletics might involve. </p>

<p>As long as your daughter knows that you will support her decision, I think that the researching process will help her know whether this is something that she wants to pursue at the college level. For my son, the proverbial wild horses would not have kept him away, but there are definitely pros and cons to college athletics. I don't think I would encourage it for a kid who is ambivalent. I agree that club and intramural sports are a great alternative for those who love their sport but don't want it to dominate their life in college. One small problem with that is that not all sports are represented at the club or intramural level at all schools. At several of the schools my son was applying to, his sport was only available at the varsity level.</p>

<p>I have a daughter who does sports too. In high school, she played three varsity sports, balancing that with rigourous courses and several performing arts activities. She loves her sports and wanted to continue in college at whatever level was possible at the schools on her list. It was important to her that each school offered these sports. She was NOT a recruited athlete however. </p>

<p>She is now a freshman at Brown. She is on the varsity ski team. While that is a winter sport of course, she also has it all fall. She has what is referred to as dryland training. She has it early in the morning twice per week and then five afternoons per week as well. In ski season, I believe she will be traveling to a ski area two weekday mornings per week (can't have classes on those mornings), and then will be away every Sat. and Sunday at races in other states. She had started on a club intercollegiate soccer team but could not do that at the same time but the plan is to play club soccer and club tennis in spring. While it does sound like a lot to have to do each day, on top of very challenging courses with a lot of work at Brown, for now, she is exceling in her schoolwork and loving every minute of the ski team so far. I venture to say that she has done more social things for fun in college the first two months than she EVER had time for at home. </p>

<p>What DCMom wrote of her daughter:"Daughter responds that she has always been extremely busy and had to structure life around sports ..." is very appropo of my daughter. She was used to having an extremely busy life with sports in high school plus many other ECs and managed that. In fact, she has more hours available in college because she does not go to class as many hours per day as in high school so she has more time to get everything done. </p>

<p>I agree with the comments above about it may not be the right thing for a kid who is ambivalent about it. But if a child has a passion for something, they do find a way to fit it into their lives. Some crave being busy too. But it surely takes time management. But for an athlete, they had to have that before they ever got to college because it was necessary in high school to do it all too. Right now, my D has less ECs than in high school. Yes, this is a huge time committment and it will be hard on weekends when they travel to lose that much homework time but she did that in high school as well. She seems to be doing very well in her grades at Brown, though it is a LOT of work. She never ever sounds overwhelmed but is very enthusiastic on every call. We also just saw her. She has social plans lined up many nights, though later at night. In fact, I am utterly delighted that she has fit in social things way more than she was able to do in high school. As well, the varsity team (happens to be Div. 1 at her school) seems to have bonded, even the older kids have befriended the freshmen and I think she will enjoy spending weekends away with them (and the boys team too). You have to love it to get up early and do it and the physical end too when tired with everything else. Even when I was there visiting she would not miss a practice. In fact, they started the year with NO coach as the coach had resigned this past summer and they were interviewing for a new one (the team got to do part of that too) and only got this coach about two weeks ago. Even without a coach, the team worked out seven times per week of their own volition to stay in shape. When we went to see the Brown footballl game on parent weekend this past weekend, she said, see these bleachers? We have been running up and down them! </p>

<p>Sports are like many other EC passions....huge time commitments but when you love it, it does not matter. And you learn over the years, to be excellent at time management, as it is imperative. My D did not want to give her sports up. She did not care that much if she did club or varsity sports, she just wanted to continue her long time passions. </p>


<p>soozievt - very interesting post and sounds like my D who is still trying to figure out where she might get in and swim. She has great time management skills and is used to huge time commitments, loves her sport and it becomes the biggest part of her social life. My question is how would you know how active club sport might be for the duration. My D only looked at schools with a varsity team in her sport because she was so sure she could'nt live without it, but we didn't understand recruitment either so maybe we did it wrong. I'm beginning to realize if you aren't recruited you probably aren't on the team and my D has only 1 sport...</p>

<p>The DiSalvo book has been very helpful, as have all these comments here. I am mulling over the comment about ambivalence about playing in college being very revealing--that may mean the kid doesn't have the necessary drive or passion to compete at that level. That probably is true for most kids. But in addition to having high levels of anxiety, my d also is very indecisive--has trouble ordering from a large menu!!. I could imagine her buying into the ambivalence does not equal drive notion and then realizing a year later that she misses having competitive athletics in her life. We will spend some time this year watching college teams compete to gauge her level of ability and then talk to many coaches. And we have reassured her many times (because of her anxiety issues) that if she doesn't want to do anything in college, that's perfectly ok with us. For the major she is considering, many colleges don't allow students to compete athletically (although some do and they include both D1 and D3) so she may have to focus on club or intramural sports. </p>

<p>When I think back to my college days, I would never have had the time or the organizational ability to fit in the kind of schedule described in the article. But then again I was a pre-Title IX kid and girls sports were not even available at my high school. It is so fantastic that this generation of girls has grown up with the knowledge that they can do sports at the highest level if they work at it.</p>

<p>Dcmom, those are extremely good points. I fit in the same category as you--I was a competitive swimmer and did not try to compete in college. I can't go back and rewrite history, darn, but having just come back from my *nth reunion, I realized that if I were back there as a student today, I would be rowing crew on the river every morning. As it is, I became a masters athlete in swimming and running and am quite competitive in my age group as all the college swimmers and runners burned out long ago :). </p>

<p>But to the topic at hand: I know a lot of recruited athletes because of my son's experience competing at a national level, and because our local high school has several D1 scholarship athletes every year (very strong in sports as well as academics) and I talk to the parents. I can tell you that the kids I know have no, zero, ambivalence. As Driver pointed out, for these kids their sport is their dream come true, their passion, their sense of identity. Perhaps that evolves over time and perhaps it can get ignited in college, but somehow I think that ambivalence would say a lot about whether they would be happy competing in college in a varsity sport. </p>

<p>usmominuk makes a very good point, too--for many kids the team becomes one of the central social groups of their life on campus. I think that that is one of the great benefits of playing a sport, but it applies to any passionate interest such as dance, theater, music, community service: the team or other group provides an instant support network, an easy social introduction to a group of kids who share your interests and ambitions, a sense of belonging (that can often be lacking on a big campus) etc. </p>

<p>I recently spoke with someone whose son got in and through the door in a very competitive job application process because the employer noticed that he had played baseball D1 in college and recognized the time commitment, collaboration, and ambition that represented. I have heard similar things from others over the years.</p>

<p>Divison 1 sports are very time consuming. If you are looking for a particular sport there are some thnigs as a parent you can do. If you are worried about the schedue, the teams do all travel, but some not as far as others. Take a look at the conference the school is in and who they will be playing. All this information is avaiable on the internet.
D3 schools seem to balance school work and sports better, with games being only 1 week day if at all and on weekends. D1 games are all the time.</p>

<p>A child who truly has a passion for the sport does not feel like he/she is giving anything up to play. That is all they want to do. They live for there sport. There friends are made there. That is there life. Recruited athletes are usually recruited becuase the coaches see that passion in them. They dont just play in high school and thats it. All there free time is spent somehow with the sport they love.</p>

<p>Looking, your point is correct. One of the adjustments that does need to be made by the college athlete is that in high school, because the intensity in most cases is somewhat lower, they may also have been able to pursue other passions as well, such as Soozie's daughter and my son did (my son did not have quite the amazing array of activities that her daughter did, but he did play in both the jazz and symphonic bands, wrote for the newspaper, and got all A's in the most rigorous courses and APs, as well as being the star athlete on his team, named all-county, all-league, played year-round in his sport). Now in college playing D1, life is more constricted--there is only time for the sport (which involves early morning conditioning and practice all afternoon, and that is just in the off season!) and studies. Maybe a bit of sleep. He loves playing music in particular and I imagine that he misses the variety of activities he always enjoyed in high school.</p>

<p>Every year on every team there are a few who choose to stop competing at that level, for various reasons: a serious relationship, an interest in a more difficult major that conflicts with practices, injury, or just being burned out after so many years. But I think they go in consumed by their passion.</p>

Here's a suggestion you may find helpful, especially since your daughter is only a junior and you have time. Arrange campus overnights through the coach, who can arrange for her to stay with her potential teammates, meet them, and get a sense from them of what it's like. Most admissions office-arranged overnights are with select student hosts, and we found the Monday-Thursday limit inconvenient for travel (the colleges don't want to sanction minors in the dorms on weekends). By contacting the coach, our daughter could attend Friday class, stay overnight with athletes, and really get an unvarnished picture of what the team life was like from the inside--what the schedule is like, what the players are like, players' opinion of coaches, etc. She did that at several schools, and it was very enlightening on many levels.</p>

<p>Driver, my kids did the same things: visiting the coach, the team, staying overnight in a dorm with a team member, going to practice, and going to a couple of classes. There is nothing I would recommend more highly!</p>

<p>One thing I'd like to agree with about college sports is that it is NOT like h/s sports for most kids. My D1 had a friend who played college tennis and D2 has a friend who plays college soccer, both at Princeton coincidentally. Both these girls have 'lived' their sports since a very young age. Both have travelled the world playing, long before college app time. Both were heavily recruited by Princeton as well as other schools. </p>

<p>Possibly because tennis is such an individual sport, that friend had some problems initially with some resentment by other players on the team because she was so much better than they were. The time management challenges were always there and this was a good student and one who was very used to balancing schoolwork with long distance travel and performance commitments. It was a challenge for her four years there but she enjoyed it and did well in her classwork.</p>

<p>The soccer friend is just a freshman and there have been many time and travel challenges but things are going well so far. And the team is amazing! Particularly with team sports, from these two and from other friends who have played college sports, a common thought has been that the competition has been more challenging and uniformly good. Not with these two friends who I mentioned because they were nationally ranked athletes at the top of their games, but with others who have gone on athletic scholarships, they've found it enjoyable that their teammates were truly cream of the crop. I realize that this may not be the case at every school.</p>

<p>I agree about the trips, although my son took them as official visits in the fall of his senior year. At the D1 level though, you need to be careful that you don't exceed your official visit quota, etc. As I said in another thread, I think the official (and unofficial) athletic visits are one of the real perks of being a recruited athlete--you get treated so very well and you get a much more realistic view of the campus and the team. </p>

<p>I know a girl who just graduated who played soccer at Princeton and always excelled in everything, and is now a Rhodes scholar. One of the fun things about playing at the high D1 level is that even if you aren't destined for the professional ranks, you are teammates and becoming friendly with kids who will soon be nationally-known professional athletes.</p>

<p>Finally got back to check CC after a day of yardwork and found all these great posts. Thanks so much. I think I will try to get D to do a few overnights--at D3 schools, which is where she is likely to fit best. I know a swimmer who did this and found that all the girls all the team got high every night. Important to know! I can see that talking with potential teammates would be the best source of info for D to make her own decision.</p>

<p>A lot of great posts here! </p>

<p>USMominUK wrote:"My question is how would you know how active club sport might be for the duration. My D only looked at schools with a varsity team in her sport because she was so sure she could'nt live without it, but we didn't understand recruitment either so maybe we did it wrong. I'm beginning to realize if you aren't recruited you probably aren't on the team and my D has only 1 sport..."</p>

<p>As far as club sports, I think in many instances, this is a great alternative or opportunity for kids like your daughter (or mine). Club sports are still intercollegiate and competitive usually. I think the kids on these teams are often kids who have exceled that their sport and want to continue playing in college but were not recruited athletes. Many might have exceled at the state level but not national or just among varsity sports but not outside of school, stuff like that. </p>

<p>As far as knowing how active that club sport would be at X D contacted the captains of the club sports at her colleges and asked if she could meet up with them on college visits in many instances and learned more about what was involved in the club team, the level of play of the team members and so forth. Also club sports have a little more flexibility and often do not practice as many hours per week as a varsity team. </p>

<p>As far as your comment about that if you are not recruited, you will not be on the "varsity" team, is not true. In MANY instances, a coach only is allowed a certain number of spots for recruiting for admissions but there is room on the team for kids who were not official recruits. What your D needs to do is contact coaches and try to meet with them on visits and ascertain her chances of playing on the team if not a recruit, etc. My D was not a recruited athete but knew of several opportunities at her schools to continue playing her sports, and in fact is on the varsity alpine ski team at Brown, the school she chose to attend. </p>

My D sounds SO much like your S! She has loved and participated in her sports her entire life, along with being a straight A student in the most demanding courses. Like your son, all her eggs were not in one basket and in fact, I would call her "a well rounded kid" because she had one foot in each of her sports and more "feet" in several facets of performing arts...two instruments, band, jazz band, wind ensemble, musical theater, jazz and tap dance, and student government, and jobs. She is someone who is passionate about several things quite equally. I am not sure if she had to name her first passion what it would be but I THINK she would likely say ski racing. Like your son, she is unable to do ALL her EC pursuits that have been lifelong now at college. In fact, just like your son, this is the first time in her life to not be playing music. She was going to do either tennis or club soccer team this fall and started with each group but when the off season commitment to ski team became 7 times per week, she did not think she could do that and another sport at the same time not just due to the commitment but physically do more workouts per day. She also wanted to put complete devotion into the ski team as it is varsity and she feels she needs to put that first. The way she has reconciled that is that she thinks she will most likely be able to do both the club soccer and club tennis teams in the spring, or if not both, then one of them, and has done some practices with each of those teams. She had hoped to be in the tap dance troupe there, having done that her whole life too. She auditioned for it and they only took three new girls (one was a RISD student in fact) and none of the others made it, including herself. She did not seem to feel too bad about it. She is even realizing that their Sunday practice session would be a problem in ski season as she would have ski races out of state for about 7 weekends straight. So, this is the first time in her life to not be playing music or dancing. She also can't handle doing a musical there though kids who run that were asking her to do it, that involved six nights per week and could not be done with her varsity sport there. In a way, she has not only less hours of class time in college, but also less hours of ECs than she did in high school as she did way more than her current sport in high school in any given season. </p>