Here in the first world, many of us live with conveniences that would be unimaginable to previous generations, yet we go around complaining about what is wrong in our pampered lives.
Something I find very troubling is that a high percentage of collegiate tennis players, and university aged students are quite unhappy with their University experience. They get to their college campus full of excitement, a little scared and a lot clueless. They have been told that their college days will be the best days of their lives, but fail to understand that they can only be the best days of their lives if they are willing to go through some adversity. It seems to me that nobody wants to explain why college can be some of the best years of your life.
Yes, college offered some of the best days of my life, but I would hate to think that my best days are now behind me for the rest of my time on this planet. Let us not start by putting all this pressure on college to be the countdown to some of the worst days of your life! The value I gained from college, and more specifically college tennis, were borne from the harder or more uncomfortable challenges that I faced.
I remember the hardest workouts, not the easy ones. I remember the long, gruelling road trips in a small van, sometimes up to 12 hours, not the quick trips to our local rivals. I remember the crappy hotels we stayed at sometimes, not the high scale ones. I remember eating at CiCi’s pizza rather than the fancy Italian restaurant after we won a big match. I remember the injuries, getting my scholarship reduced after my freshmen year, breaking up with my girlfriend, late night study sessions, the heartbreaking losses. I only vaguely remember the party nights, the easy classes, the comfortable wins, the light workouts, the mid-afternoon naps.
I remember the difficult, less enjoyable experiences, because I grew in some way from these adversities, and I use the word adversity here very lightly. The small challenges during my four-year college career helped me become the person I am today and I would not change any aspect of those four years. I am eternally grateful to my college coach for how hard he was on me, and for disrupting the comfortable little bubble I had created for myself. I did not know it at the time, but those were going to be the moments I cherished the most and would remember 15 years later.
I see many players wishing their time away. Counting the days until their next day off or semester break. They talk about how hard their lives are and how stressed they feel. They just want things to be fun and easy. They actually come to college thinking that it should be fun ALL the time, and when it is not fun, they get very mad, and usually blame the coach. They are doing everything possible to numb themselves from these non-fun periods with Netflix marathons, ice-cream and, in some cases, alcohol. Very few are embracing the challenge of growing through this critical phase in their adult development.
They seldom possess a clear purpose, defined goals or ask themselves, “WHY?” They just react and assume that life should always be about the good times.
Student-athletes have more now in terms of resources (money, people and facilities) than ever before. Full scholarship athletes now get an extra few thousand dollars a year as a cost of attendance stipend. Many of them will use this for fashion purchases! Their locker rooms are filled with food, they get new tennis shoes when they need them, they have managers to string their rackets and wash their clothes. Tutors help them with their academics and they have psychologists on hand should they need someone to talk to about how difficult it is to be a student-athlete. This list could go on for pages, but you get the picture. So, why does it suck?
We have probably got to the point where student-athletes are being given too much in terms of resources and too many safety nets have been put in place to prevent them from failing. I don’t believe we are doing these young people any favors now or in the future.
So, what’s my advice?
Be a problem solver for your team and coach rather than looking for places to manufacture problems. I had a player last year complain that our team did not receive as much clothing as some of the other sports teams on campus. Rather than being grateful for the incredible clothing, shoes, and equipment she received, she was envious of what the other teams were wearing. I wish I was making this up, but it’s true!
Too many players are looking around at what is wrong, what they don’t have, what “negative” thing their coach said. Instead, they should be focusing on what they do have, all the positive things their coach said, and how fortunate they are to have such a wonderful opportunity. They are their own worst enemy and the more they seek the good times, the more disillusioned they will become with their own lives.
I hope for my kids and future generations of students and student-athletes that their college experiences are filled with adversity. That they have coaches, professors, classmates and teammates that challenge their ways of thinking. I hope they have many character building experiences so that they can differentiate between what is actually difficult, and what is just a minor setback. I hope that they struggle just as much as they have fun so that they can appreciate both sides of the coin. I hope they don’t have an expectation that life is linear and should never be hard. I hope that their parents recognize that their kids are 18 now and should be fighting their own battles. I hope athletic departments look to back up their coaches and help these student-athletes build higher levels of resilience. I hope that all this leads to them becoming more interesting people with more interesting things to contribute to this world. Lastly, I am hopeful they are grateful and realize that everything is amazing if they are getting to participate in collegiate athletics at any level.