How first-year student-athletes at Drew face the stresses and responsibilities of being a college athlete.
The beauty of sports, particularly at the high school level, lies in the wide variety of reasons why athletes choose to dedicate immeasurable amounts of time, effort and physical and mental wellbeing towards athletic success. Some play with the intent of making it to the professional level, while others play for enjoyment and the “love of the game.” Some play to achieve peak performance, while others play to stay in shape. Some play because they cannot drag themselves away from their passion, while others play to fill empty time in their schedules.
Despite all the different reasons that athletes commit to playing their sport, almost all high-school athletes compete with one goal in mind: continuing their athletic careers at the collegiate level. According to a study conducted by Scholarshipstats.com, only 7 percent of high school athletes achieve this goal and become NCAA athletes. As every college athlete knows, the selective recruiting process is painstaking and involves showcasing raw talent, work ethic, maturity and academic success all through emails or abridged conversations with college recruiters or coaches. However, while finally committing to a school and stepping on campus ready to take on the challenge of being a student-athlete seems like reaching the top of the mountain, it is only a rest stop before embarking on an even steeper climb.
The starkest difference in the transition from high school to college for all students is the increase in academic rigor. Though every professor, class and major varies in teaching style, learning in college is largely dependent on students taking initiative, rather than the looser, easygoing nature of high school classes. Whether it be attending office hours, reading ahead or forming study groups in preparation for exams, academic success in college requires time—a college athlete’s most valued asset.
Offseasons often consist of practices and lifting sessions organized by team captains each week, and other captain-organized activities. In-season athletes are faced with an even more difficult schedule that includes daily practices and, in some cases, leaving class early or missing class entirely to attend games or meets.
Julianna Vivino (‘26) described the challenge she faced attempting to balance her strenuous soccer schedule with difficult classes during her first few weeks on campus. “Balancing school and soccer was tough in the beginning but it also taught me valuable time management skills that helped me get all my work done,” she said. The adjustment period for Vivino and all first-year fall sport athletes proved to be uncomfortably quick; fall coaches having a “hit the ground running” approach offers minimal time for a full-fledged learning curve on how to manage the “student” aspect of being a student-athlete.
The burden of a busy schedule, though a tall task, is nothing new for student-athletes at any level. For years leading up to college, athletes develop skillful practices to balance their sport, schoolwork and all other activities. However, the difference in atmosphere between high school and college teams presents a new obstacle for incoming freshmen who are looking to make an immediate impact on their respective teams.
To earn the opportunity to compete at the Division III level, athletes had to perform exceptionally in their sport and be revered for their leadership. Pitcher for Drew’s baseball team Brandon Kobryn (‘26) illustrates this point with his own experiences from this past fall: “Everyone on a college team was one of the best players on their high school team, so the thought of failing and not being perfect coming into college sticks out. There is an added pressure when you’re performing to impress your coaches and teammates.”
As Kobryn mentions, the stress of trying to gain respect from teammates along with starting consideration from coaches becomes the priority for every first-year athlete. Though healthy competition can bring out the best in teammates, it can also cause first-year athletes to tense up in their new environment and make for a rocky first semester. However, advancing past this tense opening period allows first-year athletes to become more comfortable in their new setting and revert back to playing the game for their passion and enjoyment. One of the primary ways first-years move past this initial roadblock is through developing camaraderie with their teammates. “Coaches and teammates believing in you is all us young players need to succeed… Having a team that I know has my back, and knowing I have theirs, relieves a lot of additional stress,” Kobryn said. All sports promote a brotherhood between teammates and, in turn, a feeling of relief among first-year athletes who realize the benefits of team sports.
Considering the stresses of school work and pressures to impress on the field, it is important to note that these stresses are not isolated. Oftentimes student-athletes carry over their emotions in the classroom to the field and let their shortcomings in practices or games affect their lives in the academic sphere.
Nadia Porchetta (‘26), a member of the Drew Rangers Field Hockey team studying biology, detailed her growth over the fall semester in developing skills to avoid the effects of this emotional crossover. “I try not to create a venn diagram of student and athlete so my performance in class and on the field wouldn’t affect each other. This wasn’t easy to do at first, but I learned that it was important to know when I need to be a student and when I need to be an athlete.”
Student-athletes are expected to “flip the switch” when transitioning between their two phases of lives, but this is easier said than done given the timing overlap between these areas.
“I am constantly doing something,” Porchetta said. “I am eating lunch and reviewing notes, bringing homework on the bus to games and reviewing epigenetics in my head during pregame stretches.”
The mental toll of a heartbreaking loss or a disappointing individual performance stays with an athlete long after the final whistle and undoubtedly affects them in other facets of life, making it difficult to concentrate solely on an assignment, essay or exam. Similarly, a bad result on an exam or the anticipation of a looming essay also hinder athletic performance and act as distractions for athletes who play better with clear minds.
Regardless of each individual’s motive, the desire to compete in sports fosters growth unlike any other extracurricular activity. Student-athletes embrace the challenges they are faced with and become versatile individuals as a result, but the internal and external pressures are not to be overlooked. With little time to get acclimated to their new surroundings, first-year student-athletes often experience difficult beginnings to their collegiate careers, but both academic and athletic success will follow if the necessary adjustments are made.
Devan Sutaria is a first year majoring in biochemistry and minoring in public health.