The Redemptive Struggle of D3 Sports

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I step off the field, crossing the white line, sweat dripping from my forehead. The crowd begins clearing out of the stadium. My teammates pat me on the back, exclaiming “good game” and “great work.” I unlace my cleats before trudging back to the locker room. “We won. After a hard-fought game, we pulled out a win,” I think to myself.

But then I remember that history paper I haven’t written yet. And that Spanish homework that’s due at 11:59 p.m. I think about that English quiz I haven’t studied for and how I really need to do a load of laundry because I don’t have any clean underwear left. My excitement from the game fizzles away and the stress begins to pile up quickly. I become frantic with my ever-growing to-do list.

My goal is to be very transparent here. I’m not going to pretend it’s a walk in the park. I’m not going to pretend that I’m in a chipper mood 24/7. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t ever struggle—because I struggle a lot. Being a student-athlete is rough. And by rough, I mean I-need-a-shot-of-espresso-every-other-hour-to-get-through-the-day rough.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about: I hardly sleep, I have to take multiple naps throughout the day, my dress clothes are my “fancy” sweatpants and I always feel like I’m falling behind in everything. I spend all of my money on food because my stomach seems to be a bottomless pit, I’m sore the majority of the time and I never know what to do when my coach gives us an off day.

The long, strenuous hours coming home from away games, with attempts to cram a study session in on the nearly dark bus are nerve-racking. Sprinting from early morning practices to class, with only extra deodorant and a granola bar in hand is a regular occurrence. Averaging about five hours of sleep every night is more frequent than I’d like to admit, so it’s safe to say that waking up for my 8 a.m. is pretty agonizing.

Why do I do this to myself? Any student athlete will give the same answer: it’s all worth it.

The exhaustion, the stress, the blood, sweat and tears—it’s all worth it for the feeling you get when you step on the field.

Piedmont College is a NCAA Division III school, and in Division III sports, there are no financial rewards for student athletes. A Division III student-athlete experience is focused more on academics over athletics, and the student-athletes participate in their sport because of a deep passion, knowing that they will not be rewarded in the same way as a higher division would. To paint a simple picture, we CHOOSE to be a student-athlete. We choose this life because it makes us who we are. We believe working hard in the classroom is just as important as working hard on the field.

And although there are major struggles of being a student-athlete, the good outweighs the bad. I couldn’t imagine my college experience not revolving around sports. I have learned so many life lessons along the way, as well as learning to work hard for what I want. Athletes build character and mental toughness because of our sport. It’s a challenge we accept every day.

As difficult as being a student-athlete is, I will always be grateful for what my sport has given me. One day, my sport will be over. It will be my last practice, my last game, my last batch of bruises and scrapes—it will be the end. There will come a time where I will yearn for the feel of my cleats on the freshly cut grass and the sound of the buzzer signaling the end of the game. When that time comes, I will want to remember the best times that soccer has brought me, the friendships made and the memories created. Being a student-athlete is the best thing that could have ever happened to me.