Struggling as a Student-Athlete

By Marc Weems

You get up early and go to bed late. You do that every day for four years or even longer, and find yourself at the end of your days as a student.

Student-athletes at the college level go through quite the grueling lifestyle. During the offseason, it’s all about training and learning. Athletes at Youngstown State University go through no less than any other school.

“It’s so tough each and every day,” YSU running back Joe Alessi said. “For myself, I went to high school really close to here. I don’t have a large separation like some people do from where they live. That helps, but it’s an everyday grind.”

Alessi said each player is different in every sport but since it was football season, life was hectic.

For other athletes that don’t play football, it may seem easy to play.

“I think it’s tougher scheduling-wise to play a sport like volleyball or even like baseball,” YSU volleyball player Sarah Varcolla said. “When you have multiple games in a week or even on a day sometimes, that wears you out.”

Varcolla also said that she always takes her schoolwork with her because she doesn’t need to fall any further behind than playing will already.

The comparison for different sports becomes about time. Time is of the essence for any student. The argument for nonathletes is that they go through just as much with having multiple jobs to juggle along with being a full-time student.

“Learning while worrying about the sport you play is tough,” Alessi said. “I imagine it is tough for students to have jobs and learn but we do too. Some argue that we shouldn’t complain because we play a sport. I think that’s hard to argue.”

Alessi said that being a student is tough no matter what, but being an athlete is tougher than most believe.

Beyond the regular school schedule, athletes endure a grueling practice and game schedule.

“During baseball season, it’s a crazy grind,” YSU first baseman Andrew Kendrick said. “It’s insane how much we are away from campus during that time of year.”

The baseball team starts the year at the end of February and the beginning of March, which means it plays nearly 25 road games before ever playing at home.

With schedules like that, no one should expect athletes to be great students, but that’s where the misconception always starts. All students have an expectation to succeed and putting the need to succeed on the field or court.

“This can be tough, but I know just like many others that we do it because we want to,” YSU guard Cameron Morse said. “I love playing ball but it is tough when you got class every day, going to practice and then having games. Road trips are even worse, but I understand what I got into.”

Morse said as a senior, he has found a way to balance those things more than ever, but he wouldn’t think freshmen could do the same.

With basketball season right around the corner, the grind will be tougher than ever with a new coach and new expectations.

“I know as a student, I relish the opportunity to be able to enjoy my games and practices while getting good grades. I know how goofy that sounds, but I really do enjoy that slow, steady grind,” Morse said.

Beyond the classroom, student-athletes are asked to be community leaders as well, which is another thing nonathletes may not be asked to do. Most of these athletes are in the public eye at all times.

“It’s hard to have to focus on one thing at a time when so much is going on at all times,” YSU guard Francisco Santiago said. “It is amazing how well all athletes can handle all the things thrown at us. I know other people do even more than I do and I commend them on their effort. It’s wild.”

Now more than ever, student-athletes have otherworldly expectations from the outside world and sometimes that gets to the athletes.

“It can be really hard to keep the pressure under wraps when you play a sport the way so many of us do. Football especially has so many things to try and accomplish because of the stature of the program. Blocking that out can be tough and we expect that,” Alessi said.

Alessi believes that even though the outside perception of being an athlete is all these free things and wonderful ways, they are like everyone else.

It’s come to a point where student-athletes even feel a bit of disrespect toward what they all do so well. They said it seems impossible these days, especially at a smaller school like YSU to get the credit athletes deserve.

“I feel like other athletes in sports that don’t get TV time get any recognition for what they do. It stinks because they deserve it just as much as anyone else,” Viktoria Orosz said. “As swimmers, we don’t get much time to be seen. It sucks but also it makes sense. I just wish more people would understand how much work we do as well.”

For sports such as swimming and diving and bowling, those sports get nearly no vision to the sport, which may put them at a disadvantage in the classroom and in their sports.

For the athletes, the idea of being a student is more important than the sport.

“We all know that most of us won’t get to another level. Even if we do go somewhere bigger, you want to have your degree. That means succeeding in the classroom at all times no matter if it’s the offseason or not,” Kendrick said.