It was an experience that shaped me into who I am today, challenging me both physically and mentally, and I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
The resources and opportunities I was provided as a student-athlete made it easier to balance my sports obligations and academic commitment. If I ever struggled in a class, I knew I could talk to my coach about adjusting my schedule to make it to the tutors our athletic department offered. I loved the sense of belonging I found at UNF, which felt like a home away from home. On top of that, as a student-athlete, you arrive knowing you have friends in your teammates and will always have friends throughout your four years as teammates graduate or join the team. You also get to meet various people, some from around the world who play on the other teams. Overall, UNF provided me with the experience, education, and skills to succeed throughout my college career and into my professional and personal life.
Being a student-athlete wasn't always sunshine and rainbows. It is incredibly demanding and time-consuming. There are times where there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done. There will be times you want to do something fun but can't due to practice, games, or catching up on homework. Hence, it can be frustrating to feel like you can't be a typical college student, for, unfortunately, in a way, you can't. You're expected to be a role model on and off the field. That means following the rules set by the athletic department and your coaches, which includes keeping your social media clean, being a respectful student, and being accountable for your actions. It's not to say you can't still go out and have fun, but you have to take steps to be careful and responsible for your scholarship could be in jeopardy if you don't.
Please support your student-athletes at every skill level. Not every player is going to go DI, and there is nothing wrong with that. Playing a sport at any collegiate level is a privilege, and ultimately an opportunity for them to get their college paid for when they otherwise may not be able to do financially. Having that "DI or bust" mindset is limiting, for players don't explore other schools and can miss invaluable opportunities. If a player expresses interest in a particular school, try helping them reach out to the school. While there is no guarantee it'll work out, it is the first step towards players understanding their potential and what division may be the best fit for them. Also, please have mental meetings with your athletes. Having an open-door policy and letting your athletes know that they can come to you for anything does wonders for their mental health. This will benefit them on the field, off the field, and in the classroom. Lastly, help them understand that they will make mistakes playing their sport, just like they'll make mistakes on a test or in their personal lives. These mistakes don't define them, and when they step off the field, they have to remember that they can't carry those mistakes around with them. No matter how long they've been playing their sport, there's nothing worse than feeling like you let your team down.