Life as a Varsity Athlete
Being a varsity athlete certainly has its perks. You are in stunning shape, have a close group of friends, get to travel around the country to compete, and even have some bragging rights. But the perks do come with some drawbacks.
It can be hard to find a balance between school, sports, and relaxation – especially when so much time is devoted to practice. You may have to pay special attention to what you eat and are probably more prone to injuries than others who exercise more casually.
Here's a bit of guidance to help you thrive as a varsity athlete:
As a varsity athlete, it can feel like you are constantly at practice, especially since your coaches dictate your training schedule. While you do have a commitment to your team, it is also important to find time to keep up with your school work and relax.
Make a point to set aside some time everyday to work and do something you enjoy. Half an hour of reading here and there is better than being stuck with a 40 page chapter at the end of the week, and a 20-minute episode of your favorite TV show can be squeezed in on most days.
Since you are a serious athlete, your class schedule, sleep routine, and meal times will be affected by when you have practice. Take this into account and plan a schedule that minimizes stress. For example, don't sign-up for a class during lunch that ends 5 minutes before practice – being both late and hungry is not a great way to start your workout.
Sleep is also extremely important, for both your mental well-being and your athletic performance. Did you know that athletes perform better when they are well-rested? So, try to get at least seven to nine hours of sleep each night. This means you need to avoid late night meetings, cramming sessions, and social events the night before practice.
You may want to have a conversation with your friends and roommates about your schedule. For someone who isn't a varsity athlete, it can be difficult to understand why a friend has to go to bed early on a Friday night or study for an exam when everyone else is going out. Your friends might be more supportive if they understand that weekend games and practices mean studying in advance, even during times when you'd rather be hanging out.
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If you are exercising multiple times a day you need to make sure you are eating enough food with the right nutrients. Most calorie counters and daily food recommendations do not take into account special circumstances, like how much a varsity athlete exercises. This means you may need to eat a lot more than the average person your size, and that is 100 percent OK! Your body needs more food to fuel all the exercise you do.
However, some coaches put their athletes on strict diets, which may not work for everyone on the team. If you feel like you are slowing down or not performing well, you diet may be playing a part.
For more guidance, talk to your doctor, coach, or nutritionist. They can help you come up with a nutrition plan that works for you. You can also track your nutrition goals and progress using your Young Adult WAY2GO! Dashboard.
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Most varsity athletes face several injuries during their athletic career. The key is to treat them promptly so you can heal properly, without putting yourself at risk for related, more serious injuries later. For example, relatively minor muscle strains can become full muscle tears that require surgery if you don't give your body the chance to rest and recover.
Keep in mind, some injuries can become chronic and cause pain throughout your life if they are not treated and cared for properly. Watch out for injuries that are common in your sport, like ACL tears in volleyball or concussions in football.
If you feel an abnormal amount of soreness or pain in your muscles, joints, or bones, go see a physical therapist or doctor as soon as you can. To make things a bit easier, most colleges have a training room staffed with physical therapists who'd be happy to help. The sooner you diagnose and treat the injury, the better.
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- Jen Hawkins, public health education intern
- Nicole Aguirre, college writer (Stanford ’12)
Below are links PAMF accessed when researching this topic. PAMF does not sponsor or endorse any of these sites, nor does PAMF guarantee the accuracy of the information contained on them.
Sleep & Athletic Performance, Washington State University
Reviewed By: Melissa Raby, R.N.
Last Reviewed: July 20, 2013