Athletes Staying Afloat

by Nelly Mendoza-Mendoza | 3/3/16 7:15pm

If you’re a college student who has been on the internet at all in the past few years, chances are that you’ve seen the famous diagram of a triangle, with “good grades,” “social life” and “enough sleep” written at each of the vertices. Written besides the triangle is some iteration of the claim that in college you can only have your pick of two of these. A quick stroll through Baker-Berry Library, where you will undoubtedly see students falling asleep over their textbooks, their friends nowhere to be seen, would confirm this notion. As a non-athlete, I can attest that it’s hard enough balancing these three elements of my life in my daily schedule, but I can’t imagine adding another factor into the equation: athletics. So I set out to answer the age-old Dartmouth question — how do our athletes juggle all of this, in addition to Greek life, research opportunities and other extracurriculars, at such a rigorous school?

I was initially curious about whether athletes miss out on other social and college experiences, due to the demands of their sports.

Although, at times it is inevitable to miss out on certain special events hosted by a variety of groups on campus because of inevitable schedule conflicts, for the most part, athletes find ways to fit events into their schedules.

Soccer player Eric Jayne ’15 said that he sometimes ends up missing events that happen during practice.

Andi Norman ’18, who plays basketball, also noted that they sometimes miss out on big weekends such as Winter Carnival.

According to tennis player Allison Chuang ’19, the hardest part about being an athlete is, “The fear of missing out on the full college experience. I mean there are amazing things that I get out of tennis, but then you see other students joining this and that club or just getting to do a lot of things or loading [up] on a lot of hard classes. Sometimes you feel very constrained. Beyond that tennis has been a very valuable experience.”

What about academics?

Among the students I spoke with, missing classes for sports related activities happens often, so being proactive and letting professors know about conflicts before a term starts is important.

“The process is talking with your teachers, having good relationships with your teachers, informing them when you are going to miss class,” golf player Jessica Kittelberger ’18 said.

She said that at times the golf team goes away for long trips, leaving Friday and not coming back until Monday morning. In that time frame, I imagined that she could probably have some time to do homework until she told me that at times she can be out in the field for 12 hours, depending on how many holes or rounds she is doing.

Similar answers came from the other athletes, they said that at times it is almost impossible to do homework while away.

Connor Boehm ’16, a forward on the men’s basketball team, also commented on how sometimes you have many committments, but you can’t just say, “‘Listen, I’ve got this midterm, I’ve got this paper and I just haven’t slept. I just can’t do it,’” he said.

“You gotta come in and put in your three hours of work, you gotta go hard. And it’s tough,” Boehm said.

Boehm said that being involved in a sport is not supposed to affect your schedule or performance but that it often does.

“As much as you try to stay disciplined. The time commitment, you are getting up early, you are on road trips, missing class, and those things seep in, and you do your best to stay on top of your work. If you stay on top of your things you can minimize the impact,” he said.

However, squash player Zainab Molani ’18 said that sports can help relieve stress in the midst of academics at a college this rigorous.

Being an athlete actually helps some athletes improve their efficiency.

“I like to think that I am actually more efficient with my homework and stuff because I do a varsity sport. But, I am actually not sure if I would go to bed earlier than [I do now] without playing a sport. But some nights, sure, if I have a ton of work, it would be nice to skip practice and work during that time,” Andrew Field ’17, who plays squash, said.

Participating in sports can help some students blow off steam.

“I think it’s great that having a sport is definitely an outlet and I could focus on something that wasn’t school for two hours or so,” Molani said.

But aren’t they worried about getting enough sleep? How many hours could possibly be enough to counteract the effects of physical and mental exhaustion?

“Before anything, I am a student, but that same dedication that I bring to classroom, I want to bring to my sport, because it is a form of pride when I carry the Dartmouth bag,” Kittelberger said. “Either at a golf tournament or at a practice round or just back at home. So juggling those two hats, putting the student hat on or the athlete hat on, sometimes simultaneously you have to know when to be worried and when not to.”

Zachary Plante ’18, who is on the track and field team, noted that after a long morning or afternoon workout your body naturally wants to go into hibernation mode.

“It’s really easy to just want to nap for like three hours after those workouts, because you are so tired and your body is forcing you to nap to recover. But, sometimes you got to study,” he said.

On the other side of the spectrum, Boehm said that he isn’t the biggest fan of napping during the day, but understands the importance of sleep.

For the most part, all of the athletes I talked to noted the importance of sleep. Molani said that she doesn’t understand why some people sleep so little — even though they could sleep more if they really wanted to.

Chuang said that the most important part of staying healthy for her is sleep.

“I think that the biggest part is sleep. I know that if I get less than seven hours I will not be functional, with having to go to class and practice,” she said.

As you can probably guess, not all athletes sleep eight hours a night, Norman, for example, sleeps on average five or six hours a night. Some prioritize school over sleep.

“I usually prioritize my work over sleep. I can’t say I get eight hours a night. Sometimes I get four or nine,” Plante said.

Athletes don’t really have the option of being night owls, because whether they like or not some mornings start very, very early. I was alarmed to find out that, on a given night, as I am entering my first stage of REM sleep, football player John Kilcommons ’19 is waking up for morning practice.

“With football, we have to wake up at 5:30 every morning. So I think that the hardest part is the sleep schedule because I am used to going to bed later, at least past 12:30. So that gives me five hours of sleep. So I have to allocate at least two hours of nap time for after lift. I go to lift, I go to breakfast and I nap for two hours,” Kilcommons said.

Given how demanding these sports are, if athletes were to start college over again, would they re-join their teams?

Jayne said that if he were a freshman again, he would still join.

“I really like competing, especially at the soccer games. We get some awesome crowds. And, getting to play for your school is just awesome,” Jayne said.

Boehm echoed this sentiment.

“Yes, I would but you know as you are going into freshman year you are just thrown into the fire in the first year,” Boehm said. “You don’t know what to expect and you are like, ‘Whoa.’ As you get older, you learn how to manage your time and how to do things more effectively.”

Athletes noted that they value the relationships that they form with their teammates.

Norman noted that the best parts of her experience on the basketball team are “the relationships that [she has] built, not only with the other athletes but with the people in the athletic department.”

Madeline Damore ’17, who plays softball, said that although it might be tough at times, your teammates are always there for you.

“Having that group of people that understands, we are all going through stuff together,” she said. “Sometimes it’s awesome and we can celebrate together and sometimes it’s really not. We can kind of help each other through that.”