Imagine you’ve played a sport for ten or more years and you’ve been told by many – and personally feel – that you are athletic enough to compete at a higher level. You now receive the opportunity to go to college to pursue a degree. However, an immense decision awaits you: Should you continue your sport? This is a difficult decision to make whether you have been recruited or will be a ‘walk on’ trying out for the team.

Participating in college athletics requires a large time commitment, with practices or games nearly every day of the season. If you choose to continue, you may have to sacrifice time that could be dedicated to academics, social life, normal sleep schedules, jobs, internships or overall leisure. There are many who cannot handle the time commitment to athletics or may decide that their time would be better spent elsewhere. However, there are also those who not only hold their own, but take skills learned from their athletic career such as management and organization and apply them to other aspects of life.

Why Athletes Discontinue Playing

There are several reasons why a student-athlete might decide they want to stop competing.  A term used quite frequently during interviews with head coaches, sports executives and  students here at RIT is “burnout.” In athletics, the burnout effect is referenced when a student-athlete has played a sport for a long time and is no longer interested in playing.

Kevin Barrett, a second-year Management Information Systems major and former RIT student athlete, wrestled at college for one season. Although Barrett spoke highly of the sport and his coach, he said the time and physical wear, including injuries, were too much. He is much happier being a non-athlete and said that he now has time for other activities. He seems content with his decision and still supports all current and prospective student athletes.

Student athletes may also decide to take a break from sports when they consider the other opportunities they may be missing. Barrett, for one, is glad that he can now be a part of a professional fraternity, hold a job and still have time to be social with friends. With the constant grind of wrestling – or any college sport – he believes this would be unfeasible. As a student's priorities change, so too will their time commitments.

Why They Should Play

Some see the deeper value of college athletics, as the head coach of the RIT Women’s Soccer team Elizabeth Masterson explains: “We do have special people on our team who maybe aren’t getting as much playing time, or maybe don’t get playing time at all, who still see the value in coming back and being part of a team and understanding their role is a great one, even if they are not the superstar on the field.”

Participating in college athletics can be not only physically beneficial but mentally as well. In 2012, the American College of Sports Medicine organized a study of 317 middle school students. Their research showed that “the fittest group of students scored almost 30 percent higher on standardized tests than the least fit group.” This can translate into real academic benefits for RIT student-athletes.

According to Lou Spiotti, executive director of RIT’s Intercollegiate Athletics, the student athlete population has a higher average cumulative GPA of about 3.3, as opposed to the overall average of 3.0. “There’s a big difference,” says Spiotti. “Our student-athlete graduation rate is 20 percent higher than the non-student-athlete graduation rate.”

But how can student athletes have better scores when they have less time to devote to academics? Masterson explains that sports help develop time management skills. "It's actually helpful to structure your day that way." The time that is taken out of these student athletes’ daily lives can actually be positive.

“I think sometimes unfortunately [not having enough time] is a fear that keeps people from participating in athletics,” said Masterson. However, efficient time management skills can be developed with the right planning. Coaches give players their sports schedules in advance to prepare student athletes not only for their respective sport but for other college commitments as well, with academics being the priority.

In addition to time management skills, other crucial lessons are learned. Every coach that was interviewed emphasized that student athletes learn to appreciate the value of leadership, teamwork, accountability and respect. Coaches not only put student athletes in a prime position to compete, but assist in producing bright young men and women.

Modifying the Mindset

“Any time I see somebody who gives up their eligibility, I think it's devastating. It's really too bad that they don't see the long-term picture of being able to finish their four years of eligibility,” says Masterson. “I think the students here are so focused on their academics and so driven to start their careers that sometimes they want to get going with it early. For me, I am of the mindset [that] you have your whole life to work, but you only have these four years to play college athletics.”

People’s mindsets vary: some may disregard what you prioritize. Everyone has a unique group of activities that define how they spend their time. However, time is limited and you may no longer prioritize once-favored activities. If there is a crucial decision to make, think long and hard about it. Reassure yourself that you will not have any regrets after you make that decision. Evaluating whether you should play a sport or not is great practice for future vital decisions you may face.