How to Avoid the Student-Athlete "Freshman Fall"

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Freshmen at UCLA

Beginning your collegiate student-athlete career can be daunting. When you enter college, you're tossed into unfamiliar territory and forced to make important, adult decisions. The transition to college is difficult enough—but then throw in the student-athlete component. Unfortunately, the NCAA does not have a handbook on how to attain the ideal student-athlete life. Some people become victims of what has been called the "Freshman Fall."

You'll learn about this concept almost immediately once you begin your college experience. Your first semester can seem like a tornado sweeping you off your feet and throwing you into a new and uncomfortable world. The Freshman Fall is just like it sounds—a first-year student falls (stumbles) while acclimating to college life as a student-athlete. Freshman Fall consumes many, and some never escape. As a result, they might transfer to another school or get cut before they have a chance to make an impact.

The NCAA coined the phrase "student-athlete" to denote the perfect balance between academics and athletics. In reality, it's a tightrope that you have to walk, and it's much more complex than advertised.

Fortunately for most student-athletes, Freshman Fall is a learning process, and the second semester is much better. By sophomore year, they have become experts at balancing the "Holy Trinity"—studies, athletics and social life. For others, however, the Freshman Fall is too much to overcome.

Building a Strong Foundation

It is vital to begin on a strong and sturdy foundation. You will be amazed when by the second week of classes, some of your teammates start skipping classes, failing quizzes and missing assignments. Some will be labeled academic risks and get assigned to mandatory study hall and tutoring sessions.

The goal for your first semester should be to get comfortable with your team and surroundings. It takes time to become familiar with a new environment and learn new routines and systems. Make a concerted effort to balance your schoolwork and athletics. And be sure to allow for time for a social life. Try to keep a balance—don't allow one part of your life to dominate.

If you do struggle, know that others are experiencing the same thing. Identify the problem and do your best to correct it. A great strategy is to prioritize activities each day and build a structured schedule for yourself. Coaches, parents and advisers can be of tremendous assistance when you are dealing with issues. If you stay focused and believe that beyond the Freshman Fall lies a successful college career in both athletics and academics, you will get through it and prosper in the end.


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