So you just got offered a scholarship to attend your dream university and could not be more excited. You can’t wait to show up on campus, ready to show the coaches that you are prepared to be a starter now! As you step on to the field/ice/court for your first training session, and you see the strength coach on the side. “Time to do your fitness tests!” He yells out. “Dang,” you think. You had no idea this was coming and maybe didn’t prepare for this aspect. You came here to play the game and demonstrate your skills, not show how many times you can run back and forth before collapsing!
Many of you have been in this scenario. One minute you are flying high; the next you get smacked in the face with reality. How did this happen? What did you miss in your preparation? In this article, I will go through some of the most common mistakes I see incoming recruits make in their preparation to jump into university sports so that you can learn and be ready to roll from the start!
1: Not reaching out to coaches (especially S&C!)
Yes, if you signed a scholarship, you hopefully have been in contact with the coach. I am referring to reaching out to the whole coaching staff and finding out what is required of you upon coming to camp. This involves reaching out to the Strength Coach (if there is one), the Athletic Therapists, and whoever else has a say in the training process. Too many young athletes come into camp not knowing what to expect or not knowing that there is fitness testing they need to be ready for on Day 1! Coming in confident is excellent, but coming in blind is not.
2: Not training hard enough
Yes, you are a gifted athlete. Yes, high school/club sports might have been a breeze (hence the scholarship), but university sport is the next level. You will be playing against opponents and competing with teammates who are 4-5 years older, healthier, and more prominent. I have heard many stories of young athletes who come in and get hurt right away in camp because they didn’t train hard enough. Don’t throw away your first term because you want to “enjoy one last summer of fun.” Put in the work (and know what that work is by reaching out to your S&C coach) and enjoy the next five years!
3: Not training the right way for the demands of your sport
So now you talked to the strength coach, and you understand there will be fitness testing. Great! The next mistake I often see is athletes training the wrong way. Yes, I know you need to be fit to play soccer and hockey, but going for a 10km run every other day will not get you there! This once again goes back to communicating with the coaching staff and doing what they prescribe/ask (if they give programs). This will save you so much heartache! I spent many summers grinding away on the gravel roads (I am from Saskatchewan), only to disappoint every training camp because I wasn’t fit enough. How!? Did I run all the time?
4: Doing too much extra “nonsense”
Now you get it. You understand your sport’s demands, you know what to expect in training camp, and you have spoken to your strength coach about what to focus on. But he/she didn’t tell you to max out deadlifts each week. Or spend 8 minutes a day working on sculpting your abs. Yes, I get it that you might enjoy those things, but believe me, as an S&C Coach, we are relatively objective when it comes to our assessment of your training. We don’t have a say in playing time but want what is best for you. So when we don’t have something in the program, like Max-Out days every Wednesday, there is probably a good reason! (If you want to know why ask us!)
My point is that young athletes got where they are by doing certain things, either in the weight room or on the court/ice/field. Spending too much time on the “fluff” and not enough on the meat & potatoes will harm you in the long run. If you are too tired to do the lunges your coach needs you to do because you hit the leg press hard on Saturday, then you have your priorities mixed up. Your coaches have years of experience working with athletes just like you (to go along with degrees & certifications), which means they know what they are talking about more often than not. Yes, having a conversation about adding extra work is excellent, but don’t be like me and run your own 30 min conditioning session between your team’s morning practice and afternoon lift. Doing too much will cause you to burn out and perform sub-optimally physically. So yes, train hard, but train smart also!
5: Not building good habits
This is a simple one, but for some reason, it is the hardest for young athletes to do: Go to bed. Eat breakfast. Repeat.
In all seriousness, developing essential habits heading into university will set you up for success more than any training will. These include:
- Time Management. Set priorities and get your work done!
- Sleep 8-10 hours. Developing good evening routines to maximize your recovery will be huge when the midterm season hits.
- Eat three meals a day and get lots of protein and veggies. School cafeterias are great. Too many people slander them. However, those people choose the wrong options for their performance (aka fries instead of salad). Find out what foods work for you to perform your best, make sure to have a set eating schedule, and try and resist ol’ temptation when it stares you in the face three times a day in the cafeteria line!
#6: Expecting it to be easy
This last tip is a culmination of the other five. University is hard. Balancing classes, training, games, midterms, relationships, and moving away from home is a lot to take on at once. Make sure you prepare yourself as much as possible prior by following the tips listed above. Reach out to coaches, current players/students to get a sense of what they found to be successful. Utilize your resources!
I am not trying to scare you. As most of you either know or will find out soon, being a student-athlete is not a cake-walk. It’s a hard line of discipline and work ethic every single day. The more you can prepare yourself beforehand, the better off you will be to avoid that dreaded “fitness-test-flunk.” So, work hard, be smart, and reach out! We are here to help you!