Looking back on my college running career, I can pinpoint many tangible advantages of playing sports at the collegiate level. It helped pay for my education. I traveled to new places and ran myself into the best shape of my life.
However as I look back on my experience, it was the intangible advantages that collegiate athletics gave me that really enhanced my life. I developed a hard work ethic, built mental toughness, but, most importantly, formed lifelong relationships with mentors and friends.
While some locker rooms, weight rooms and track complexes are nicer and flashier than others, at the Division I level, most universities have roughly the same facilities. The main difference between any two programs in the NCAA that can make or break your college athletic experience is in the relationships with your coaches and teammates. It’s these relationships that will help you reach your full potential.
The Coach-Athlete Relationship
While only three hours of your day is spent with your coach, your relationship with him or her is crucial to the long-term success. From the first recruiting phone call to the final competition of your career, the relationship you build with your coach will be the foundation of your collegiate athletic career and beyond.
The coach-athlete relationship should never be a dictatorship, where a coach makes the rules and you obey. Instead it should be a partnership. A coach is going to have many teams and seasons but an athlete is going to only have one collegiate career. Open communication, trust, and similar values are a few of the things that help to build a strong coach-athlete partnership.
You must believe your coach truly has your best interest in mind not only athletically but also academically. To be honest, there are coaches in the NCAA who only care about how fast you can run and don’t care how you develop as a student or person. They are content as long as you are eligible and able to race.
You also have to trust that your coach will tell you the truth — even when the truth hurts. Sugar coating tough situations doesn’t make you a better athlete; you need to trust that your coach initiates tough conversations with you because she believes in you.
The other 21 hours of your day are spent with teammates, so it’s important to mesh with them and have similar goals. Coaches work very hard to build a specific team culture and each one will be slightly different. You won’t be best friends with each woman on the team — that’s not expected — but you have to be able to trust and respect one another.
Do the goals of your potential teammates align with your personal goals? These women will let you cry on their shoulders, push you every day at practice, and die for you on the course or track. There is a point in every race when you must make a decision to either fight through the pain or give up, and that decision is a lot easier to make when you have a team behind you, and you know that you owe it to them to give it your all.
My favorite and most memorable college experiences happened with teammates that became my best friends. It was the post-long run cereal parties, killer long runs up virtual mountains that made us all want to cry, and the joy of watching each other succeed because we knew the challenges and heartbreaks each one of us experienced.
If you know someone who is looking for a great college running program, the best thing she can do is look for a team she feels at home with, coaches who share the same values, and an academic program that matches her interests. Once she finds those things, she is on her way to a great career as a collegiate athlete!
Did you run in college? Are you looking to run at the collegiate level? How do you prioritize what’s most important to you about a program?