Episode 5 of our podcast, “One Day You’ll Thank Me” was a family affair. Anna's younger brother Dylan joined Tara and Anna to welcome their special guest, Myles Mensah (former Hofstra University athlete) to talk about "Balancing Academics & Sports in College". It is a great episode to listen to with your athletes, even those still a few years out from college.
Myles started playing sports at a very young age and proceeded through little league, to travel teams, all the way to playing baseball at a Division 1 college. Along that journey he played for a travel team that was affiliated with his school and some others in the area. For Myles, this type of school was very beneficial because his coaches and the program that he played for, taught him and coached him like he was a college baseball player. They know how the process of recruitment goes, what it takes to play college ball, and were instrumental in his development.
When asked by Dylan who his most aspiring and helpful coach was, he shared two different coaches, one middle school and one high school. What made them so influential was what he learned from them about being an athlete and also being a man, and the positive characteristics associated with that. His high school coach taught him that nothing comes easy, he instilled a strong work effort in him. It was hard to get playing time on the field and you are not guaranteed a spot, so you really needed to work and be the best player you could in order to play.
To give parents and athletes an idea of what type of commitment it takes, Myles said that most baseball players play pretty much year round; playing fall ball, spring ball and summer. The other major commitment is financial, there are a lot of costs associated with travel ball that are incurred through the year and especially traveling to games.
How much support should parents give? Should they get actively involved or should they sit back and let the athlete work as hard as they want to work?
Myles feels that when kids are young the parents should be more hands on, but as they get into travel ball and high school, their role is more of finding the right resources to support their athlete. This would include finding teams that support the identity of the family; the costs, location, and places for the athlete to practice and get strength and conditioning. This is very important to start preparing for a regimented schedule.
How does the recruitment process work?
The process usually starts the summer after your sophomore year, at around 15-16 years old. That is about the time when coaches start looking at players as they go to tournaments to showcase their talents. However, there is a rule that coaches are not allowed to contact a student until September 1st of their junior year. If the athlete is part of a travel team though, the college coach can contact them travel coach and ask about them. They want to find out what the player is like, where they are from, and what type of a person they are. Then at that point the student can call the college coach and speak to them.
What is also very important in the recruitment process is academics. Myles tells us how much he really desired to go to an ivy league school and he had good grades, but he didn’t have high standardized testing scores and was not able to go where he really wanted. What good grades also provide is sometimes an extra 35% in academic scholarships to help with high tuition costs. Being on top of your school work is just as important as being a student athlete. He said that the whole process can be very frustrating because for coaches and schools, this is a business. They are trying to get the best players for a limited number of scholarships.
What Myles suggests is for athletes to make a list of colleges they are interested in and start making visits to see what type of location they want to be at, the size of the school, and the academic programs. Then come up with a priority list that fits academically, where they want to be geographically, what type of level they want to play, what the family can afford. That will narrow down the list and then they can start contacting the schools they are interested in.
What is the schedule and routine of a college athlete?
While it differs among colleges and sports, the experience can often go something like this. In the fall (off season) you get up early and do weight training a few days a week. You have roughly 2-3 classes a day and then afternoon practice. After practice you go to dinner with your team and then right to the mandatory study hall. You get back to the dorm around 9 and you are on your own time. It is a full day. Myles suggests getting homework done during study hall.
In the spring (starting February) is when the season starts. On the weekends you travel a lot. You leave Thursday, catch a flight, have practice that night and dinner and next day breakfast, study hall and then the game. The next day you play again and if your family is there you can go to dinner with them and then go back to the hotel and play again then Sunday. You catch a flight home Sunday night. Make sure all assignments are done and go back to school Monday, you are not supposed to skip school Monday. Usually Monday is off from practice/games to catch up on sleep and school work.
Then you will have weekday games Tuesday or Wednesday, leave in the late morning and get back at night, class again in the morning, then Thursday game and Friday, where you do it all again. The schedule is very different from the fall, you are missing a lot of classes. They try to front load more classes in the fall because it is challenging getting all the school work done during the season, you are doing it on the airplane and buses. During the season it is definitely more challenging, but if you get a routine in place you will be fine.
When overwhelm occurs, what strategies can be put into place to deal with it?
Myles says that hands down, time management is the most important component to handle all of it. He wants students to recognize that college is very different from high school and if you were smart and could easily get by doing minimal work in high school and still get good grades, it won't be like that in college. He told us that in the beginning of his freshman year he didn’t utilize his study halls as he should and didn’t know the dynamics of college. It can be stressful at times and can create anxiety in teens starting their freshman year. He recommends to students to find an upperclassman that you respect and respects you and ask for help in what you should do as you navigate the first year.
It is also important to prioritize what you really want. College can be tempting with fun things, but with all on your plate you need to be sure to get your work done, get enough sleep, eat well and keep in mind what you are there for and what you really want.
In conclusion, Myles shared with us that it was hard every day, but so worth it. In baseball there are a lot more days that you fail than you succeed. You need to come to terms with that, it is hard to be successful. There will be times you go through a rough patch, but you have to leave it on the baseball field. Always remember “it’s just a game”, it’s not the end of the world. You may struggle, but you can journal, read books on the mental game of baseball, always lean on your team mates. Don’t take everything so serious.
And parents, encourage your athletes dreams and do everything you can to make that dream happen.
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