ECNL College Impact | Freshman Year
RICHMOND, VA (December 9, 2015) – Every September thousands of students head off to college for the first time to start the next chapter of their lives. They pack up their belongings and leave the nest for a road to self-discovery, also known as freshman year. There are few students at each university and college that take on the additional responsibility of being a student-athlete. The first year of college is a big transition, full of changes for all students, but a student-athlete has additional responsibilities that require time management skills. In the ECNL, nearly 86% of the class of 2015 moved on to play soccer at the collegiate level, so it is important that current ECNLers begin to prepare themselves for the dream of playing at the next level.
The ECNL reached out to three ECNL alums from various collegiate programs across the country to learn about their experience thus far. They discussed the adjustments they have had to make while transitioning from club to collegiate soccer. All three players shared their personal insight on the challenges they faced in their first year, and the added obligations of being a student-athlete.
Meet the ECNL Alums:
College soccer begins long before anyone purchases a textbook or attends a class. In most cases it begins in the hot summer sun on the field, and in the weight room. Teams descend upon their respective campus during the summer and begin training together for the upcoming collegiate season. “Two-a-days” are the norm, and so are power naps in between sessions. The campus is nearly vacant because classes do not begin for several weeks. The beep test is the only test that the players worry about passing, and it is the first time that freshmen get to know the rest of the team. It is the beginning of forming a bond amongst teammates that will last long after the season is over.
Some programs have student-athletes attend summer school to earn a few credits before the fall semester starts. This allows them to have a lighter course load once the pressure of the season is in full affect. Summer courses allow first year students to get a small taste of the college atmosphere, and create a smoother adjustment for the fall semester. Both ECNL alums Jones and Aman completed summer school courses while participating in strength and conditioning sessions with teammates that stayed on campus.
Hartert had an advantage coming into college, her older sister was on the team and able to give valuable advice on what to expect and how to prepare for preseason. “Push yourself the hardest the first month and half of the summer, because by the time preseason arrives you want to be maintaining your conditioning and not playing catch-up.” College soccer is a different environment, no matter what level you come from, preparation makes all the difference.
Most student-athletes accomplish more by noon than most students in a typical day. The standard college school day includes morning classes, often times at 8:00am. Student-athletes often have to schedule all of their classes back to back so that they are finished by the time practice starts in the afternoon. Not to mention, they have to include time to make sure their bodies are properly fueled before and after practice. That only leaves the night to do all school assignments. Some programs require their students to be in a monitored study hall for a few hours a week.
Aman, Jones and Hartert are all very diligent students, staying on top of their school work and managing their time. It is not an easy task to balance a college course load and soccer, but it can be done. Student-athletes have numerous resources at their fingertips; it is just a matter of taking action and using them. UCF has a mentor program where every player is required to attend weekly meetings to help the student-athletes stay on top of their schoolwork and balance their responsibilities.
The independence of college is one of the biggest changes that all freshmen face. Students are expected to be held accountable for their assignments. “You really have to take responsibility for your education. The teachers aren’t going to hold your hand through it. You have to be responsible for yourself and getting your own work done.” Said Jones. Classes are more in depth and demanding than high school. All three ECNL alums discussed that there is a great deal of reading involved in all classes. It can seem overwhelming, but Aman said, “If you go to class and pay attention to the material, you can succeed.”
One of the most important tools needed to succeed is communication, specifically with professors. It does not matter if you are in a lecture hall with 1,000 other students or in a classroom of 20 people, it is imperative to communicate early and often with your educators. When you are a student-athlete, away games require you to miss class several times during the season. The professors understand that student-athletes will have conflicts. They are more likely to be accommodating to the hectic game schedule if you have made an effort to speak with them throughout the course.
Similar to the changes in the classroom, large adjustments have to be made to keep up with the rigors of college soccer. All three freshmen mentioned the huge difference in skill levels and speed of play at the collegiate level. “Everyone is stronger and faster,” said Aman.
“Every single team you play is full of players that are just as good, if not better than you. There aren’t easy games anymore,” said Hartert. The passes and ball touches are quicker and everyone is faster then they were in club soccer. “You’re also playing with girls who have three or four more years of more experience, so you have to learn to be smarter too,” said Jones
All of the work put in during practice and the conditioning during preseason will prepare and reward you come game day. There is nothing like stepping onto the field, wearing your school colors and representing your program. “The atmosphere is hard to describe, everyone is so excited to play. Fans, teammates and coaches are excited to play. There’s an adrenaline rush when you’re running onto the field,” said Jones. Whether you’re playing for 90 minutes or nine minutes, getting to be on the field on game day is what all the work during practice and preseason is for.
Once the game is over, your teammates are the ones you celebrate with after a great win and the ones that help you get over a tough loss. They have unmistakably become your friends, and they experience all the highs and lows with you. “You have a special bond because you’re going through all the same things together. You’re really committed to one another.” Said Jones.
The bond between teammates in college is important for the success of the team on and off the field. It is unlike the teams they’ve previously been on because “we basically spend every waking moment together” said Hartert. Team chemistry helps a team play together as a cohesive unit all working towards the same goal.
Living away from family can be tough; the bond with the teammates is so strong it is like having a home away from home. Everyone cares for one another and is working together for a common goal. It makes being away from family just a little easier.
Another challenge of being a student-athlete is that there is not much time for other activities that non-athletes have time for. “We don’t have as much time to do other social events. We basically only have time for school and soccer,” Said Aman.
It requires sacrifices, like not being able to go to the big football game each Saturday. Each freshman mentioned that they though about what it might be like to just be a regular student and have free time. They also said they could not imagine doing anything else other than playing soccer and being with their teammates.
Each player gave advice for all ECNLers who desire to play soccer for a college or university, no matter what level.
“Prepare,” said Aman. “If you can focus on anything going into preseason, be fit and be confident.” Aman puts in extra time doing conditioning, in the weight room, watching film and doing drills so that she can keep up with the high level and be a contributing member of the team when she is on the field.
Jones said, “You have to be willing to put in the work. You also have to find the right fit, no matter what level that is. You want a place where you can be yourself and it feels like a place where you want to be.”
Hartert also agreed about the importance of finding a school that is the right fit for the athlete. She suggested, “When you visit, talk to a girl who is playing 90 minutes and talk to a girl who is not playing at all.”
For all the amazing young women currently in high school, with dreams of playing soccer in college, it involves hard work both on and off the field. The ability to play the sport you love while getting an education is an unbelievable opportunity, and limited to those who really want it. Follow your dreams and make them a reality.
About Amazing Young WomenTM: Launched by the ECNL, the Amazing Young Women is a dynamic platform of online and local market activations that showcase and celebrate female role models offering an aspirational focus for all female athletes and teens as they prepare to be our next generation of leaders. The ECNL is calling on all of the nation’s women to join the movement to celebrate the endless potential of today’s girls.
Women of all ages can share their personal moments of inspiration through social media and at www.AmazingYoungWomen.com. Every share and submission helps drive a movement that celebrates the power of what it is to be a girl today. Each month Amazing Young Women of the ECNL will be chosen from online submissions and social engagement to be showcased at AmazingYoungWomen.com. Through testimonials, tips and tools, the website is providing all girls to view, share, and celebrate what it is to be motivated, strong, and successful.
About Elite Clubs National League: The Elite Clubs National League, Inc. (“ECNL”) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit member-based organization founded in 2009 to enhance the developmental experience of the female youth soccer players in the United States through (i) Improving the competitive environment through creation of a true national competitive league; (ii) Improving the process for identifying elite female soccer players for the U.S. Soccer youth national teams through a systematic scouting and identification program based on national competitions; and (iii) improving the daily training environment at top female youth soccer clubs through developing best practices and training and organizational guidelines for its member clubs. The ECNL is sanctioned by US Club Soccer and is sponsored by Nike Soccer.