Free time is considered a hot commodity at Vassar College. Between classes, organizations, clubs and a whole host of other extracurriculars, it can be difficult for students to find enough time to complete their work, let alone enjoy some leisure time. Student athletes are quite familiar with this situation.
Apart from attending practice most days of the week, these students are required to attend various games, matches and tournaments. Many of these events happen to be at different locations, making travel a real and necessary part of the student athlete experience. It should be noted that the length of these trips and days of travel vary drastically between sports. Men’s volleyball, for example, travels almost every weekend from January to the beginning of April. Some sports require a much bigger commitment than others. Still, athletes must learn to adjust to spending a portion of their time at Vassar “on the road.”
Most student athletes travel via bus, yet some may take vans for shorter trips if their players can all fit. Coaches also provide food and snacks for players and often suggest restaurants within the area. While transportation itself may not always be the most pleasant, the buses themselves are quite nice. Junior volleyball player Reno Kriz explained, “The buses are relatively comfortable, so some of the guys bring pillows and just sleep on the way.” Still, athletes are encouraged to get work done during the many travel hours. Coach Brown believes all coaches encourage their athletes to spend at least some travel time studying and doing work.
Yet work conditions are not always optimal. Said Kriz, “I sometimes do homework on the bus. It’s basically impossible to write anything on the buses, but I can use my laptop for a lot of things. This year, the buses have had decent WiFi, so I’ve been able to use the Internet to work on things as well.” The ability to work on the buses also varies between students and circumstances. Junior women’s soccer player Lucy Brainerd explained via an emailed statement that she can never do work on the road as it makes her extremely carsick. “Knowing a road trip is coming up means extra hours in the library to make sure I have everything done ahead of time,” she stated.
But some trips have unexpected consequences. Kriz elaborated on one such experience, “We’ve had to spend a couple nights in hotels on occasion; my freshman year, we spent three days in Buffalo due to snow.” Still, this is not necessarily the worst thing in the world. “The hotels are usually pretty comfortable. The past two seasons, we’ve usually had 2-3 people to a room,” he divulged.
Life on the road does extend beyond textbooks and laptops, however. Senior field hockey player Hilary McDonnell explained her typical schedule for a weekend road trip, one that extends beyond a single game: “We normally leave early Friday mornings, get some breakfast from the food that our coach buys for us and then we get on the road. We drive anywhere from two to seven hours. On longer trips, we normally stop somewhere briefly to eat and then arrive at the hotel the night before our two games. Or shorter trips, we’ll get to the game before we go to the hotel.”
Long weekend trips only perpetuate the idea that time management is an extremely vital part of the student-athlete experience at Vassar. As cross country coach James McCowan elaborated, “Academics are the big priority here, and being a great student athlete requires skillful time management, focus and prioritizing. The team experience—training, practicing, competing and the social times around practice—becomes a huge part of a student athlete’s social life, and that takes priority for the dedicated student athlete over the Mug nights and nights at the THs.” The athletes recognize this as well. Kriz, with the responsibility of five classes in his past two semesters, stated, “I’ve learned to make my down time count, whether it’s on the road or back at Vassar. I occasionally feel overwhelmed, mostly during the midterms week before spring break.” Luckily, his season ends in mid-April, allowing him to focus the remainder of his time on classes and finals.
Still, this time-management can prove beneficial as well. As Brainerd explained, “Procrastination just isn’t an option. I think there are certain times in the semester where everyone on campus feels overwhelmed, but having time management skills from being a student athlete actually mutes that feeling.” Coach McCowan added to this point, “If you take a three hour lunch and hang out on Facebook for hours, or plan to go partying all night every weekend, well, it’s going to be hard to be at practice two hours a day and be successful in the classroom. If you recognize that those two hours are spoken for and look at that time as a physical, social and mental refresher, then it shapes the day and provides structure. You wake up, get your work done, go to class, get meals, get work done, go enjoy being at practice, eat, get work done, get in bed early and recognize that everything is a choice. You have a lot of time in your day at Vassar. If you choose to use it wisely, you can get a lot done. Most of the students on my team find that when they are in season they have a better structured and balanced day then when out of season.”
But what happens when students have to miss class? Most student-athletes have had to skip the occasional class, but are all quite adamant about their professors’ understanding and helpfulness. Senior baseball player Jason Garfinkel noted that his team’s grade point average was higher during the season. As Coach Brown explained, “In my 20 years here at Vassar the conflicts can be counted on the fingers of one hand and professors have been accommodating and supportive.” Coaches understand this potential for conflict, yet push for academics to remain a student’s main priority. “For regularly-scheduled meets, we always let students know of the departure times and potential conflicts at the start of the semester and encourage them to ask their faculty if/how they can manage these potential conflicts in advance so there are no surprises,” explains Coach McCowan.
Despite the time conflicts, less-than-optimal working conditions and possible notion that they may be “missing something” on campus, travel proves quite beneficial to a student-athlete’s Vassar experience. Coach Brown adds that time on these buses is also spent getting to know one another, debating various topics and ideas that help foster team camaraderie and spirit. McDonnell too spoke of various traditions her team holds and the bonding that takes place.
Just being able to get off campus and see a different place proves valuable as well. As Kriz elaborated, “Living at Vassar, or really any college, is sort of like living in a bubble. Traveling to other places reminds me that there are many different places out there in the real world. I try to keep that in mind when I’m back at Vassar, so I don’t spend all my time worrying about school.” Brainerd added, “Road trips are definitely nice for us because the Liberty League is comprised of a bunch of Vassar-like schools whose campuses are beautiful in the fall. It’s also comforting to be playing against students at other schools who you know are working hard in the classroom and not just focusing on their sport.”
This balance goes back to Vassar’s roots. Coach McCowan elaborates, “Matthew Vassar founded the school with an emphasis on whole mind-body learning, and that is what athletics provides: an opportunity to learn the physical demands and tactics of a sport, but much more the opportunity to really study oneself, how you handle success and failure, what the nature of the mind-body experience is, how motivation and goal setting function in a practical physical way, how to train, prepare and heal your body and mind.”