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ACADEMIC VS. ATHLETICS – balancing school, life & sports

The idea for the article is interesting because I was looking at how busy I am when writing stories and attending classes. It is baffling to me that people can do so much and still be successful in both athletics and academics at the same time.


It is five in the afternoon on a Thursday. Luckily, classes finished at noon, but you’ve had hardly any time at all today. You have been sitting in bed working on an assignment and have gotten quite a bit done in that time, but needed a change of pace, so now you are studying, or at least you would have been if you did not have Netflix open on the tab beside you. The growling in your stomach that you hoped would pass is more relentless than ever, so you look up to see how much time you have.

It is at this point that you realize you only have 20 minutes left to get back to the college, get changed and start practice for another two hours.

After that, you have plans with some of your friends on the team that you made a week ago, before this was even assigned. No idea how long you could be out for, but no matter what, it is not going to leave you much time to finish the assignment for tomorrow. Or the other one that is due Friday, when your team leaves for a six-hour road trip at noon, and your paper is due by two and you have got classes all morning.

This is the life of a collegiate athlete.

A lot of us find it next to impossible to balance our college education with the lives we have outside the school walls. They can seem to be constantly at war with one another, where sometimes you are sitting at home trying to finish that important project due tomorrow, and all you can think about is what your friends are up to on their night out. On the other hand, you can be out with friends and feel a little guilty for letting yourself down and not getting your stuff done.

“I had a great time being a part of the team and I don’t regret any minute of it. It just doesn’t make sense for me to keep trying to get back into it when all I’m doing is making it harder on me.”


For a lot of people, just being able to stay in shape while attending class and handing in work on time is too much to handle. Now imagine going to the gym to rehab an injury that you suffered during practices or even worse, imagine receiving a concussion, an injury that offers no possibility for rehab, an injury that affects your day to day life, an injury that can end sporting careers.

This is a reality for Garret Gillespie.

Gillespie started his college career as a Digital Communications and Media student at Lethbridge College, as well as being a member of the Lethbridge Kodiaks volleyball team. Unfortunately, in one of his first games of the season, an errand serve from one of his teammates caught him in the back of the head hard enough to give him a concussion, and he did not get a chance to hit the court again in his first season as a Kodiak. He still got to be a part of the team, however, as he was present during every single practice and road trip the team had, he missed classes in his first year of DCM,  a particularly busy course in the college. This, combined with foggy brain from his concussions, caused Gillespie to make a schooling change as he entered his second year.

“There were a lot of lectures and times where I was working on homework, staring at a computer for a long time where I just couldn’t seem to focus. I couldn’t find a way to process the things in front of me on screen. It made it really hard for me to keep up,” said Gillespie.

Now, taking up a different role as a student in the Exercise Science program, Gillespie tried to continue his career as a volleyball player in the middle of the court, but it was not meant to be. Continued concussions have caused him to quit the team after only three games this year.

You can often find him in the fitness centre at the college, continuing to put the work in to stay a healthy, active member of his program.

“I had a great time being a part of the team and I don’t regret any minute of it. It just doesn’t make sense for me to keep trying to get back into it when all I’m doing is making it harder on me.”

Gillespie’s experience is not unique. In May of 2014, the U.S. Department of Defense partnered with the NCAA to launch an extensive three year study on concussions, covering everything from the rates of concussions and the sports that are affected the most, all the way to recovery efforts made by student athletes. Around 37,000 students were studied in the three-year period and they all have found some shocking results. Out of college athletic events, wrestling was the hardest with about 10.9 concussions suffered every single year per 10,000 athletes.

Even though there’s a strict protocol on dealing with concussions in college athletics and any other form of sports for that matter, that does not stop concussions from causing permanent damage. Suffering a second concussion before the first has had a chance to fully heal can cause vascular congestion, which reduces the amount of blood that reaches the brain and increases intracranial pressure.

But increase in blood pressure is not the only form of pressure that students are put under. In fact, some students put extra pressure on themselves. Take Andre De Pires, a current member of the Kodiaks volleyball and soccer teams.

“There’s definitely sometimes where I have a hard time finding the time to do everything, but it usually just takes an all-nighter or two and I’m all caught up.”


At certain times of the year, the Brazilian is caught between his position at mid-field on the pitch and as the volleyball team’s libero, on top of all of his work and the hours spent every week in the gym. He is here on two separate scholarships.

“To be honest, I don’t find it all that busy through most of the year. I keep steady with soccer for a while, I keep steady with volleyball for a while. The only troubled area is in the fall when the two overlap for a couple weeks,” says Pires.

Only one day this year had a game scheduled for both the volleyball and soccer teams, which Pires decided to play with the volleyball team.

“We were already out of playoffs in soccer, so it just made sense starting the season off right with volleyball instead.”

Pires has not been at the top of his class thoughout his three years in college, but he hasn’t been a slacker of any kind either. To keep his grades solid though, it takes a lot of work on his end.

“There’s definitely sometimes where I have a hard time finding the time to do everything, but it usually just takes an all-nighter or two and I’m all caught up.”

Pires dedication has paid off, as he has accepted a full ride scholarship to play volleyball at Vancouver Island University this fall.

Surprisingly, a study done in Saudi Arabia took into account the academic performances of 102 undergraduate student-athletes, and even though these students actually had less time to spend on academics, the results showed an increase overall throughout the students in the three universities that were studied.

Of course, this study does not mention anything about the social aspect of being a part of the team. This is a part of the life that can either make or break a team as well as an athlete, and even more so when they come to college.

Athletes are the ones who are recognized just by walking through the college, but sometimes that can add a whole new pressure to them. When everyone knows your name and everyone is asking you ‘how’s your team is doing?’, ‘how’s the ankle?’, or the worst of them all, ‘what happened with you guys last night?’.

With an entire college asking you these questions, it can be hard for a new student to find people that they actually click with outside of the team, and if they don’t click with their team, then it makes things even worse and can eventually cause a great prospect to become a has-been very quickly.

“I’ve definitely heard some horror stories, but we’ve been lucky enough to not have to deal with it on our team since I’ve been here,” says Brad Karren, the coach of the Lethbridge College Kodiaks women’s basketball team that’s been on fire for the last three seasons.

“When we’re scouting, we’re not necessarily looking for the best players, we’re looking for the players that fit together the best. Team chemistry can trump talent nine times out of 10,” said Karren.

The women’s team is a prime example of how well a social life can help an athlete in their college careers, as they gel together extremely well.

They even get together every single Monday to watch The Bachelor.

So maybe balancing athletics, college, and social lives isn’t the best way to look at things, because it seems like the ones who are successful in all three are the ones that let them bleed together a little bit, the ones that can make easy friends with their teammates and learn from one another both in the arena and in the classroom.

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