Tri-season athletes: The search for balance

Any Eph can relate to the three-ring circus that is maintaining a balanced life at Williams. Perhaps one of the most time-consuming – and underestimated – instances of this juggling act are those masters of compromise and time management, the tri-season athletes. Come rain, snow or the rare oppressive heat, these students are living life with books in one hand and the hockey stick – or soccer ball, or football – in the other. How do these Ephs manage to throw three seasons of sports into the mix on a campus where over committing oneself to academic pursuits and organizations is the norm rather than a feat?

“There are certainly nights you don’t get enough sleep,” said Kristen Tubbs ’12, who plays golf in the fall and the spring but picks up a stick to compete as a forward for ice hockey during the winter.

Lizzy Danhakl ’11, a powerhouse for women’s soccer and a runner in both indoor and outdoor track, agrees with Tubbs that sleep is often forsaken when trying to balance academics, sports and a social life on top of other activities. “I must admit that the first thing that gets sacrificed is probably sleep,” she said. “But I find on days where we don’t have practices, I end up getting to bed just as late or even later despite the free time.”

Tubbs, Danhakl and Stew Buck ’09 – who runs indoor and outdoor track and is also a standout wide receiver on the football team – all agree that while it seems counterintuitive, playing three seasons of sports motivates them to be much more productive. Having more structured activities to take up the day just forces them to be more organized when it comes to studying. “I know where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing during each part of the day, and I get my work done because I don’t have time to procrastinate,” Buck said.

Danhakl reiterated that point. “I find that the structured schedule is really an advantage,” she said. “Speaking as someone with some procrastination tendencies, I find that I am able to be much more productive if I only have a certain block of time allotted for doing homework, readings and assignments.”

Having a block of practice time every day for three seasons motivates tri-season athletes to adjust their study skills successfully, but after the practices and papers are done, little time remains for anything else. Not only do fall, winter and spring sports require afternoon practices each day but many teams travel or host events almost every weekend. Other hobbies and interests have the potential to fall to the wayside.

“I volunteer at the Berkshire Farm Center and Youth Services once a week. I wish I could go more often, but there just isn’t enough time,” Tubbs said. “I will be starting at the Berkshire Nursing Home sometime in March. Volunteering has always been something I enjoy, but fitting it in since I have been at Williams has been challenging to say the least.”
Similarly, Danhakl and Buck have found themselves giving up activities that they enjoy in order to prioritize their respective sports and their academic life. “I used to sing in the choir in high school and was thinking about maybe joining an a cappella group here, but there just isn’t enough time in the day,” Danhakl said. “I miss singing, but sports are what I love.”
Buck explained that athletes sometimes have to sacrifice other interests and activities not only because of time, but also because of the threats they may pose. “I haven’t really been able to go snowboarding in the last four, or really eight, years because of winter sports,” Buck said. “I’ve been snowboarding since I was nine, and my sister lives in Big Sky, Mont., which has great riding – one of the hardest things for me has been not having time to go out and visit. The few times I’ve been able to go out west, I’ve always had to be really cautious not to put myself in situations in which I could hurt myself – it’d be pretty irresponsible of me to chuck myself off a cliff when my teammates are expecting me to show up for practice the next week.”

Social life qualifies as another area that may not receive all due attention in the name of competing in collegiate sports throughout the entire year – and that’s the same regardless of whether you are an upperclassman with an established social group or a first-year trying to soak up all that entry life offers. “I missed a ton of entry events early on,” Tubbs said. “I really didn’t start meeting people outside of my teams until mid-October. Fortunately, my entry was great about it and made the transition very easy.”

On the flip side is the fact that often times belonging to a team can facilitate and cement a college social scene. “Coming in as a freshman, I already had about 20 best friends before school had even started, and playing on two teams year-round means there’s always someone who knows what’s going on in your life; there’s always someone to talk to who understands,” Danhakl said.

“You spend so much time with [your teammates] that they become almost like a second family,” Tubbs said.

In addition to solidifying enviable time-management skills, these athletes have also become capable of moving seamlessly from their fall sport to their winter sport to their spring sport and incorporating the varying training each requires. “Although soccer and track are both running-intensive sports, my training definitely differs from season to season,” Danhakl said. “During soccer, we focus more on team tactics and working together as a unit rather than increasing our mileage. With track, we definitely increase our mileage and focus less on team tactics and more on individual racing strategies.”

Similarly, Tubbs finds that training for golf and ice hockey requires two very different approaches. “Hockey requires full body strength, endurance, strong skating abilities – golf is a lot more focused on the mental aspects,” Tubbs said. “There isn’t really much of a crossover; they both require such different skills.”

Buck, however, finds that track and football go hand in hand for him. “I started running back in eighth grade because I wanted to get faster for football,” he said. “In all honesty, I believe that every ‘super skill’ player (wide receiver, defensive back, running back) should run track in the off-season. It will only make them better.”

In anyone’s life, college certainly provides opportunities to become as well-rounded as possible. Seizing these opportunities and making the most of every day comprises an ability that tri-season athletes know as well as anyone. Balancing non-athletic commitments and interests with three seasons of sports is challenging and at times downright exhausting, but arguably allows them to live their collegiate lives to the fullest.