For athletes, sports are a way of life. While for some, sports are merely a diversion on a Sunday afternoon, for others it’s a daily obsession. At the varsity level, it’s the latter, as Brock University’s own athletes spend every day either training, playing, or preparing for their next game.
“The game” isn’t just important to the athletes itself though, it carries a massive importance beyond the stadiums, the stands and the living rooms of eager fans: sports play an important role in bringing people together on global, national, regional – and even campus level.
Professional sports leagues, and varsity sports around the world bring thousands of people together into crowded stadiums to watch, with millions more tuning in at home. Even when it’s kids playing in a house league, it brings families together to watch. Later, in high school and university, sports bring the student-body together to create an atmosphere for the athletes.
For some though, high school was the last of sports. While people may still play intramurals in post-secondary, or join a “beer-league”, none of those are the same as the competition that comes along with being an athlete first.
For those athletes that have managed to make it to a team at the varsity level, they are not only skilled enough to have made it this far, but they literally stand on the precipice between amateur and professional. This chance, even if it is just a chance, to make it to the “big leagues” drives varsity – and more specifically our Badger athletes to bleed, sweat and cry in order to make it to the next level.
For Brock athletes, schedules are all over the place and students often have to build their academics (and social lives, for that matter) around the varsity sports they play. Have you ever wondered how student-athletes around Brock handle their day to day lives? How much time they spend towards their respective sport? How much free time they really have? Or how a player prepares for a game? We’ve talked to some of Brock’s best athletes, across a variety of teams to provide you with some answers.
“People underestimate the commitment to play on a varsity team,” said Johneil Simpson of the Brock men’s basketball team. “You see it a lot in try-outs, there are guys that you can tell don’t play basketball at a high-level, but they come out anyway because they don’t realize the hard work and effort it actually takes to build a good program, build a culture and actually win.”
If one thing is true for Brock athletes, it’s that the “game” doesn’t end at the buzzer, and the stress and drive of representing the university in a sport is ever-present.
“People forget the stuff we do outside of the court,” said Kira Cornelissen, member of the Brock women’s basketball team. “We do conditioning outside of practice and we lift outside of practice.”
Certain stereotypes about student-athletes are often prevalent, describing them as “jocks”, however, in order to survive in school while being on a team is a massive commitment. You have to juggle a lot, so leaving assignments to the last minute or slacking off during open hours isn’t on the table.
For Ryan Purvis and the Brock Men’s Hockey team, their schedule is built around having practice every day from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
“Having practice in the middle of the day is consequential,” said Purvis. “It’s all about time management and knowing when you can do something. You also have to learn you can’t say yes to everything.”
“Practice. Eat. Sleep School,” agreed Dani Elgadi of the Men’s Basketball team. “For us, when we know we have a lot of free time, we know there’s something wrong.”
Brock Women’s Hockey player, Brenna Murphy, is a unique situation when it comes to schedules. Murphy is a second-year student in co-op accounting – a program that is just as demanding of time as her sport. Unlike some student-athletes who may take three or four credits per semester, and who often spread their degrees across a five year period, Murphy is forced to take five credits every semester in a four-and-a-half year program.
“Normally I have class from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. then I have to be at the rink for 1:00 p.m. for practice. After that, I either have class or go home to study,” said Murphy. “Next semester is going to be different, because I’m to going to be in co-op. I’m in a placement where they’re really accommodating – even if I have to leave for a few hours in the middle of the day for practice.”
Student-athletes are battling a tight schedule all the time. From school to practice back to school or going home for work. Even having games on the weekends for a majority of the time – sometimes having to travel – leave athletes a seven-day per week schedule.
Brock athletes rely on Jesse Barraza, the student-athlete service coordinator to make sure their schedules run smoothly.. Barraza is in charge of making sure the athletes school schedule does not conflict with practice times, and that everyone is on track of the credits they need. The athletes are also reliant on tutors to help get through the grind of school work, but there’s more that goes into being athlete than just school.
“A lot of people might not know the extra cost for athletes,” said Terri Weeks, a captain on the Brock Curling team. “We don’t get quite as much funding, so we put a lot of additional costs for our membership fees, along with tutors.”
Every varsity team is given different funding from the school, meaning at times students must also pitch in their own money along with tuition costs, books, food and other living needs.
“Most of the time we don’t get a hotel so we have to drive from here to wherever we are going,” said Weeks.
Beyond the time commitment, though, despite popular assumptions: being a student athlete is inseparably connected to self-control. It’s not a game, it’s not just a sport, it’s a lifestyle.
For the Women’s Hockey team, the program has a 48 hour rule in place about alcohol. New incoming coaches for the team, Margot Page and Sara Bauer, restrict members of the team from drinking any alcohol up to 48 hours prior to any hockey activity, including practices.
“I think it is beneficial because when you do go out drinking you literally feel so bad [the next day],” said Murphy. “I think it’s a team thing. We are given a list of the rules [after tryouts] and if you don’t buy into the culture of the team, you’re not going to be on the team.”
Team culture is important: these type of rules, may be restrictive, but they also have a tendency to bring the team together. Murphy highlighted that this year’s Women’s Hockey team is a really tight group compared to previous seasons. Additionally, Elgadi of the Men’s Basketball team mentioned that their team is so close that some of the guys on their team live together and they spend a lot of extra-curricular time with each other as well.
“It’s fun, we kind of just hang out and get a coach bus to ourselves,” said Captain of the Women’s Volleyball team, Karlinna O’Leary, regarding travel days for teams.
“All athletes know what we are going through during the year,” said Purvis. “It helps us out knowing other people are going through the same thing, it’s not just one person or one team. All the teams have to balance their schedules.”
Once the school week is over, however, the athletes have to change their mindset to the games ahead on the weekend. After a week full of going from school to practice, the athletes need to focus on what they have been working for all week and what they play for.
“I wake up at around 9:00 a.m., have a big breakfast, go to the school, shoot around with the team and go home to take a nap,” said Cornelissen. “Then I come back to the school and get taped and go out an hour before the game.”
“I try to get a good night sleep beforehand and have a good breakfast,” said Tori Carroll of the Women’s Volleyball team. “We usually come here two hours early before a game and have our team meeting and go over game tape. [We] get mentally prepared and then we are on the court an hour early.”
“I try to stay pretty focused, however, I’m one of the captains, so I have to also encourage everyone,” said Murphy. “I can’t be too goofy because we also have to focus on the game. Normally [before we go on the ice] I just pass a ball around with a teammate in addition to a little bit of dancing in the dressing room.”
Every athlete talked about needing a “goodnight’s” rest to be able to have a good start to their day when preparing for a game. Most woke up to make sure they had a solid breakfast, and according to the athletes, pre-game meals often greatly contributed to their performance. However, the most important part is to be ready at least an hour before the game in order to get their emotions in check.
“Coach has a saying that, ‘if a game were to start an hour before, you guys should be ready to go,’ and that’s our philosophy,” said Elgadi. “We are in the other gym shooting around, stretching and seeing our athletic trainer and getting our mind in the zone.”
Those “butterflies in the stomach” before a game that existed back in house league doesn’t necessarily go away for varsity, or even professional athletes. So, along with getting prepared all week at practice, athletes at Brock are seeing the importance of preparing mentally to deal with the anxiety and pressure that comes with a spot on a school team.
“Every game I get nervous,” said Cornelissen in regards to feelings prior to a game. “It does not matter if we are playing one of the worst teams or one of the best teams. Once I start playing I forget about [the nerves] and turn that nervous energy into excitement.”
“On our team I’m like the cheerleader or the jokester, so before games I’m always smiling and laughing,” said Weeks. “Before a big game I do get butterflies, but when you get on the ice, it goes away and you just play the game.”
Simpson, of the Men’s Basketball team handles it a little different saying, “it’s not really butterflies, more anxious to get out there to show how hard you’ve been working the whole week.”
Beyond just tutors and coaches, though, there is a lot of supporting effort that goes into making each player on a team successful. In particular, “sports psychology” has really advanced for varsity teams at Brock, where those in that field come and talk to the athletes in order to help them prepare psychologically. Then during practices, on off-days and prior to games athletes spend a lot of time around their team trainer to stay “loose” and healthy. School facilities like the hot tub and sauna also help the athletes stay loose throughout the week.
The athletes also look ahead to their one or two off-days to achieve what they can’t when they are stuck at school and in the gym or at the rink. Off-days are their chance to regroup and regain strength in their body, but more importantly make sure they get school work done.
“Thursday’s is the one day I get to sleep in past 8:00 a.m.,” said Purvis. “It’s kind of like an energy day. Try to get my energy back before the weekend games. Any school work I can I get ahead – case studies and lab reports due the following week.”
“We don’t really have off-days,” said O’Leary. “I’d say Sunday’s, so [we] catch up on school, work and rest.”
“I normally try not to do anything,” said Murphy, in terms of her off-days. “Most of the time when we do have off-days we go help out in the community, or we catch up on homework and rest.”
It’s not odd for student-athletes to very active around Brock and the community. Murphy spent a weekend this November that the hockey team had no games helping out at the Brock open house. In the past, the Men’s Basketball team has been known to volunteer at soup kitchens. Also some of the athletes are also part of other organizations around campus. For example, Cornelissen is part of Brock’s Special Needs Activity Program (SNAP).
At the end of the day, we try to look at student-athletes and think they are on a free ride for post-secondary and get away with school as athletics is there number one priority. However, after talking with the athletes, the number one thing that was concluded was that they must prioritize their school work.
Throughout the week they go from class to practice and try to find the times they are “free” to get school work done ahead of time. They may or may not have off-days, but even then they spend it towards looking after their own healthy and making sure they catch up on rest. Then on weekends, games take up a majority of their time, taking away from the social life.
Student-athletes get to live the dream of playing university sports, but they also have it much harder than we give them credit for. The title of “student-athlete” has a more meaningful association when you truly understand the often gruelling day to day lives on the student-athletes.
“The most underestimated part is we have a blast,” said Elgadi. “We have a great time. They say you don’t have a social life as an athlete, but we manage. We want to get to a place where we are winning and being a successful program. We work together as a team. We are like a family.”