Column: My experience as a student athlete

Club rugby player, France native Louis Ricard weighs in on balancing sports, school

By Louis Ricard | 8/20/17 10:10pm


College is a big melting pot. It's a combination of people from all over the world with different cultures, different agendas and different perspectives all gathered in one place with hopes of fulfilling their dreams.

Students form groups based on mutual interest, which could be their major, their religious beliefs, their political beliefs or, for some, a shared passion for an activity.

The two core groups found in most universities are Greek Life and student athletes.

I am part of the second group. I have been playing club rugby for Grand Valley State University since my freshman year, which makes me an official student athlete.

People tend to forget the term “student” when they think of college athletes. To be fair, some of the things said by popular players coming out of Division 1 programs have not helped our image.

When former Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones said, “We ain’t here to play school,” it outlined a major issue in the world of college sports: Academics are often put second to the product on the field.

Not all student athletes are like this. At GVSU, most of our athletes happen to be great on the field and in the classroom. For example, Katarina Samardzija, a tennis player for GVSU, launched her own business while attending GVSU this past spring.

Student athletes are similar to any other student. We do not use our practice of a sport as an excuse, but as motivation. Being able to do something I love in college is a privilege, and I treat it as such.

But it does come with a price. I have a packed schedule from Monday through Saturday. Once again, most college students encounter this issue.

I see it as a more intense lifestyle. It's one that forbids me to be bored at any time, while also teaching me how to appreciate the calm before the storm of midterms week or finals week. Some of my peers may agree when I say that playing a sport helps me with my academic work. Putting all my energy in a physical activity enables me to relieve all the stress that tends to accumulate over school, bills or other emergencies.

In this melting pot, it is hard to find a place where we all fit in. It is one of the main struggles college students have to face.

I met most of my friends while playing rugby at GVSU. My three roommates are also my teammates. The rugby team is occupying a major place in my life, both schedule-wise and emotionally.

There is this phrase my coach always uses to describe the mentality of our club: “Once you step onto this field, you’ll always be part of our family.” That is the defining term when we refer to a team: family.

The life of a student athlete is similar to anyone else’s in college, except for one thing. I’ve never felt prouder than when I get to put on the blue-and-white jersey representing my school. There is nothing like it.

On the other hand, representing my school does not stop when I’m off the field, nor does it for any other student athlete. Everything matters: grades, attendance, behavior. We are expected to excel inside the classroom just as much as we are on the field.

As much as I love rugby, education is my top priority, and it’s that way for all of my teammates, even our coach, who will excuse us from practice if school comes into play.

As entertained as I was when he said those words, I’d have to disagree with Jones: I am in fact here to “play school.”

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