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    A Blog from GradHacker and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online

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Graduate School for the College Athlete

How to apply the lessons learned during an undergraduate athletic career to the pursuit of the Ph.D.

August 31, 2015
 

DeWitt Scott is a doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership at Chicago State University.  You can follow him on Twitter @dscotthighered.

Conversations on the role of sports in higher education have never been as popular, and in some cases explosive, as in recent times. We are constantly reading about instances of academic fraud among athletes, the questionable decision-making of NCAA leadership, the right, or lack thereof, of college athletes to be paid, and the questioning of the need for big-time college sports at all. These conversations often overlook the college athletes who are as serious about their performance in the classroom as they are about their performance on the playing field.

 

As a former Division I basketball player, I am fully aware of the culture of college sports and the ways, both moral and immoral, in which this culture is navigated.  College athletes develop skills from their experiences that can and will benefit them tremendously down the line.  As for those considering pursuing a Ph.D., here are some ways in which these skills can assist you in graduate school.

 

1.  Competition.  Graduate school is filled with high-achievers.  Everyone around you has done something that is absolutely amazing and awesome during his or her academic and professional careers.  This can be intimidating to some students, particularly those that are just beginning a graduate program.   As a former college athlete, you already understand a key principle of competition: run your own race.  Your greatest competition is yourself.  The moment you begin to compare yourself to others you will lose focus on the ultimate goal.  Each day, try to outdo yourself and be better than you were the day before.  If you focus on topping yourself, you will ultimately become stellar in your own right, regardless of what those around you are doing.

 

2.  Goal-setting.  College athletes are forced to set goals daily, whether you want to or not.  You understand the importance of having ambitious, measurable goals that guide your everyday actions.  Applying this understanding to graduate school will benefit you tremendously.  Goal-setting will keep you on track and force you to hold yourself accountable.  Not reaching your goals will force you to rethink your plan of attack.  Whether large or incremental, setting concrete, specific goals is key in graduate school, just as it was in your collegiate athletic career.

 

3.  Adversity.  Sports are filled with adverse experiences.  Season or career-threatening injuries are always a possibility.  Losing streaks can occur at any time.  Just within the course of a particular game or competition, you can encounter a number of highs and lows in the form of lead changes, comebacks, turnovers, and meltdowns.  Graduate school is one big test in adversity.  Not every day will be great.  Some assignments and projects will not get the grades you thought they would get.  Regardless of what happens, you will need to accept the situation and not let it hinder your progress.  As an athlete you understood that one bad game or poor performance, while painful, is not the end of the world.  The same is true about a bad grade, rejected article, or negative evaluation.  I guarantee you the world will not end and you will have the chance to learn from your mistakes.

 

4.  Staying the course.  Game-time strategies don’t always seem effective at the beginning of the game or competition, but can garner a win if maintained in the long run.  The same is true for graduate school.  There are some research and writing methods or concepts with which you may struggle in the beginning.  It will be easy to say “this isn’t working, time to do something else,” but that may not be correct.  Stay the course and understand that the lack of success initially may change in the long run as you continue to perfect and apply this new method, concept, thought, or approach.

 

5.  Accepting criticism.  College coaches can be brutal.  Not every coach is a Mike Rice or Bobby Knight, but most are not shy about telling you what you did wrong, why you did it wrong, and where you can go if you do it wrong again.  Trust me when I say that after accepting sharp “criticism” from some of the coaches you have encountered in collegiate athletics, receiving feedback on a rejected article from an arrogant, detached reviewer will be a breeze.

 

6.  Winning like a champion.  Arguably the most important lesson learned in sports that can be applied to graduate school, and life in general, is the idea of winning like a champion.  As an athlete you understand that success and prosperity is not guaranteed and oftentimes can be fleeting.  The individual that is up today can be down tomorrow.  Considering this, it is important to know that success in your academic career, and profession in general, is not something to gloat and brag about.  No one likes a sore winner, and fortunes can always change.  Accept your success for what it is: the fortune of your preparation meeting opportunity, and communicate it as such when addressing colleagues and constituents.

 

As a college athlete, particularly basketball and football players, no one expects you to take academics seriously or to pursue further education after undergrad.  Not many are aware that you are more prepared to excel in graduate school and beyond than most undergraduates.  Draw from your athletic experiences to advance your academic and professional career.  You’ve become accustomed to pushing yourself and giving it your all and continuing that habit and approach in graduate school can bring you more success than you’ve ever imagined.

 

Any former college athletes-turned-doctorate-recipients that have advice on transferable skills?  What are other ways that college athletes can apply skills and habits learned from sports to graduate school?

 

[Photo courtesy of Google Images user https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina_State_University and used under a Creative Commons license.]

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