The Real Life of a College Athlete

Key Terms:

Athlete Ethnography Challenges Benefits

To: The Captain’s Log
From: Connor Martin, Trent Saflin
1115 Country Club, Newport News, VA 23606 ­ Subject: The Real Life of a Collegiate Athlete
Date:l May 23, 2016

The purpose of this ethnographic study is to raise awareness and to gather qualitative data on the unseen side of being a college athlete. The data for the study will be retrieved from student athletes of Christopher Newport University.

Being a college athlete (student athlete) is no easy task. There are a little over 460,000 college students that play a sport while attending a Division I, II, or III university in North America. Many people see the glory an athlete receives when he or she scores a touchdown or hits a homerun. What is not seen is the early morning workouts or the long nights spent trying to stay on top of homework. The goal of this project is to show the unglorified side of being a college athlete. There are many things the public does not see these athletes go through. The two interviews in the project provide information on what it was like to play at CNU. Some topics of discussion include how to balance school, sports, and social life. There are many things that a college athlete misses out on, but also many things that they have the privilege of experiencing. The data obtained from this ethnographic study will bring awareness to people who have not experienced what it really means to be a college athlete.


In this study, we will be discussing three vital questions that are frequently asked by individualsoutside of sports regarding collegiate athletes. There are many negative associations that our culture has shaped about being a college athlete. Some of these examples and phrases include:

­ ”You only got into college because you play a sport”“You’re just a dumb jock”

“You’re just a dumb jock”

After reading this article, we hope that you will have a better appreciation of collegiate athletes and their work ethic. Throughout the process and construction of this ethnography, we interviewed current and former college athletes. The interviewees consisted of both male and female subjects. Through this approach, we came to a realization that people do not fully understand the life and work load of collegiate athletes and how demanding playing a sport while attending school actually is.

In this qualitative analysis, we asked open ended questions to the interviewees to grasp a deepinterpretation and to make correlations between answers. The three questions that we asked are as follows:

  1. What were/are the challenges with being a collegiate athlete (Balancing school, a collegiate sport, and social life)?
  2. How does the off season differ from in­season?
  3. What are the benefits of being a College Athlete?

Each response was different. For the analysis we interviewed one male and one female. Both of these athletes currently attend Christopher Newport University.

The theory behind this particular study is to qualitatively examine culture through an ethnographic perspective. An ethnography is an extensive method that looks at different behaviors, beliefs, and language throughout an entire culture group. The culture group that is used in our study is the difference between Christopher Newport student athletes and non­athletes. The participants in this observation are asked about their daily schedules and how they positively or negatively affect them as a Captain. The culture of a student athlete is very unique and has many different qualities pertaining to the title. We had a series of base questions that each person was asked, but was able to go into further about other aspects they felt were important when it came to being a student athlete. This is what we were aiming for to obtain the best possible data.

The method of data collection was from personal interviews both Trent and I conducted. The questions we asked were pertaining to the things athletes go through behind closed doors. The questions asked were worded in such a way in order to branch off into further discussion. These answers were unique to each individual and were good for specific results. The questions allowed for more subjective answers from the people that we interviewed. We feel that these interviews gave the optimal result for our project.

Trenton Burdick
As a resident of Staunton, Virginia, Mr. Burdick is a former kicker on the Christopher Newport football team. Mr. Burdick has played sports his entire life and has also played basketball and soccer throughout his career. Football is the only sport that Mr. Burdick has played at the collegiate level. Mr. Burdick’s responses are listed below. Mr. Burdick is currently a rising Junior.

Hannah Miller
As a resident of Palmyra, Virginia, Ms. Miller is a current member of the Christopher Newport volleyball team. She has played volleyball all of her life at many different levels of competition. Ms. Miller is currently a rising senior.


What were/are the challenges of being a collegiate athlete (balancing school, a collegiate sport, and social life)?
Trenton Burdick: You can say it was a bit of a shock when I transitioned from being a high school athlete to a college athlete. Coming from where I did (Staunton) gave me the classic case of “being a big fish in a small pond”. The difference in the expectations of performance was my first true challenge. In high school I was able to coast through practices and half­ass many of the drills. Practice in college consists of being on your game a hundred percent of the time. Doing this took me a little while to understand. Next, was the notion that everyone else on the team is just as good or even better. Making a name for myself and skills was not an easy thing to do by any means. In order to succeed, I had to exert much more effort into everything involving the sport. This lead me to balancing school, sports, and a social life. This was not an easy task. At first I was totally focused on the school and social aspect of things. This led me to having less than desirable grades at first worrying my parents. I tried to change things up and this ended up leading me to doing well in school and in football, but gave me no social life. I was either in study hall, class, or on the field. It was good that I was able to do well in school and in football, but I was still trying to have a good college experience socially. Eventually, I was able to figure out how to balance all three but it took me well over a year to figure out. Overall, I quickly realized that being a collegiate athlete consisted of a lot more than just playing a sport. As well as noticing how big football is to the American culture. Masses amounts of young people strive to play football at the collegiate level.

How does the off­season differ from in­season?

Trenton Burdick: The off­season is much different than being in­season. People who decided not to pursue sports further than high school and people who just don’t play sports probably don’t understand how much goes into playing a sport at the college level. It is a yearly thing. The football off season is probably harder than being in season. This is because the majority of the time practice/conditioning is held at 5:30 in the morning and you are still expected to perform your best in the classroom the rest of the day. Often times, the public sees football players as being glorified and boastful. This is because of the work that is put in, but the 10 to 12 games that are played are the only times that the hard work is recognized. Overall, the off season is harder than being in season because there is a lot more work that is put in for a lot less recognition.

What are the benefits of being a College Athlete?

Trenton Burdick: While playing a sport in college is physically and mentally demanding, there are still many benefits. I know that I enjoyed having an instant friend group. The guys on the team were going through the same things that I was and had similar hardships. This gave us a different relationship and ultimately made us a tighter knit group. Another perk of being a college athlete was getting the gear that came along with being on the team. Shirts, shorts, pants and many other things. This made it so I didn’t have to buy as many clothes. The main thing that I thought was a benefit of being a college athlete was playing in collegiate level games. The atmosphere of playing in a game at the college level cannot be beat, even at a Division III school. The intensity and knowledge that everyone is there to see you play makes all the hard work worth it in the end. Football is very glorified in this country, but that is usually a bad thing because it means the spotlight is on you. The benefits of being a college athlete are nice, but the negative aspects can often times outweigh the positive ones. There is always negative press on the big names in football and other sports. I feel this is because there is more expected out of that person. This just means that you always have to make good decisions and watch your back. Being a college athlete is a very unique experience to say the least.

What were/are the challenges with being a collegiate athlete (balancing school, a collegiate sport, and social life)?
Hannah Miller: Being a collegiate athlete while being very rewarding, has also showed me that time management is very difficult and something that I was not used to. Coming in my freshman year was a bit of a wake­up call, I struggled in all of my classes first semester because playing a sport is so demanding and tiring both physically and mentally. Even though you are required to go to two study halls for ninety minutes each, that still didn’t help with having to account for time. I had classes all day then, right after class I had practice from 3­6, then you have to eat dinner, take a shower, and before you know, it’s nine and you haven’t even started your readings and projects for the next day. This was just so overwhelming in the beginning and would take time to learn how to correctly balance this new life style. The second major challenge I was faced with was playing in general. There was only one high school in my county so I was always the standout, and it wasn’t till I got to CNU (where I wasn’t as good as I thought I was in high school) that I truly began to understand. Even though I got scouted to play here, it was very intimidating to play beside seniors that were All Americans and who had went to the Final Four (Nationals) the year before. I felt like I was drowning under the more experienced players. This was a critical point in any Collegiate athletes life, you come in not knowing what is acceptable and the rules you have to follow. Its when you realize you aren’t a child anymore and you have to make choices on your own and if you mess up then you’ll suffer many consequences. For myself, I realized this very early and made it over that initial growing pain.

How does the off season differ from in­season?

Hannah Miller: The off season for volleyball is much like what Trenton has already explained. Yes, we don’t have games that are every other day and practice every day but for my team we have more practice two times a week at 5:30 and then we go straight to lifting afterward till 9am. Many of us then have class at 9:30
3pm so we are going all day. The best part about our off season for volleyball is that we have weekends back. In season, we play in a tournament every weekend, so we don’t get much of a social life and we have dry seasons (no alcohol) which sucks! Off season is also a time to bond with the team and get to know each other on a deeper level besides just volleyball. So every Tuesday we get together and do a fun activity such as going to the movies, or making food. Outside of volleyball spring season (off season for us) is when we are able to get really involved with other clubs and organizations. So I spend a lot of time putting my energy into my sorority since I pretty much abandon them when I’m in season. Over all, Spring season is a lot of work without much reward but you are also able to have a lot more freedom with your time, which for myself I really enjoy.

What are the benefits of being a College Athlete?

Hannah Miller: There are many benefits of being a collegiate athlete. First off, I already had a friend group coming into college, which for me was awesome because it made the initial shock of leaving home and my family not as bad. While being on a team, you get a lot of free things, like apparel. Over the three years I have played I have gained about thirty shirts, five pairs of shoes, and a lot of athletic gear. That the most exciting part at the beginning of each season is when we get all our new apparel for the year. Since our team is pretty small and we fundraise a lot in the off season, we spend a majority of the money towards one big plane trip every season. We have been to Chicago, Boston and Colorado the three years I have played. The trip is always somewhere that we have to fly to, and we always to a fun activity while we are there. which is awesome because who wouldn’t like a free trip to these places? Other than getting a lot of free things, being an athlete in college just teaches you a lot of life lessons and you learn a lot about yourself. I wouldn’t trade it for the world!


In Conclusion:

Being a collegiate athlete is something that has to be experienced first hand. Often times people like to think they know what it is like but they will not truly understand until they experience it. There is a lot of unseen work that goes into playing a sport at this level. This is why there are less than 500,000 studentathletes in the nation. Athletics in college are not for everyone. It is more than just a physical event. Collegiate athletes do not always get the appreciation that they deserve. This can be seen in almost all of the games that are held. There are always people who think they can play better or have an input on how the game should be run. There are a lot more athletes that do not get paid as well. The number of student athletes that get paid is significantly smaller than the ones that do. While free education would be nice for all, this is just not a possibility. Overall, collegiate athletics is an experience that cannot be fully understood by the outside. It was good to see another perspective of someone else who plays a different sport in college. This allowed for beneficial comparisons and contrast.

Useful Sites­athletes­ethnography.htm


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