Playing a college sport is a joy that many athletes share and is a difficult challenge which yields great rewards for all involved. Division III has its own unique challenges and rewards when compared to Division I & II. For one, Division III athletes are not playing on athletic scholarship. Participants at this level play for the love of their sport in a different way than Division II and I do. The smaller scale of the sport and athletics in general in DIII does not mean that the athletes love their sport any less than their peers at other NCAA levels. There are 3 things playing a Division III sport has taught me.
Balancing time between academics, sports, and social life
A big challenge in college is what to do with the vast amounts of free time. Class schedules vary, but for the most part, students and athletes alike have a good amount of free time. However, most athletes have less free time than regular students with all the mandatory practices, conditioning sessions, and workouts on their own. Time is limited and athletes must balance their athletics with schoolwork and social life. Choosing to do homework before practice sometimes might pay dividends as after a physically exhausting day it may be harder to find the motivation to read or study. Social life in Division III is a difficult challenge for some athletes. They see their peers enjoying themselves on some weekends when athletes know they will have to miss out to go to a morning practice perhaps, or a game the next day. Even though it may be hard in the moment, athletes should remember there will always be other opportunities to socialize and be with friends, but the sport they play should come first in a lot of situations. If you take care of what you are supposed to do on the field or on the court, then everything else will fall in line, including your social activities. Friends will understand if you exclude yourself from an activity, as you are not necessarily choosing something over them, it is just how you are using your time at the moment.
Remembering why you play the game
Sure, all DIII athletes would love to play in front of thousands of fans every game, but most of the time this is not the case. Even without big crowds, or the top-notch facilities that other Division I programs may have, DIII participants should keep in mind some of the reasons they play the sports they love. Enjoying what you do should be at the top of the list. Having fun doing something that you love should be something that does not need a big crowd watching to reward you. Improving and growing with your teammates is such a rewarding experience. To see how grow you as an individual player as well as the rest of your team throughout the course of a season is hard to describe but it is one of the more fulfilling progressions in playing a sport. You don’t need to have a scholarship or label of a “D1” athlete to experience this either.
Preparing you for challenges later in life
Facing challenges is something that athletes will experience in any sport. Going through a slump, trying to work their way up the depth chart, lack of playing time, coaches being hard on players – are only some of the challenges that a college athlete can experience. DIII athletes should never feel discouraged that they are on a different level of college sports compared to DI and DII, but view what they do in a different way. A lot of times in sports, and in life, people improve themselves when nobody is watching. Athletes get better practicing on their own, not in front of a crowd, and DIII there is less personal instruction in the off-season from coaches. There are fewer opportunities to be worked individually with a coach due to NCAA constraints. This doesn’t mean coaches can’t help athletes; it is just different than Division I. But this means that DIII athletes who want to excel put most of the work in on their own, practicing their skills and abilities without supervision. Translating these self-motivating skills to after college when these athletes have jobs is incomparable. Putting in extra time into jobs and tasks will make for successes in work much like successes experienced in sports. Similar to balancing social life and athletics, choices will evolve in the future for college athletes, choosing between personal time, work time, and family time. Being able to balance these various responsibilities is a difficult skill but it is valuable asset to cultivate during their collegiate athletic experience.
DIII Athletes should always remember that even though their recognition may be different than other Divisions in college sports, their contributions to their teams as well as the lessons they learn could never be replaced. If Division 1 does not workout for a prospective player, never underestimate the positives that can come out of playing a D3 sport.