Emory women’s soccer team, Fall 2021. (Courtesy of Lin Yu)

I won’t sugarcoat it – being a student-athlete at Emory University is tough. Knowing what to expect can make the start of a new journey less daunting. The beginning is always scary; you have no idea what your new life will look like and whom you may come across. But coming from a student-athlete, trust me when I tell you that you are about to experience the best years of your life. 

When I first arrived at Emory, I was terrified. I told myself, ‘just go into it with an open mind’ and ‘get excited! You’re so lucky to even have this opportunity.’ Yet, I couldn’t ignore the overbearing feelings of anxiety. I was that much more nervous because I didn’t go to a special academy for sports, attend countless college camps or showcases or play club soccer in high school. I was your typical high school athlete at a school that did well in soccer but never won a championship. I felt like an outsider before I even arrived. 

What I didn’t know is that once I got to Emory, all the nerves would melt away and turn into feelings of excitement. I quickly realized that I wasn’t in this alone and that the older girls have been in my shoes as the angsty incoming freshmen. From the moment you arrive, everyone will do their best to try to make you excited and comfortable. 

After breaking the ice with your teammates, coaches and athletics staff, you will get into the swing of things. Your days as a student-athlete are busy and you will oftentimes find yourself exhausted and consuming three cups of coffee a day (or maybe that’s just me), but you will eventually find a routine that works for you. In order to expedite that process, I suggest identifying your priorities. 

For me, academics and soccer were my top two. I planned my days around class, studying and practice. Being a student-athlete is a major advantage because besides the merchandise and access to amazing facilities, you have a built-in schedule that forces you to be productive and a master at time management. With that schedule, you can see when you have your free time to explore your other interests. 

I knew I wanted to join different clubs as a way to meet people with similar hobbies. I joined The Emory Wheel to expand my writing skills, Emory Sustainable Business Group to learn more about the importance of sustainable uses in the working world and my sorority, which provided me with a social outlet and a group of brilliant girls.

There are a million other opportunities I would have been lucky to take part in, but my overarching message to incoming athletes is to first prioritize your academics and then your sport. However, do not let those two things define you or hinder you from gaining experiences elsewhere. You only have four years in college, you are near one of the most incredible cities in America and all your best friends are in the same place at once, so take advantage of these opportunities because time flies by. 

Now, you may be curious about what the daily schedule of a student-athlete may look like. Everyone’s day looks slightly different, but here’s mine: during the fall season, I tend to wake up an hour before my classes, which generally start at 8:30 or 10:00 am. I make my coffee so that I can function like a normal human being, get ready for the day, grab a quick breakfast and then head to class. Generally, student-athletes have a majority of their classes in the morning because afternoons are packed with practices, lifts and meetings. After or between classes, I’ll grab lunch or take a quick power nap before heading to the WoodPEC to change, get taped and hangout with my teammates before practice. Twice a week during the season we have lifts, so on those days, we’ll go straight up to the weight room after practice. 

When practice and lift ends, our freshman and sophomore classes always go to dinner together at the dining hall. Then, I’ll go back to my room, shower, change and generally head to the library to do work with my friends. After an exhausting day, I’ll walk back to my dorm and hangout with my roommate before finally going to sleep and mentally preparing for the next day. 

Mental preparation is key as a freshman. As I will be a junior this year, my mentality has somewhat changed since freshman year. My first real season, which was sophomore year due to COVID-19, I didn’t have any concrete expectations. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.  Sports are unpredictable: you never know when an injury may occur or something like COVID may disrupt your season. Things are constantly changing, so just view each new experience as a learning moment. Now that I know what to generally expect going into the season, I can focus on other aspects to better help support my team and my own personal goals. 

Team mentality and culture is everything. For me, it made a world of a difference when my teammates and specifically upperclassmen, who I looked up to, encouraged me when I shanked a shot, whiffed at the ball or couldn’t complete a simple pass. I encourage every incoming player to think about how your attitude and mentality affects the team culture. Cultivating a positive team culture has a major impact on team performance and the ability to overcome hardships encountered throughout a season. Essentially, the moment your teammates know that you have their back is the moment when you become a family. It makes taking that extra effort when you are tired that much easier because you’re playing for each other and not just yourself. 

My goal now is to help transform the team into a family and ensure that the new freshmen feel welcomed, supported and confident in themselves and their abilities. Do not be afraid to reach out to your teammates because they truly are excited to help you have the most incredible experience possible.