We’ve probably never met, but I hope you’ll soon recount to me how you learned to play the bassoon or that time you saved a gaggle of puppies from a burning building.
For lack of a better term, I’m the features writer here. For the last five years, I’ve been scribbling stories about student-athletes like you. I’ll happily write about how many goals you want to score this year, but I’d rather tell people why “Hannah Montana” inspired you practice your jump serve.
You’re more than a number on a field. That’s what I want people to know when I write about you, but more importantly, you should know it as well. I write because people are a collection of layers, not just a surface coat of athletic mastery.
I’ve never been a Division I student-athlete, unless we’re counting my MVP performance in the annual basketball game between Ohio University’s student TV station and school paper. It was my magnum opus, a display of shot-making and stunningly average defense I’ve failed to replicate in the years since. I could never hit a curveball…or much of anything else, for that matter, and my high school cross country career fizzled out in about the fourth grade.
So I’m not going to tell you how to split a double-team, unless it’s at the soft-serve ice cream machine. What I can tell you is what years of perspective have taught me, something you’d probably refer to as, “being old”.
You’ve got plenty of coaches to help you shine championship trophies. I just want to make sure the next four years are unforgettable. You’re all student-athletes, but a student-athlete is not all that you are. You’re going to do (if you’re doing it right) a lot of growing up while you’re here. Welcome it.
When I took this job at VCU, I told my wife we’d probably be here three years. This fall will mark my 10th year with this department. What began as a just a paycheck has become a life. I’m not saying you need to spent the rest of your life here, but for the next four years, embrace VCU and Richmond. I’ve been to a lot of places, and I can tell you that Richmond is a pretty cool town. See the city. Catch a show at The National, eat somewhere other than the 10 chain restaurants on campus, spend a day at the river, whatever. Just go. There’s a whole city out there that doesn’t play college field hockey, and that’s okay. Go find it.
DISCLAIMER: Make sure you go to class and practice first.
Second, this town and this school love a winner, but they love class, dignity and grace even more. Work hard, keep your chin up and your eyes open, and you’re going to be fine, regardless of what the scoreboard says.
Third, more people than you can count are going to tell you that these are going to be the best four years of your life. They’re not wrong, but they’re not right, either. The next four years will be the best four years of your life, if you let them be. So will the four after that and the four after that. But these four years will be unique. For most of you, it’s your first time out on your own, and you get to learn how to become an adult around a bunch of people, your teammates, who know exactly what you’re going through. Lean on them, and listen to them when they need an ear.
Finally, my words are just a guidebook, suggestions, really. At a distance, my college career is a hilarious dustbin collection of earnest missteps, awkward moments and well-intentioned bad ideas. I’m thankful everyday that my college career predates social media. But I also (allegedly) learned a ton, made friends for a lifetime, met my future wife and found some direction.
I sincerely hope you win a bunch of championships while you’re here. That said, championships and victories on the field can shape your college experience, but they don’t have to define it. In four years, if you emerge with a degree, seasoned and ready for the next best four years of your life, then you’re doing it right. Good luck, and here’s to the next four years.
P.S.: If you make ice sculptures with chainsaws as a hobby, come see me immediately.