In Their Own Words: Finding first-year success with an A+ attitude

Photo by Kevin Jarrold
Photo by Kevin Jarrold

KayCyn Hernandez, Windsor Lancers, Hockey



Being a full-time university student can be scary and stressful. Being a full-time student and playing a varsity sport is a whole different story.

Going into my first year at the University of Windsor, I did not really know what to expect. I had been warned about how difficult university would be from teachers and friends. Hearing that I should not expect the same academic success was a hard reality to accept. I knew that these would be the toughest years of schooling I had ever faced. I have come to learn that university is tough, but completely doable if you put in the effort and adjust your attitude. A major part of achieving success in your sport and in the classroom is based on the attitude you have in every situation. If you are going into anything in life with a bad attitude, you are already holding yourself back.

“A major part of achieving success in your sport and in the classroom is based on the attitude you have in every situation.”

On your first day of class, walk into the room eager and ready to learn. Even if the class does not seem interesting to you or you do not enjoy the professor, find something that makes you interested in going to that class. For me, finding a good group of friends that I could study with was important. On days that I felt under the weather, I looked forward to seeing them, and if I ever had to miss class for a hockey game, I could trust that they would help me get caught up on missed lessons. Having even one “study buddy” in each class can be really beneficial. You can discuss assignment ideas, help each other further understand concepts, and keep each other accountable with lecture materials. For example, my team this year held study sessions on roads trips and during exam seasons. We would get together and hold each other accountable for getting our work done and being prepared for evaluations.

I also encourage all students, regardless of what year you are in, to get to know your teachers, as well as graduate and teaching assistants. From the first week, make it clear to your professor that you are a student-athlete who is eager to learn. If you show interest in your professor's class, they will be more likely to show interest in you and help accommodate your needs. This is really important when your sport is in season, as road trips can interfere with classes and evaluations. As well, if you have that professor in future classes, he/she will already be familiar with you and your situation. The professor will be more likely to accommodate you again because of the effort you previously put forward.

“From the first week, make it clear to your professor that you are a student-athlete who is eager to learn.”

When it comes to GAs and TAs, it can be easier for students to form a relationship considering they are also students and have been in a similar position as you​. They will be able to help you with specific information regarding assignments and what to expect from evaluations, as they will be the ones marking them. Realize that they are there to help you and can guide you to useful services your school offers. These services are overlooked by many, but the resources can really help your overall mark.

When it comes to your sport, your attitude matters just as much, yet is typically overlooked. Now I know there are days when people feel under the weather, but that's no excuse to bring down those around you. I always tell myself to come to the rink as prepared as I can for that day. If I am tired from school or life in general, I make sure to offer whatever I can and not be too hard on myself. I give whatever energy I can and am eager to learn from my mistakes, not holding myself down.

“I always tell myself to come to the rink as prepared as I can for that day.”

This is something I have worked on with my team’s sport psychologist. A number of first-year students can quickly burn themselves out both mentally and physically because they expect to be at the same level as fourth and fifth-year students. Some first-year students might already be at that level, but for most, that is setting an unrealistic expectation. Realize that this is your first year as a university student and athlete. You don’t have the same experience as the seniors on your team, but over time, you will learn and grow.

As well, having goals you want to reach throughout the season are great, but do not limit yourself based on those goals. Celebrate small steps that make achieving your goals possible and try to not compare yourself to others. Everyone has different skills to bring to the table. Everyone's experience will be different, but finding someone on your team who started in a similar position or has a similar skill set can help you find your role on the team.

The acceptance of your role can be a hard and frustrating process. I went from being a first-line player on my old travel team to being on the third or fourth line in my first year of university. Though most people would get down about this change of responsibility, I realized I had a lot to learn and accepted that my role in my first year would not be in the starting lineup. However, I pushed myself to improve on the ice and as a teammate, finally finding my role as a positive outlet for others and as a good training partner. I use the skills that I possess to help my teammates succeed, which ultimately helps the team succeed. As hockey is a team sport, the success of the team was my success, and I was proud of teammates and my own growth on and off the ice throughout the season.

“I use the skills that I possess to help my teammates succeed, which ultimately helps the team succeed.”

Overall, balancing academics and athletics is difficult and you will probably struggle at points during your first year, but realize that you have your team supporting you and you have multiple services offered by your school to help you. Do not give up on yourself and push your way through any barriers you encounter. When things feel like they are getting hectic, grab a journal and plan out your week to keep yourself on track to achieve your academic and athletic goals. Make sure you set time aside to reflect and relax as being a student in general can be stressful. When you feel good, it will show in what you are doing.

With a positive attitude and good effort towards everything, you will realize that the first year goes by in a blink, so take a breath and enjoy every moment of it.

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