Is the life of a student-athlete as exhilarating as it seems? Writer Benedict Loh recounts his experiences as a National footballer and reveals the hidden struggles that come along with being one.
Have you ever been intrigued by the life of a student-athlete? Sports, studies, internships, social life, and the occasional social media influencing; how do they manage it all?
Exciting as it may seem, the struggles of student-athletes often fly under the radar. Behind the glamour, adrenaline rush, shiny medals, and joyful backslapping from peers, lie endless hours of sweat, tears, and blood.
I have lived this balancing act for 10 years, and upon reflection, realized that this is akin to the widely known “floating duck syndrome”. On the surface, the student-athlete may look calm, composed, and on top of things. Yet, beneath it all, he/she is fighting furiously to stay afloat amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday university life – just like every other undergraduate, but probably worse… and with significantly more aching muscles and general weariness.
The competitiveness of varsity and national level sport requires one to be cool and unyielding in the face of stiff pressure. Yet many forget that like any other undergraduate, student-athletes in Singapore face a similar pressure to excel in their academics. Sport does not last forever, and many student-athletes rightly throw themselves into pursuing their academic goals with the same rigor that they do for their sport. However, this is easier said than done.
Such dual-sided pressure inevitably leads to a great deal of mental stress. For a student-athlete representing the nation, he/she carries the expectations of a country alongside his/her own drive to excel both in school and in sport.
After all, it is always tough to play a competitive match on Wednesday and take a graded quiz on Thursday. Sacrifices must be made. The unrelenting competitive demands of school and sport are ruthless and often do not go well together, particularly in academically focused Singapore.
Failure is a part of life. However, it is always disheartening to try your best, yet fall short of your own expectations. The late nights spent catching up on work, sacrifices in your social life, and the hours spent studying on the bus before training sometimes feel like they were made in vain.
Many times, student-athletes tend to overly criticize themselves for their failures. Doubt starts to creep in, abilities are questioned, and one starts to wonder whether he/she is even able to continue this delicate balance between sport and studies. After all, nobody ever said it was a smooth sailing experience and an easy life to balance both.
The Silver Lining
A wise man once said: “when you are down and feel like giving up, remember why you started.”
Despite everything, we student-athletes put up with the physical and mental ache, alongside the hectic schedules, because of our love for our sport. For me, I forget about my troubles when I step onto the sweet-smelling grass of a football field. It is my spiritual home and the place where I can best express myself.
This life defines who we are. Sport teaches us to be competitive in our search for success, yet gracious in defeat. We are wired to give our 100%, and then some, in our athletic endeavors. This mindset will serve us well in our future pursuits of excellence, be it at the workplace or the school of hard knocks known as life. Sport inevitably builds character, and juggling studies with sport adds a layer of grit, tenacity, and resilience.
Ultimately, beyond the soft skills learnt such as teamwork and communication, sport also gives us a second family. The endless laps running around the track or in the gym? If our teammates are there with us, bring it on. Years on, the bonds forged through struggle and toil with our teammates will mean so much more. My best friends often end up being my teammates, due to our common experiences and bonds.
Yes, juggling sport and studies is arduous and draining. It is a difficult journey to take. Yet, remember that you are never alone. The joy and silver lining from this journey lie in the struggle, for it shapes us, develops us, and makes us who we are.
As Rocky Balboa once said “Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is going to hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!”
Loh Ye-Yang, Benedict is a Year 1 student in the Politics, Law & Economics and Business Management program. Before his National Service, he represented Singapore in football for 4 years, training up to 10 times a week.