[run]Exams are finally finished. The weather is warming up. My skin is tingling with the anticipation of soaking up a few rays and producing some much needed vitamin D. I dream of many happy hours at The Peanut Barrel with my friends. I will be busy with summer classes and a part-time job. But summer will also be filled with running mile after mile – some of them as structured workouts – preparing for MSU\’s upcoming fall cross-country season. This means getting up before school or work, being diligent about proper nutrition and hydration and getting enough sleep to repeat the cycle the next day. With summer fast approaching, most university athletes will continue doing what they always do: train.
[gymnastics]The life of an athlete can seem glamorous. Athletes clearly have a passion for their sport, and media coverage and attention is an extra bonus. But what about family vacations or road trips with friends? If an athlete can\’t accommodate in favor of their sport, trips are nearly impossible to take. Athletes depend on their bodies to enable them to demonstrate their sport with grace and ease, and that appearance of effortlessness comes at a price. Just as college athletes train during the season, the foundation of their work is done in the summer. Kinesiology senior Kristen Coleman, a member of the women\’s gymnastics team, has spent every summer of her college career in practice mode. Coleman has never been able to take a vacation because of training, and her exotic spring break destination has been the Jenison Field House. Coleman also ran sprints twice a week with other athletic teams on the field hockey turf. With soaring temperatures and critical conditioning coaches, such a regiment is a far cry from the ideal summer for most college students. \”We have a summer conditioning program that is body part-specific,\” Coleman said. \”There are 12 to 15 exercises that we do three times through. It\’s very intense and progressive. By the end of summer it gets crazy.\”
Victoria Iakounina, a microbiology senior and Coleman\’s teammate, has spent every summer at school training four to five days a week and taking classes. To add to her hectic schedule, Iakounina works in a campus microbiology lab and uses summer as a time to focus on volunteering at Sparrow Hospital doing \”stuff I don\’t have time for during the fall,\” she said. Iakounina would have liked to participate in the study abroad program, but training and competing have prevented her from doing this. \”Gymnastics is a year-round sport,\” Iakounina said. \”In summer, we get a plan from our coaches involving less routines, strong conditioning and cardio-based workouts.\”
As for summer vacations, Iakounina was able to take a trip to New York last summer but found gymnastics was still in her thoughts. \”Vacation-wise, it\’s something that is always on your mind, like staying physically active,\” she said. \”You have to find a balance to do what you want. The coaches can\’t require you to train, but you want to maintain your skill level.\”
The National College Athletic Association (NCAA) restricts coaches from requiring their athletes to practice in the summer. All workouts performed by athletes during the summer are considered \”voluntary,\” but are \”highly suggested\” by coaches. But just because the coaching staffs can\’t be there legally does not mean they aren\’t watching. Men\’s basketball guard Bryan Tibaldi said athletes have to be self-motivated and aware the coaches expect certain things, and that they will know if an athlete is failing to meet these standards. On top of pushing themselves to the edge physically, university athletes have to do it with pressure from observant coaches.
Head women\’s soccer coach Tom Saxton sends a conditioning package home with his players for summer. The package is, of course, voluntary, but the implied message is one of necessity; in order to be in top form for the start of the season, his players must follow the conditioning orders. \”We say when we finish the season in November, strength, conditioning and skill become the focus,\” Saxton said. \”It\’s most important to develop the individual in terms of fitness and skill. Come April, we\’re ready to play, but we have a three month gap. We encourage the players to not waste their hard work. We work hard to peak in fall.\”
Saxton said he has to trust his players to train to be fit for the fall season. But before being allowed to practice, players have to pass a baseline fitness test. This test includes the \”Beep Test,\” which requires soccer players to run for 20-minute segments that become progressively faster. \”Running is the most efficient way to train for soccer,\” Saxton said. \”We try to get them used to doing long distance runs regularly for 30 to 50 minutes.\”
[bball]These training scenarios of an athlete are vigorous, no matter what sport is involved. According to Tibaldi, training is quite regimented, with intense lifting four times per week. Practice begins with morning lifting, followed by an afternoon workout of skill development (shooting and ball handling drills) and conditioning. Having to plan the day around workouts is inevitable. \”You usually work it out where you can get three or four days with family – a long weekend type deal,\” Tibaldi said. \”We get the fourth of July week off and a week before school starts.\”
But some members of the athletics community are able to live it up in the summer. Saxton said that as a coach, the summer is a fun time when he and his staff use a \”system\” of information gained in the spring to line up the team and anticipate where freshmen will come in. Coaches and staff are always doing continuous professional development by attending clinics and conferences. \”I want to be on the cutting edge of training,\” Saxton said. \”We\’re always recruiting. I want to stay fresh and not become old school.\”
With all of this focus on recruitment and motivation to train for a sport throughout one\’s entire college career, many athletes do run the risk of becoming resentful of their sport. \”I think there were times, especially on some of those early morning workouts in which you had some negative feelings toward your sport, but they were certainly short-lived,\” Tibaldi said. \”Most of the time I realized that playing and competing in a big time program at the highest level requires incredible commitment and dedication. It helped that all of my teammates and I were all passionate about basketball and about improving. So I think you grow to enjoy the work and the structure because there is no substitute for it.\”
This love for the game can transcend any resentment, even during the summer months, when the peers of athletes aren\’t subjected to constant training and practice. A focus on activities outside of sports also can help head off any negative feelings. Striking a balance between dedication and normalcy is a delicate act, but it is necessary to keep an athlete going.
\”Sometimes I would feel like my sport ruled my life,\” Iakounina said. \”That is why it was important for me to discover balance in dedicating time and being just as committed to doing things that I personally liked, like hobbies and making sure to rest sufficiently so that I never grew to have feelings of resentment toward gymnastics for being such a huge part of my life.\”
Running repeat sprints in 90-degree heat doesn\’t exactly sound like fun. Getting up before the sun rises to lift weights seems absurd. Delaying, or – gasp – even missing happy hours at the bar to work out for the second time in one day isn\’t ideal. But an athlete\’s summer of toil isn\’t for naught. Once the new semester starts, MSU athletes get to showcase the foundation they\’ve meticulously laid and all they\’ve sacrificed for in the summer – and I feel this way as a member of the cross country team.
For me, the miles in lieu of other typical summer activities will lead to a chance to do something great this fall. The true gratification of my hard work will be delayed until the start of the season – from the first race in September to the last race in November. The thought of putting on that green and white uniform for the chance to represent MSU is an intoxicating pride that surpasses any buzz the best happy hour can provide.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *