By the time Adam Presutti left the David Braley Athletic Centre around 9:30 pm on Monday evening, he had gone through two rehab clinics, a game film session, a practice lasting over two hours and an hour in the gym.
“Today is as busy as it gets for a student athlete,” said the second-year guard on the men’s basketball team, who also had to endure a full day of classes.
The team is currently in the midst of their regular season schedule and down the stretch the focus has to be on results. However, the second academic semester is also underway and varsity athletes cannot fall behind on their studies. The choices that must be made often lead to sacrifices in either the gym or the classroom.
For Presutti, a life dedicated to basketball sometimes takes precedence in this dilemma. “Basketball has always been a lifestyle and the one thing I can confidently say that I look forward to every day, and so any time I had the opportunity to choose between school or basketball I would always pick basketball. There have been times where I’ve gone to the gym to put up shots or work out while I could be reviewing notes for class, or times where I’ve watched game tape film of opposing teams late at night when I should be sleeping.”
The life of a student athlete is a constant balancing act and time management is imperative for success. How to manage ones’ time is a difficult task for all students, let alone student athletes and the difficulties are especially prevalent in their first few years.
“One problem I had in my first year that I’ve worked on and have been doing a lot better in my second is time management. I look back and realized how much time could have been saved so it was possible to balance both school and basketball in my rookie year,” said Presutti, adding that he has learned the ropes in his sophomore season. “I’m doing a lot better in managing this year and so the sacrifices aren’t as large.”
Maggie Cogger-Orr, captain of the McMaster women’s rugby team, is one of the more veteran athletes at McMaster and a senior student currently in her fourth year of Commerce. According to her, prioritizing time leaves little wiggle room for student athletes. “The most difficult part is prioritizing what you need to do. Between games, practices, classes, tests, projects, lifts, physiotherapy, etc., you can get a little overwhelmed, but eventually you learn how to prioritize the things that need to get done versus the things that you want to get done,” she explained.
She added, “Once you have this figured out, I usually find that an athlete is actually more productive in their season versus the off-season because time is such a limited resource that there’s no time to slack.”
Throwing student athletes into the fire so early has undoubtedly seen its fair share of failures. Here at McMaster there are nearly 30 varsity teams, and without some network of support, one could assume the failure rate of student athletes would be much higher.
For such support, the onus is usually on upper year players, like Cogger-Orr, coaches and alumni. Occasionally, faculties help student athletes along as well.
According to Presutti there is a great network for student athletes here at McMaster. “I couldn’t ask for any more support on campus. Professors have been extremely good with me making up midterms or presentations because I think they understand how tough it can be to manage sometimes,” he said.
Basketball coach Amos Connolly, a former basketball player at Mac, has also helped keep Presutti focused not only in the gym, but in the classroom as well. “Coach Amos has been there every step of the way for me. In my first year when I was having a successful season statistically from a basketball standpoint, my marks slipped really bad to the point where I was almost failing, and Coach did everything in his power to make sure I had the resources around me to be a successful student. He requires me and the rest of the team to maintain a certain GPA otherwise we are not allowed to play.”
Connolly knows what it is like to be a successful student athlete and expects his players to maintain a 3.5 grade point average. “The demands are much higher now,” the coach, now in his third year with the team, said of the increase in expectations for student athletes.
“Diet (including alcohol intake) and sleep are huge factors as they relate to time management. Players have to prioritize and sacrifice in a more intense way now. That is why they are worthy of respect,” he added.
For the players, Connolly plays a big role in guiding them along the straight and narrow. “He truly wants us to be student athletes. All in all MAC has provided me with a great support system and I’m thankful every day to be here around great people,” said Presutti of his coach.
Connolly is one of many coaches at Mac that understands student athletes. Cogger-Orr had a similarly positive experiences with her support network: “In terms of coaches, I have been very fortunate to have had coaches who attended McMaster themselves and understand the difficulties that athletes sometimes face as well as the importance of doing well.”
The McMaster sports community is built around the idea of success both in sport and academically. Both Presutti and Cogger-Orr play for playoff-caliber teams who have competed at the CIS level.
Currently, student athletes are eligible to play for a total of five seasons. Cogger-Orr believes that this is more than adequate. “Five years is plenty of time to get a degree and be a full time athlete. Part of what being a student athlete means is maintaining both at the same time with equal attention and passion,” she said.
The hard work put in day in and day out by varsity athletes often goes unnoticed by the average student. Even a small glimpse into the life of a student athlete yields some valuable perspective on what goes into Saturday games at Burridge, Ron Joyce or the Back 10. Participation in varsity athletics becomes a holistic learning experience for student athletes that cannot solely be found in any arts quad lecture hall. For Cogger-Orr, rugby helped her learn how to overcome adversity. “Good and bad, boring and exciting, everything that has happened to me in my career at McMaster has shaped who I am. I think it took tearing my ACL (twice) to really accept that and … to comprehend how fortunate and lucky I have been.”
After all of the hard practices, long nights in the library and competition on the field or on the hardwood, student athletes are left with a life experience unique to any other that exists. The McMaster community as a whole benefits from the sacrifices of these students and many others like them on campus.