In an episode of SCI TV, Alex Smolka of Florida Atlantic University cross country and track & field discusses the sports ethic among his student athletes and the balance that today’s student athletes have to manage. Through his experience as a coach, Smolka addresses the norms and challenges that most high performing college athletes encounter.

Defining a Sports Ethic

From high school to college to the professional level, serious athletes often show similar behavior in their sport as initially researched by sociologist Jay Coakley.

These behaviors are 1) Dedication to the game above all else; 2) Winning as marker of achievement and one’s willingness to push limits; 3) Accepting risks and playing through pain to prove self worth; and 4) Avoiding all obstacles to success.

Usually these patterns turn into on field success, but if taken too far they can be damaging to both performance and overall life balance.

In Athlete Transitions

Athlete dedication is often tested in the first year of college, when team expectations are significantly more than in high school.

“The biggest issue is having people transition from high school to college in a responsible way without going down the wrong path,” Smolka said. “If you want to improve, if you want to do well then sometimes you have to make tough choices to maximize how good you can be.”

When to Miss an Event?

Given very a strong sports ethic for most student athletes, missing a practice or competition can be a big deal. For many, family emergencies and serious illness or injury are the only acceptable reasons. But even those can be pushed through, which is why at FAU athletic trainers have last say for participation in practices and competitions.

“I want them to look at their responsibility to the team very similar to taking a another class. Practices and competitions are like midterms and finals,” Smolka said. The message is that they are very important, but not above all else.

Striking a Balance

Smolka thinks the right balance for success at the college level is academics first, athletics second, and social life third. In reality, social life usually gets combined with athletics, making the connections on a team that much more meaningful.

“The lifestyle of a student athlete can be an amazing experience and can be the best four years of your life if it’s done in the right way,” Smolka said.