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BECOMING A COLLEGE ATHLETE

Mckenzie Ridgely

I started playing field hockey when I was in 7 th grade. I instantly fell in love with the sport and continued to play through high school. When it came time to decide whether or not I wanted to continue my career or not I had a difficult choice to make. At this time I had been playing softball my whole life; softball was my first love. I received a lot of pressure from friends, coaches, family, and schools to choose one so that I could begin to narrow my college search down. I looked at schools for softball, I looked at schools for field hockey, and I looked at schools for neither (just to go to school). After a while I finally decided that I wanted to continue my field hockey career more than anything in the world. When asked what made me choose field hockey I tell people that I had already mastered softball and felt as though I had hit my peak on the softball field. Field hockey on the other hand was still brand new to me. Although I was very skilled I knew that I had not even begun to scratch the surface of my potential. Now I just had to find a school that suited me well and a coach that believed in me.

I started my process by emailing coaches and attending college camps and clinics. For a while I didn’t have much luck. I emailed the brand new coach at James Madison University, Christy Morgan. I told her of my interest in the school and of my hope for an opportunity to play at a school like JMU. She was thrilled and invited me to a camp that they were holding the next day. Needless to say my mom and I jumped in a car and headed to Harrisonburg, Virginia. The next day I played in the camp and met with Coach Morgan afterwards. Three days later in the middle of the school day I got a call from Coach and she offered me a spot on her team. It was a dream come true; I was going to be a Duke!

Looking back, I had no idea what I was in for. I knew that it was going to be challenging and that I would have to work very hard. Because field hockey is a fall sport, we arrive on campus 2-3 weeks earlier than regular students for preseason. Preseason is unlike anything I have ever experienced in my whole life. Wake up 6am, eat, practice for 3 hours, eat, watch film, practice, eat dinner, practice again, sleep, and repeat. To say that I couldn’t feel my entire body would be an understatement. When school started and games drew closer and closer, we got on an easier schedule, but practices were still difficult. As games begun and there is more and more pressure to perform at your highest level every day, I struggled. The speed of the college game was difficult to adjust to. Coming from high school where I played every second of every game, to college where I was lucky to get 5 minutes in a game, was difficult mentally as well.

I loved my teammates and my new college buddies, but I missed my old teammates, friends at home and especially my family. I struggled to find my place on the team for a while, but I knew that I just kept giving my 150% every day and was myself that things would eventually fall into place. Spring season came around that is a totally different animal. I have never had to push my body and my mind to its limits and beyond like I did that spring. In those few months I had been completely torn apart from training sessions and then rebuilt stronger physically and mentally than I ever had been. I know now what kind of person I am and where I am as a hockey player because of that spring.

From then on my love for the game has only grown exponentially. I hit a few bumps in the road sophomore year, but came back from them stronger than before. I still struggled to find my place on the field, but I knew that it would work itself out. The spring of my sophomore year has been the height of my collegiate career so far. This was the time when everything just clicked for me. I was more confident in myself on the field than ever. I was more committed to my team and my individual performance and was so clear about my goals and what I had to do to achieve them. My coaches and my teammates know exactly who I am and they have 100% confidence in me and I have 100% confidence in them.

If anyone reading this looking to become a collegiate athlete and wants some insight/advice:

  • Start the recruiting process early but not before you know exactly what you want to do.
  • Choose a school that offers you the best options for YOU.
  • Know what you’re looking for in a program, a coach, a team, a school.
  • Choose a program with a plan and a goal.
  • Days are long and hard. Morning workouts, classes all day, 3 hour practice, homework, and remembering to eat at some point, makes for a tiring day.
  • The free clothes and awesome new gear are totally sick. They spoil us.
  • Embrace the suck: It’s not all going to be fun, but you can find something you love in everything and hold on to that with all your might. Learn to love it.
  • Trust your coaches.
  • Your teammates will become your family, even more than high school or club.
  • You kind of become a celebrity on campus.
  • There is a lot of pressure.
  • But don’t take it too seriously; remember how much you love the game.
  • You will hit bumps in the road. It might slow you down but don’t let it stop you. Don’t quit.
  • IT WILL BE THE MOST CHALLENGING THING YOU WILL EVER DO.
  • IT WILL BE THE MOST REWARDING THING YOU EVER DO. 
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