(PRESQUE ISLE, ME) -- NOTE: The inaugural NCAA Division III Week is this week (April 9-15). Each day throughout the week, articles will highlight the impact of Division III athletics and the unique Division III student-athlete experience at UMPI, which offers a highly competitive athletics environment, a commitment to academic excellence and leadership/community service/campus involvement. Today in Part 1, we look at two-sport athletes.
NCAA Division III has become one of the last bastions for the two-sport athlete. But why? Not too long ago if someone was a star at the high school or college level in a fall sport, it was a good bet you would see their name again starring in a winter sport, and when spring came, there they were again.
One explanation is time committment. As college athletics has grown over the years so has each sports' season. No longer does basketball start AFTER football has ended, nor does softball wait until the final horn has sounded on that year's basketball campaign. Seasons overlap, sometimes by as much as a month. Students that want to play back-to-back sports find themselves as much as 4-weeks behind in their second sport and, after just completing a full season of competition, do not have the energy or mental wherewithall to get caught up. And that is just "in-season". With increased emphasis on off-season training, improving one's self not only in sport-specific areas but also overall strength and conditioning, even playing one sport can be a year long committment. To put that kind of time and energy into two-sports requires a very high level of passion and mental toughness from an athlete in BOTH sports.
Another reason can be coaching philosophies. At higher levels of the NCAA and even now being seen at the NCAA Division III level are coaches that tell recruits they will be expected to focus on just their sport and not attempt to partake in any more. At the University of Maine-Presque Isle and the majority of NCAA Division III athletic departments throughout the country however, coaches encourage the participation of two-sport athletes and work together to help students that do "play 2" be successful and caught up at both.
Of the nearly 120 students that were on UMPI rosters this season, over 20% are two-sport athletes. We talked to a few of those students UMPI students to see what they enjoy about it, why they do it, and how they manage to successfully balance time the two.
What do you enjoy most about having the opportunity to play two-different sports at the college level?
Desiree Smith (Sr./Thomaston, ME) Soccer, Softball, Nordic Skiing: "What I enjoy most about having the opportunity to play more than one sport at the college level is the fact that I don't have to choose between the sports I love and being able to try new ones. I love soccer and softball and if I had to choose it would be really hard. I also got the chance to try a new sport this year as well (skiing) and if I had to choose I don't think I could drop this one either."
Taylor Ussery (Jr./La Verne, CA) Soccer, Basketball: "Being able to complete 2 seasons gives me a greater sense of accomplishment. I still have one main sport but it's great to be able to cross-train in a competitive way. Also for me, it's great to always be part of a team. Before college I played soccer year round so not being part of a team and having such a long off-season is really unnatural."
Kobe Ashkir (Fr./Portland, ME) Soccer, Basketball: "I love staying busy so playing soccer and basketball at the colligate level is the best thing that I have going for me right now. Also I get more determination to do better in my classes because I need to be a good student in order to keep playing those sports. I have teammates that count on me so I would not want to let them down by not achieving success in the classroom. It is also a great experience to travel to places that you have never been to."
Lucas Bartlett (So./Bradley, ME) Soccer, Basketball: "Playing two different sports in college allows a student athlete to be involved with more people form different backgrounds and personalities."
What would you say are some of the most important characteristics one needs to have to be a successful student and athlete when you are an active "athlete" for over 2/3 of your school year?
Kobe Ashkir: "In order to achieve success as a college student athlete one needs to have discipline, focus, and drive. Discipline because you are going to face hard times and you are going to feel adversity as a student athlete and it is up to you to have the discipline to overcome those boundaries. Focus because you are going to get distracted at times and that is when your performance on the court and off the court will hurt you so you need to focus on your school work first then your sport. Drive because there should always be a reason to why you are doing what you're doing. I'm playing soccer and basketball because I love my teammates and coaches and I also love the challenges that come with each sport. Playing sports 2/3 of the school year can be a hard task for anyone."
Taylor Ussery: "Time management is obviously important so besides that I would say, you have to be a kind of self-starter and be internally motivated. All the classes that you miss due to games and travel often means doing assignments without the same kind of focused direction and feedback as the rest of the class but still having to get it in on time and up to standards."
Desiree Smith: "The most important thing to have is time management. It is a lot of work to balance school, homework, and practices, not to mention friends and family."
Lucas Bartlett: "In order to play two sports at the collegiate level and have a good GPA you have to be able to manage your time, if you do not manage your time it is very easy to get burned out."
Many kids come to college for the "experience": the dorms, the parties, the freedom. Others come to focus on one-sport and train for it year-round. Why is playing in two sports at this level important to you/something you've decided to make part of YOUR college experience?
Taylor Ussery: "Playing 2 sports helps to have something to take your mind off of school and the stress that comes with classes and deadlines. It also helps you to be included on campus and still be maybe even a bigger part of the whole "college experience". Especially on a small campus, being an athlete makes you known to your peers, faculty/staff, and even the community. That is increasingly beneficial as you progress through school."
Lucas Bartlett: "I wanted to play two sports because I love playing both of them. It also helps me keep on track with my studies because it forces me to manage my time."
Desiree Smith: "When you play more than one sport it gives you a break form the previous sport to recuperate. If I only played one sport I would not love it as much as I do now. I would get sick of it burnt out. By the time one season is over I am so looking forward to the next sport.
Participating in more than one sport also gives you an array of friends. Not all of my friends play both sports with me and I may not have been friends with them if I only played one sport.
Why play one sport if you can play more?"
Kobe Ashkir: "Playing two sports makes you focus even that much harder because you want to be successful at your sport. The dorms, the parties, and the freedom are things that come with being a student-athlete. It is ok to be social at times and to go out and have fun with your friends. But as a two sport student-athlete that option does not come very often because we are very busy with the kind of schedule that we have. So when we go out, it is a special moment for us because we get recognized in our community as athletes and we always like that. Playing two sports is important for me because it keeps me away from the bad habits and the distractions that I do not need."