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June 6, 2019

Collegiate Sports | Embrace the Unexpected

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Photo by East Carolina Athletics

An East Carolina University freshman journey through trials and triumphs that face the life of a student-athlete. Advice from Karlie Smith a ECU softball player.

The first day I stepped foot into my dorm room, I had no idea what to expect out of my voyage as a Pirate. The amount of growth that a person can experience in a period of four years is beyond what a newcomer could ever imagine. As a freshman, the idea of finding a purpose in life is mostly reliant on the college experience. My first year I imagined I’d play a lot of softball and along the way find what makes my heart tick.

The student-athlete experience entails a fair share of trials AND triumphs, all of which mold players into the people that will step foot into the real world post-graduation. It’s easy to go back and reflect upon satisfactory experiences, but in reality, it’s the struggles that develop the grit and perseverance, both of which are built into a person’s character.

I like to refer to freshman as sheep. A large herd of beginners that need to be guided and taken care of. I relied on the study hall, my counselors, dining halls, friends for transportation and a coach to create my fine-tuned schedule.  I lied, one of my biggest challenges that I’d have to face in my collegiate career hit me out of the blue. Just months into the 2014-15 season East Carolina University’s Head Softball Coach was removed from the program due to personal family matters, putting the entire program in what seemed like a whirlwind. The sheep now we’re left without a Shepherd.

One crucial ‘need-to-know’ lesson for incoming freshman is: college normally does not go the way you planned it to, and that is OKAY. What I thought was a disaster in losing my head coach turned out to be a blessing that only constructed me into the student-athlete I am today. By going through this trial, I was able to learn a few life lessons that I’m going to share with you. To succeed in life, one must go to work every day with the intentional purpose to take it upon yourself to get at least 1% better. Find what passions drive you and obsessively work on perfecting those tasks.  After I realized that it was not up to my coach but up to me to push my talent to a higher standard I engrossed myself in every aspect that I could fit into my schedule. (Student-athlete Advisory committee, student-editor positions and internships to name a few.) Finding outside activities other than merely playing a sport is what turns a college experience into college growth.

After the head coach left the program, the interim head coach stepped in but the ECU softball team was still left without a coaching staff. For everyone that knows college sports, it takes a community to have a successful team. Our record for that season proved to be less than satisfactory. Both on a team and personal level, an aura of disappointment hung over the program. This disappointment became the driving force behind the improvement.

The following season ECU Softball welcomed an entirely new coaching staff, one that would benefit the program in more ways than one. As a unit, we were pushed to a new level in all realms of life. Mentally and physically I was tested. Academics became a vast area of focus, and I quickly realized that how you carry yourself off the field is equally important to how you do on it. That season we suffered the usual aches and pains of building a new program. Still, to this day the team is trying to put all the puzzle pieces together, but without being continuously pushed outside of comfort zones, I’d never have experienced personal growth.

So in a nutshell, freshman year is hectic and embodies everything you never expected. Yes, freshman year is full of ups and downs, emotional roller coasters and mental breakdowns. However, freshman year is a period of growth, through which failures only produce stronger people. It is a year to build a strong foundation for the final three years, knowing that regardless of the chaos, student-athletes find a way to get the job done. Finally, it is a conglomeration of events that bring laughter, sweat, sometimes tears and a lot of joy.

In high school, I would’ve never guessed my first collegiate season would have panned out to be the way it did. However, looking back I wouldn’t change the course of events because what I thought at the moment was a nightmare, turned out to be my testimony. This being my senior year, I am primarily focused on taking the time to value and appreciate the time I have left. My advice for those who are entering the process is to embrace the unexpected. Whatever is around the corner, whether it be hardships or incredible triumphs, is meant to make you into a better version of yourself. Trusting the process can sometimes be difficult, but know that commitment will yield powerful rewards.