Playing sports, whether in little league, high school, college or professionally, can be a fun experience. Players get to travel to different places, form bonds with different teammates throughout their lives and most of them get to do something they enjoy.
However, it is a huge time commitment for athletes. According to an article in Business Insider, the NCAA restricts practice time to 20 hours a week, but even so, some student-athletes can practice up to 30 or 40 hours a week. Even athletes at the club level can spend anywhere between four to 10 hours a week with practice, team meetings, traveling and playing games each week. Moreover, both club and NCAA athletes must spend a lot of personal time working out and staying in shape so they can perform their best.
NAU Club Baseball junior catcher Nick Malcolm said he can spend up to 10 hours a week playing with his club team.
All this activity forces athletes to prioritize what is truly important and manage their time well. This goes for relationships, too.
Sports and relationships in life can be great but are time consuming, especially when grinding through college life. When a student- athlete has a relationship, athletics and school to deal with, problems can arise. According to the Arizona Board of Regents policy, for every credit hour, students usually spend at least one hour of class time and an hour on schoolwork outside of class. A typical semester sees a student taking 15 credits, which means about 30 hours a week for class time and schoolwork.
This can add stress to an athlete’s relationship, as they spend a lot of time at practice and are away for at least a day when a team travels for away games. While club sports may not be as time consuming as NCAA student-athletes, the time committed to them can still be a strain.
Junior Nick Ligocki, a defenseman for the NAU Division II IceJacks Hockey club, has been in a relationship for four years and got engaged in 2019. He gives his perspective on being in a relationship as an athlete. He said it can be tough balancing both responsibilities.
“Sometimes it is challenging to keep up with hockey and a relationship,” Ligocki said. “Playing hockey means skating multiple times a week and staying in shape off the ice, so that takes up a lot of time.”
While the IceJacks have multiple practices scheduled each week, players must spend extra time working out at the gym and practice skating.
Even with the time commitments involved, having a relationship can provide benefits for student-athletes.
“I think the best part of it is having a support system at home,” Ligocki said. “We have lived together for the last few years, so it is nice to be able to come home to family. Being from the suburbs of Chicago, it is a lot for my parents to be able to travel here, so knowing that I have someone at home who will help me if I am hurt or not playing well is a huge support to have.”
While that is a positive aspect for Ligocki, there also are negatives that can be challenging to deal with.
“I think the worst part about it is the road trips,” Ligocki said. “We are engaged and we have two dogs at home with us, so in our way, we have our little family. Sometimes it is tough to go on the trips knowing I am leaving them at home alone, but even then, it is still nice that wherever we go they still gather around the TV and watch whatever game it is we have that day.”
This is an issue that athletes in relationships can struggle with, as leaving those they are closest to can be challenging. However, having a support system is helpful during the grind of the season.
There are different ways to manage the stress and time of relationships. Even athletes without relationships can give some advice to those that are struggling with this issue. Malcolm offered advice on how he would assist an athlete in a relationship to deal with problems they may be facing.
“I would tell them to try and have good communication with their significant other,” Malcolm said. “Also, try and spend time with them when possible, because it is good to have some down time.”
Ligocki shared his experiences with being in a relationship while on the club hockey team, and ways he handled the two.
“The best way I have found to manage the two is to keep them mostly separated,” Ligocki said. “If I have a tough day at hockey, I make sure to forget about it by the time I get home so she doesn’t have to hear about it, and the same for hockey. If I am stressed out at home, I make sure to not let it bother me at the rink so that way I can make sure I am at my best for home and hockey.”
While it can be stressful to keep up with relationships and sports, on top of completing 120 credits to graduate, there are ways to juggle it all.
However, it doesn’t always work out. Marcus Alford, a former NAU defensive back, explained how difficult being in a relationship can be, while also being a college athlete. Although the relationship ended, he learned how to navigate both the life of a college athlete and the life of being a boyfriend.
“It was tough to keep my girlfriend satisfied with the attention she needed through doing (it) long distance,” Alford said. “My schedule was crazy, and she always wanted to be on the phone since we weren’t physically together. I had teammates in relationships, and they had the same problem as me and none of us ended our college careers with that same girlfriend.”
Although it is challenging, athletes advise that the best ways to juggle sports, school and a relationship are to cut out aspects that can get in the way of what is important and keep those commitments separate to get the most out of them.