H2H: Should Athletes Be Dancing Through the Snow?

By Dakota Grossman and Kyle Garahana

Home for the Holidays

By Kyle Garahana

As the old saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” When it comes to student-athletes being overworked because they are training during winter break when school isn’t in session, that creates problems beyond being dull.

Overworking student-athletes has long been an issue that has caught the media’s attention. Several lawsuits against the NCAA surrounding this topic have come up, and now more than ever, college athletes are standing up for their rights.

In 2014, former University of North Carolina women’s basketball player Rashanda McCants stated in a lawsuit against her alma mater, “We are humans; we have voices; and, although we all love our school, we also love ourselves and the dignity we built within our own right.”

McCants’s words capture the essence of the problem. College athletes need to be treated as humans with rights instead of Clydesdales primed for a big payout at the races. Not allowing them the same rights as their fellow student body members infringes upon those rights and even worse, it puts them at risk physically and mentally.

Overworking student-athletes can lead to serious problems. Issues such as sleep deprivation, anxiety and depression “are quite predictable” when athletes are over-trained, according to John Sullivan, clinical sports psychologist and applied sport scientist.

Furthermore, the culture of toughness created in many college athletic programs does not create an open environment for athletes to come forward and express their dissatisfaction with being overworked. Playing time and even scholarships could be affected if a student-athlete steps up to try to battle this issue. These pressures often push the athlete to keep quiet.

Now, to the NCAA’s credit, it has attempted to limit student-athlete’s work load by restricting practice time to 20 hours per week or four hours per day. However, a survey conducted in 2011, which was cited in the UNC lawsuit, reported that on average they spend 30 hours, sometimes 40 hours per week, practicing their sport.

Student-athletes are often given what some may consider special treatment. They receive access to tutors, flexible class scheduling and housing perks, but these accommodations do not take away from the fact that they are students and human beings. Given the amount of money in college athletics — in 2011 the NCAA reported over $871.6 million in revenue — it’s easy for greed to lead to overworked athletes.

To not afford college athletes the same time off as a student not involved in athletics is unethical. For a university to acknowledge that students deserve and need a threeweek break in between semesters, but not student-athletes, is unfair. The emphasis should be placed on the student and thus the student-athlete should receive the same time off from school-related functions, away from both academics and athletics, like every other member of the student body.

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No Place Like the Gym

By Dakota Grossman

Winter break is a time for athletes to take a step back from competition and recover physically and mentally, but it is also a perfect time to sharpen skills without the pressures of scheduled workouts. Training during winter break is necessary for those competing in a winter sport.

Basketball, skiing, track and field, gymnastics and swimming and diving are all winter or spring sports that could benefit from a winter break training program. This would give athletes time to focus on different strengths and weaknesses, while also being able to have more control over their workout routine, which in turn can be less stressful over the holidays.

According to Sports fitness advisor, “Offseason training is the most important phase of any sport-specific conditioning plan. Not only will it help the athlete to recover physically and psychologically, it can be used to address some of the physical imbalances that are inherent with playing competitive sport.”

With the flexibility training over winter break provides, athletes can choose what to work on and how to work on it on their own time. I realize this can pose a challenge. Finding motivation to stay in shape can be difficult, but these are the tests that make someone a better athlete. Family, holiday treats and leisure time should be used as stress relievers over the break rather than distractions. Workouts can be easily incorporated around those activities. As a track runner for the University of Utah, the offseason provides me with the opportunity to be self-motivated in a relaxing environment. This is an important phase for any athlete to reset before diving back into the season when the spring semester gets underway.

Not only is winter break a significant time for conditioning, but many sports have competitions during and immediately after it comes to an end. There is a level of expectation to be fit, healthy and ready to compete once we return.  Taking advantage of the break doesn’t mean going through rigorous training sessions, but rather changing up the usual practice routines so that it will benefit the athlete’s health.

Travis Irby, a specialist in sports medicine and human performance, wrote about the importance of skills development and reducing burnout, all things that play a role in helping athletes prepare for competitions.

“[During the offseason] the athlete can work on strength and conditioning for injury prevention … to take a psychological break,” Irby stated.

Giving athletes a break to themselves also builds confidence and maturity. My teammates and coaches rely on me to be prepared for the season after winter break. By maintaining my fitness over the holidays, I believe it’s a positive way to keep my competitive edge and prove to the university and my team that I am independent, reliable and want to win. This is what separates an athlete from their competitors. Training doesn’t have to involve intensive exercises over winter break, but training in some fashion should be done.

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