It can be very easy to think that Division I athletics are all that exist at the NCAA level. From the thrill of March Madness to the excitement of the College Football Playoff — and the surrounding media coverage of both — it can be easy to miss the action at smaller schools across the country.
But that Division I scene is not for everyone, and it certainly was not for me. In addition to being a fringe Division I athlete, the “big school” feel was not what I wanted out of my college experience.
Here are five reasons why choosing Division III athletics was the best choice I ever made.
One of the main reasons I chose the Division III experience was the balance between academics and athletics. Academics was always my first priority when it came to choosing a school. I knew my college degree was going to take me much further than my field hockey and/or lacrosse abilities. I certainly was not joining a European women’s Field Hockey league after graduation, and my name surely would not have appeared in the recent UWLX Draft. Instead, I chose a school that was the right fit off the field before I committed to an athletic program. Of course, athletics played a critical role in my decision; but a strong liberal arts education was always my first priority.
At Wesleyan, this balance is exactly what I found. My practices were always scheduled after classes ended at 4pm, and no classes were held between 4pm-7pm. My coaches understood if I had to leave practice 15 minutes early to grab a quick dinner before a 7pm Biology exam, or came to practice late because of a chemistry experiment that took a little too long (as long as I sprinted there).
If you are passionate about two sports and are not ready to commit to just one, DIII also gives you the opportunity (and support) to choose both. When I told my field hockey coach at Wesleyan that I’d like to try out for the lacrosse team, she could not have been happier. She said it was the best way to stay in shape and gain experience as a collegiate athlete, as well as experience a different team dynamic.
What makes the Division III experience so special is that you will have opportunities to pursue interests outside of athletics, as well. In college, there are so many extracurriculars to take advantage of — things like a study abroad program, semester-long internships, etc. The balance provided by DIII athletics can open your mind to experiences and areas you may not have otherwise explored.
The decision many potential DIII athletes have to make is whether they’d like to play at the highest level they can (likely, DI) while potentially sacrificing playing time, or compete at a high-level DIII school where they can make an impact right away.
This was an easy decision for me – I loved the game too much to watch other people play it. I wanted to be in an environment where I had a good chance to contribute immediately. Many of my teammates at Wesleyan could have played at the Division I level, so while the competition was still excellent, I also had a chance to play early in my career.
Division III also allowed me to continue to play two sports I love. I was not bound to one sport year-round. This helped me to avoid burning out while allowing me to experience two completely different teams and coaching styles.
Only a very small percentage of NCAA athletes will play their sport at the professional level (per the NCAA, the number is 2 percent). For women, this percentage is even smaller, as fewer sports have professional leagues. However, 100% of college graduates receive a degree that they can use to launch a professional career in an area they are passionate about. The majority of student-athletes are just that: Students, then athletes.
Ask yourself: Do I love this sport enough to play it every day, without getting paid, and with little hope of making it to the pros?
At the DIII level, every single teammate of mine was there for the love of the game. Nobody was there because their parents made them, or because they needed to stay on for scholarship money (note: there are no athletics scholarship opportunities at the DIII level). Everybody was there because of pure passion for the sport, for their teammates, and for their coaches. The time on the field was an outlet, a time to build a sense of team, and most importantly, a time to have fun and be competitive with each other while enjoying the sport we loved.
As a student-athlete, the athletics community — at any level — will become your family. You will share meals, busses, houses, and memorable college experiences with these people. They will be part of your life forever.
Arriving on the Wesleyan campus for the start of my freshman year was daunting, but I became immediately at ease when three football players exited my dorm and offered to carry all of my things up to my room. It did not take long to realize I had already become immersed in a community of friendly, helpful, like-minded athletes who would soon become my friends.
A great part about the DIII experience is how you have enough time to immerse yourself outside the athletic community, too. Sure, you will be busy, but you will have time to explore other interests — student government, the newspaper, an a capella group, tutoring — and meet people outside of your niche.
The ability to be a part of the athletics community, while also having the time to immerse yourself in the community of your institution at-large, is a great benefit of the Division III experience.
At any level of collegiate athletics, you will likely endure early morning lifts, two-a-days, long bus rides, and late nights in the library catching up on work. But it will be worth it — and I bet you’ll even receive the best grades while you are in season. Managing academic and athletic commitments, as well as maintaining your health and social life, is a challenge. But the ingrained schedule a season provides will provide the structure that will make it easier to succeed both on the field and in the classroom.
A big difference between DI and DIII is that there is more of an off-season at the Division III level. In the off-season, depending on the DIII conference, you will spend 10-20 hours a week training and practicing. You may have a few games or matches to keep your skills sharp, too. But while there is a commitment in the off-season, you are free to focus on other things. DI athletes essentially continue the same regiment in the off-season, but without the games.
Division III athletics never felt overwhelming. I never felt burnt out, or like I didn’t want to play anymore. The amount of time spent playing field hockey and lacrosse was just right. Most importantly, I had time in the off-season to complete more challenging major requirements, and was able to spend time planning the rest of my college career.
My first year out of school, I told my family that I would empty my bank account to play one more field hockey season at Wesleyan. DIII might not be your initial dream, but it’s okay to change your mind. If you have the opportunity to play, take it. I’m sure a few years from now you’ll give everything you have to play just one more season.
Editor’s Note: This post is a guest article from former SportsRecruits account manager Blair Ingraham. Blair played Division III field hockey and lacrosse at Wesleyan University, and graduated in 2014. Thanks to Blair for sharing her experiences in this great post!
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