USports Football
(Ted Pritchard/CP)

In my second spring camp as a USports football player, we had the privilege of hearing from three-time CFL East All-Star Jock Climie in a team meeting. His message was clear: once you realize how many waking hours there are in a day, you are never truly that busy.

Climie was electric on the field, having recorded 624 catches for 9619 yards and 56 touchdowns in a career that lasted 12 years. What most people do not know, however, is that Jock Climie was more than what he was on the field.

During his time playing for Ottawa Roughriders, Climie was constantly traveling back and forth between there and Queens University in Kingston to complete his law degree while also working to be an elite CFL slotback.

Climie’s message on that day is one that is not stressed nearly enough around young Canadian football players. As a current USports football player, I have seen too many young men either lose their eligibility or fail out of school altogether. Currently, if a player consumed eligibility in the previous season, it is up to that player to maintain at least a 1.5 GPA and pass at least 6 classes.

The vast majority of these teammates that have had academic issues that affect their place on the team are not incapable. In most cases, they have simply never been taught how to manage their time effectively. That being said, if you are an aspiring (or current) USports football player, the following tips should help you manage football and your courseload more effectively.

Make a Plan

Between lifts, watching film, meetings, practices, games and other team activities, the average USports Football player invests about 30-40 hours a week into football alone. For some perspective, that’s about the same as having a full-time job while also going to school. Make no mistake, this is not easy, but it becomes a lot easier when you have a plan and you follow it.

In every university class, the teacher is required to provide a syllabus, which most often includes a schedule. When you receive each syllabus, you should put every important date into a calendar (digital or hard copy). Set reminders on your computer or phone a week before each of these dates to prepare accordingly. Every Sunday, make sure that you have carved out chunks of time that you can be prepared for every important date that week. Make sure to plan these times around practice, lifts, games, and whatever other team commitments you may have. Remember: academics come before football in importance, but you should never miss a team event because of an assignment that you did not finish or a test you did not study for. If you have a meticulous plan for the week, there is no excuse to have to miss a team function because of school.

Make Sacrifices

As a USports athlete, your hierarchy of importance should be as follows: family first, followed by academics, and then football. Everything else that comes after should only be focused on after you’ve handled your business in these areas.

Think about how much time per day we all waste on things that fall below that hierarchy. How many hours a day do you spend watching Netflix or playing Call of Duty that you could be spending on assignments or studying. Obviously there is more than enough room for these things, but I find that it is much harder to focus if you go from Netflix to school work, as opposed to finishing schoolwork before you relax.

You may have to make sacrifices. You may have to sacrifice some sleep, or spending time with your girlfriend, or video games. At the end of the day, if you are not willing to make these sacrifices for your academic success, and ultimately your success in football, you may not be cut out to play at the USports level. The flip side, however, is that if you manage your time effectively, you will have even more time to do whatever it is that you do to blow off steam.

Go To Class

This one may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people skip class on a regular basis. This may not be the end of the world for any regular university student who has more free time to make up for it, but for an elite athlete that spends a minimum of 30 hours a week on their sport alone, skipping a few classes could be the difference between being able to play in the next football season or not.

I can guarantee you this: if you go to class, take notes, stay on top of all your assignments and tests and do your absolute best, I can almost guarantee that you will at least pass the class. University is difficult, but it is made a lot easier if you do these things. Every hour you spend in class is one less hour that you have to spend trying to understand a concept you missed the night before a test.

Ask For Help

If you do not understand something in a class, use the resources that are provided to you. Professors, tutors and academic support groups want to help you but they cannot do that if you do not take the initiative to ask for it. If you would like to take the less formal route, ask your teammates, friends in the class, and even coaches may have the answers you need.

There is no point in struggling through a class with all of the resources at your disposal as an athlete. There is also no excuse to not seek help if you need it. I understand that it is not always easy asking for help, but every university student is in the same boat. Nobody will ever think less of you when you ask for the help you need.

At the end of the day, this sport, at this level, is not for everybody. It is extremely difficult to manage school and football at the same time. The thing with being a student-athlete is that you cannot have one without the other. It is not enough to be a great football player and cruise through school. It is more than likely that the effort needed in high school will not cut it at the next level academically. It will be hard, but if you truly love this game, you will have to figure it out. The requirements for academic eligibility for USports are more than doable, and if you follow these tips and work hard, not only will you be eligible every year, but you will earn your degree as well.

I feel that this is an important message for young Canadian football players to hear. If Jock Climie can complete one of the most difficult post-graduate degrees at the same time as becoming one of the greatest receivers in CFL history, you are more than capable of earning your degree while playing USports football. Football is not forever, but a degree is. Take it seriously.

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