Dear College Bound Athlete…

Mental toughness  – the ability to resist, manage and overcome doubts, worries, concerns and circumstances that prevent you from excelling towards an objective or a performance outcome that you set out to achieve.

You will hear that a lot as a student-athlete and during your career of whichever sport you participate in. How tough are you? How much can you endure? How capable are you to get up, every single day, sore muscles and all, and compete? Because at the end of the day that’s what you’re doing every single day as an athlete; competing.

Competing against your yesterday’s self, competing for that starting spot, competing with your teammates to earn that conference championship. How do you handle failure? There is no hiding from it, at some point during your career you will fail. I say that with certainty. You might not make your times during conditioning, might miss that game point serve or the game winning shot, have your starting spot taken, or forget to set your alarm for an early morning practice. Are you going to make excuses? Or will you strive to get better and DO better?

Mental toughness – a make or break for all student-athletes.

The term student-athlete should not be taken lightly. It’s an honor to fall under that category! As student-athletes you have an incredible amount of privileges that normal students don’t get. You get to represent your school by wearing that logo on your jersey. You may be receiving an athletic scholarship. How cool is that? Getting your education paid for to do something you love (although there’s no doubting that it is a constant grind). You get to travel, wear free gear, eat more food than your heart can desire, work out and practice the game you are passionate about, and form an undeniable bond with a group of other people who are going through all the same things you are. All the ups, downs, and in between.  

There’s a reason you will be called a “student-athlete”. Student first. We don’t get the privilege to skip class. We go to class, introduce ourselves to the professor, work hard to make up any missed work for our games, sit in the front row, stay off our phones, and make the athletics department proud. Professors will know who you are and respect your grind. And if they don’t, your hard work and consistency during the semester will shine through so much that they won’t forget you.

I believe that now more than ever there is a high amount of pressure placed on you during the recruiting process. Pressure to make decisions quickly and pressure to play at the highest level possible. Pressure from peers, family, coaches, and recruiting coordinators. Looking back to when I committed (back in 2007, ha!), I don’t remember there being that much pressure. Here are my few pieces of advice for you to take or leave. Do. Your. Research! Research the community (crime, involvement in university, cost of living, things to do, etc.), look up the bio of your potential coach, and talk to former and current players of that coach. Take a look into the academics of the university – do they have the major you’re interested in? Look at the culture of the program and the athletic department as a whole.

Lastly, take a deep breath. Enjoy the process. How cool is it that lots of coaches think you’re awesome at what you do and want you to join their family and program? That’s a pretty neat thing and I encourage you to live in the moment and enjoy every single moment!

As a former student-athlete, I can say with certainty that I’d give anything to go back and play one more match. I know that as a current washed-up athlete, I get so excited for the alumni matches (or stepping in at practices those few times an extra setter is needed). I love being able to get dressed, warmed up, and play the game I am so passionate about (and pretend there are people cheering for me in the stands. HA!). Being a collegiate athlete prepared me for life in more ways than I ever could’ve imagined and I know without a doubt I wouldn’t be who I am today had I not had the privilege of continuing my career through college. I have made friends that will be part of my life forever and memories that I could talk about all day. College sports taught me ownership, humility, responsibility, accountability, discipline, and respect. College sports provided me a sense of pride and fulfillment. All the “blood, sweat, and tears” are so worth it. Do it. Play college sports and continue your career. Put in the work it takes and then do MORE. I promise you it’s worth it.

-Coach Dukic

Arkansas Tech University Head Coach