Excellence on the Field and Off: Balancing Athletics and Academics

A Coach’s Perspective

This is part two of a two-part series on balancing athletics and academics. 

The path to winning on the field and in the classroom goes hand in hand. With hard work and finding a balance, excellence will follow.

Transitioning to College

Transitioning from high school to college is a major step. Scholar-athletes have their own set of challenges.

“Support systems change in college. My family came to all my high school games. Now my parents make a few games a year. They watch online, but it’s different when they are not in the stands,” said Trista Brown, first baseman and sophomore biology major from Crosby, Texas.

College is also a time of growing up, managing classes, athletics, jobs, and social lives. “The hardest transition to college is time management. Professors treat you like an adult and expect you to take care of academics,” said Head Softball Coach David McNally ‘07. “College is harder than high school and strong study habits are important. Ultimately, it’s on the player to take responsibility, but we’ll support and connect them to resources to help them.”

“In college, I realized that school and sports are serious business, and you have to stay on top of things,” said Brown. “I had to show Coach McNally that I wanted to be here, who I was as a person, and how much I care about softball.”

Dual Success

“The reality is that the skills to be successful in academics or athletics (or anything) are roughly the same. To be successful in any endeavor, you need to focus on a goal, have tenacity and dedication (i.e., work ethic) to achieve the benchmarks that lead to that goal, and be able to manage your time to ensure success in achieving the goal. In athletics it takes practice, performance fundamentals, and game/match management. In academics it takes homework, study, and assignment performance,” said Dr. Joel Brant, McMurry professor of biology and department chair.

He continues “the key to both is preparedness (developed by the day-to-day activity). Assignments and games are simply tests of an individual’s preparedness. The true difficulty is attempting to excel in more than one endeavor. This adds a complication to the time management calculus. However, true scholar-athletes will have the work ethic to achieve success in both academic and athletic endeavors.”

Softball has the highest McMurry team GPA. “Softball is an extension of the university. If we don’t take academics seriously, we won’t be successful on the field either. This group of women has great leadership and confidence. They also set good examples and are mentors to the freshmen,” said McNally. “Players see what others are doing to balance athletics and academics. Whether it’s at team dinners at my house, on trips, or at the hotel, you always see them with their laptops and books.”

Team Relationship

McNally and his wife Julie ’08 know that personal relationships matter. “If you build a relationship with players, they want to work for you and the team,” said McNally.

In softball’s seven-year McMurry history, this year’s team is as good as it’s ever been. As McNally says, the past builds the future.

“We get better each year and have a good core. It’s important to continue to recruit those with buy-in. We want a championship,” said Brown.

Softball becomes part of an extended family. “The answer to all is a home cooked dinner. At team dinners at our home, they eat, some study, some hang out. It’s a laidback atmosphere and builds relationships,” said McNally.

Students need to find what works for them. “I don’t bring homework to team dinners. That’s my time to set it all aside. I’m so passionate about softball, but I can’t let stress outweigh the big picture,” said Brown.

“Scholar-athletes work hard. Nothing in life is easy. They know how to keep a balance too,” said McNally. “Success is based on effort. Challenge will make them successful in life.” 


Part I: Excellence on the Field and Off: Balancing Athletics and Academics

In case you missed it, check out Part I of our two-part series on balancing athletics and academics, where we explore the student perspective.

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