When you aspire to reach the highest levels in rugby you have to go ‘all in’. It requires focus, commitment, and hard work if you are to reach your potential. However there is a life after sport and young players can’t sacrifice their education while they chase their sporting ambitions. It’s a tough balance to strike so how does a young player with aspirations to go pro balance college studies with the demands of their chosen sport?
Madison Hughes is a player I have coached here at Dartmouth and at the Junior World Trophy in 2012. An exceptional talent who has proven himself at both Sevens and XVs at the very highest level and his achievements are all the more impressive when you take into account he was an Ivy League student throughout most of his career to date.
Before he graduated I asked Madison about being a Senior at Dartmouth and the challenges of balancing studying and playing.
“There are two things I’m really focused on right now, which are progressing through my Dartmouth degree and playing high level rugby and improving as much as I can as a rugby player. That means in other areas of my life I have to make sacrifices to allow me to put the emphasis on the things I really want to focus on.
You have to be really careful with your time management and you have to be on top of things. You can’t have assignments pop up last minute that you didn’t really know about because then it could be due during training and that’s something you can’t have. You have to stay on top of things, balance your priorities and do as well as you can in both those areas.”
Madison went on to explain that he firmly believes that having a focus away from rugby, like your academics, actually help your rugby. “There have been times when I haven’t been studying when I’ve been playing rugby and I’ve found you can get bogged down in just one thing. I very much enjoy playing rugby but there are times when it can get overwhelming and having the academics there can take your mind off of it and give you an alternative outlet.
Having said that there are times when it is a bit of a distraction. Whichever one is the distraction it’s hard to say!”
“There are times when they come to a head at the same point, like when you have your final exams at the same time as a national-team camp or during the biggest college tournament of the year, the CRC. That can make it hard at times but for the most part having those dual priorities allows you to be very intense about one at a time without losing the edge that you have in each area.”
This rugby/life balance is something that the professionals strongly advocate too. A positive distraction away from rugby be it study, family, kids, a business you definitely need the time away from the rugby field. USA’s Chris Wyles believes that’s important for a player’s development. “While you have to be focused, determined and ambitious you also have to have a balance of life. It keeps things fresh, and your rugby doesn’t mentally drain you.”
For Canada’s Tyler Ardron it’s about the love for the game. “Moderation is key in any aspect of life and rugby is no different. If I spent all of my time worrying or thinking about rugby I’m sure I’d lose a bit of passion for the game.”
And lets not forget Welsh Centre Jamie Roberts who completed his medical degree while collecting Six Nations Winners medals and competing in Lions Tests.
“Having something outside of rugby that allowed me to switch off from the game helped me become a better thinker, which, allows me to analyse and problem solve on the rugby pitch. I am a better rugby player because of my study.”
“That is a big philosophy of the All Blacks and some of the young players in New Zealand are encouraged to do things off the field. That could be a trade or further education in order to become better people and better thinkers and ultimately, better rugby players. “
“I believe that better people off the pitch, make better people on the pitch.”
That’s an important message for any player.
— Rio 2016 (@Rio2016_en) June 29, 2016
Having that balance is something that has certainly worked for Madison, who is captain of the USA Sevens team which will compete in the Olympics in Rio. For those seeking to advance their education and rugby skills in the US, Madison is just one example of how the American college system offers student athletes opportunities to achieve that on-field/off-field balance that will let them reach their goals.
Rugby in America is very much a College sport; there is a highly competitive and organised structure where your talent lets you represent your University with pride whilst studying towards an academic undergraduate qualification. At FirstPoint USA we are pioneers in this relatively new sporting scholarship opportunity and we will help you to complete the necessary entrance tests (both sporting and academic) and support you to make the right choice of university as well as helping with other funding sources if you need them.
Gavin Hickie, USA Rugby Collegiate All-Americans Forwards Coach, is a former Ireland A & 7s, Leinster and Leicester rugby player now Head Coach of Dartmouth Rugby. He writes for RugbyToday.com and other publications when not coaching and blogging on lineoutcoach.com