The reason I went to North America in the first place was to pursue an ice hockey career. Everyone who does sport for a long time ultimately dreams about a professional career and often puts an education on the backseat. I almost made the mistake of doing the same thing. I did not know that excellent academics and competition at a high level at the same time was an option, since this was not being offered or even possible in Europe. While studying at Stanstead College during my junior and senior year of high school, I realised how important it is to also receive a great education and get good grades.
The opportunities in North America to combine sports and academics are unique. They often may seem like goals that cannot be reached or afforded by Europeans. But as the old saying goes, “Where there is a will, there is a way”, and with some hard work, guidance, and luck, even someone from Europe can achieve this goal. You can only play sports for so long and how many do really make it? Statistics aside, it is important to get an education and focus on your career after your beloved sport as well. In fact, during my short stint in professional hockey, an injury early in the season sidelined me for the whole year. During that time I was able to use my education and really focus on my next steps.
Although my junior hockey career was sometimes unconventional and took me to many different places (especially trying out for those junior teams due the lack of guidance) it has helped me to become a stronger athlete and has enabled me to develop an independent personality. I was fortunate to end up having a great coach and mentor in Bob Thornton during juniors. He was not only well connected, but also cared about the players. Picking the right university, going through the admissions process, and being scouted by college coaches is a difficult task. Athletes and students across America have a hard time navigating admissions and recruitment, and it is especially when you are from a different country where this particular system does not exist.
When I finally arrived in the college ranks I could not believe the opportunities that were being offered to me. Competing at a high level and receiving a great education in one of the top liberal arts colleges in North America was only one part of the experience. Growing an international network, interacting with people from all over the world and making life long friendships will always be something you carry along after your athletic career. I was also blessed with having great coaches and professors with whom I still keep in touch. They are always open to give you advice or help with making decisions. The opportunities of being involved on campus are endless and I enjoyed giving back very much. Whether it was organising a fundraiser, working with the local youth hockey, or helping out at another sporting event on campus, I always had a great time. Being a college athlete and representing your team on and off the ice was not only an honor for me, but it was the best part of being an athlete. The experience of going out to battle with your peers that you study and share your room with was an incredible feeling. You learn to manage your time and challenge yourself by balancing everything you need to do: you're up late doing homework, then you're showing up early the next day to lift weights or go practice and then doing extracurricular work in the community. I find now that this helps me a lot at my current job and I believe my co-workers value this accountability I was able to practice while I was at school.
The right guidance through this whole process is not only important, but essential. It will save you time, money and on top of that, it will give you more options rather than trying to do it yourself. The most important advice I can give to young, aspiring athletes is to not only focus on becoming excellent at your desired sport, but to also look at the big picture, play different sports and challenge your mind — this WILL make you a better athlete in the end. Have fun!