By Student-Athlete Libby O’Hare
As dedicated as athletes may be to their sport, they are still only human. With that comes the desire to experiment, the pressure to fit in, as well as the strain of social standards, particularly when it comes to something as familiar and pervasive as alcohol. From a young age, athletes learn that optimal achievement goes beyond dedication and determination on the field. In addition, the gift of athleticism bears the weight of prioritization, compromise, and value judgment. So, to drink or not to drink? What are the resulting implications of alcohol with high school and college athletes alike?
I grew up in a town where drinking was a considerable part of the social scene. While alcohol was part of the culture at our high school, the swim team, and my sport of choice, was one of the only teams to adhere to a dry season, obliging us to be alcohol-free from August to November. For swimmers, the dry season was team mandated, and never discussed by my coach; in fact, it was rare for a coach to warrant drinking rules formally. If anything, coaches would address instances that happened with other high schools in our area and use these stories to scare the team away from making similar mistakes. Usually, coaches would also discuss regulations with the captains, and the captains would relay the message to the team. In my opinion, there wasn’t a universal rule regarding alcohol because the age of high school athletes ranges from 14 to 18. Because of the drastic age gap, it was more challenging to have team parties. Most sports teams would have varsity-only parties or exclusively invite the upperclassmen, whereas full team parties were organized and supervised by parents. As a highly competitive athlete, I found it challenging to balance academics, athletics, and social life because they were not as intertwined, and every off-season weekend, I was left to decide whether to drink or claim the role of a designated driver.
Although I encountered social drinking in high school, it didn’t take long for me to realize that college was a whole new beast. Almost immediately, I recognized the limitations and regulations athletes faced regarding alcohol and parties. From my knowledge, most college coaches never forbid drinking but instead administered rules for the team to abide by. For example, during the dual meet season, the swim team had what we called the ‘week rule,’ meaning we couldn’t drink for seven days before every competition. This rule was in place throughout the fall semester, but January 1st was the official start date of the dry season — where the team was completely sober for the two months leading up to championships.
While the swim team’s week rule and dry season were more strict than other sports on campus, unlike most teams, we didn’t have a precise rule about drinking before practice. Instead, the team collectively decided on some unwritten rules, and the rest was up to your discretion. Essentially, it was discouraged to drink before morning practice, but if you chose to do so, there was never a formal punishment; if anything, you would get a slap on the wrist from the captains. If you were caught breaking our coach mandated drinking rules, on the other hand, the punishment would be much more severe.
College is undeniably a more challenging environment to balance school, sports, and social obligations, especially if you are a part of Greek life or live with non-athletes. College campuses, in general, revolve around social interactions, and since drinking is so prevalent, it is harder to avoid than find. Considering you are no longer under your parents’ watch; you are fully responsible for yourself and your decisions. Coaches recognize that social settings, outside of training and practice, can also help team bonding. Athlete parties can be seen as a way to connect and celebrate with your team, and therefore build relationships outside of the pool, court, or field. Besides, your athletic abilities shouldn’t overpower other personal qualities and outlets; if you enjoy socializing, you should never let your sport deprive you of that. College, as a whole, is about balance, and as demanding as it may be to juggle school, sports, and any part of social life, it all embodies the hustle that constitutes a student-athletes college experience.
There is no ubiquitous rule that regulates athletes’ alcohol consumption — it’s entirely based on personal preferences and mutual agreements between athletes, coaches, and captains alike. It is possible that more serious athletes may not drink, but speaking from personal experience, athletes are not different from any other high school or college student, and with that comes the desire to, occasionally, drink socially and responsibly.
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