I have always been a great sports fan, especially of basketball and American football, two of the most popular sports in the U.S. on the professional and collegiate levels.
It blew my mind to know I would be living in the nation of sports as an international graduate student, and maybe even being able to participate. As a basketball player and someone who wants to work in the sports business in the future, I was convinced I should make use of this great opportunity to look behind the scenes of college sports in the U.S.
The intensity, professionalism and organization of U.S. college sports has fascinated me. Those features are unique characteristics of the U.S. in its sports competition with other countries.
At the beginning of my graduate studies, I was offered the job as the team manager of the New Jersey Institute of Technology women’s basketball team, during the 2012-2013 college basketball season. My main tasks were to run all the equipment at the daily practices and home games, help in the coaches’ office and film or help on the bench during the home games.
From the first practices on I could already see parallels and big differences from what I had seen among German sports organizations – and found there were some lessons to be learned.
1. Professionalism: The level of professionalism on an American college team is comparable to a first league organization in my country: a fully dedicated coaching staff, team attire for practices and travels, defined monthly schedules, an equipped locker room and so forth.
The practice followed a defined schedule and a physical therapist would be available if necessary. Punctuality and reliability are essential values in collegiate sports in the U.S. On my former lower league team in Germany it was normal to show up at the gym at 7 p.m. if practice was scheduled for 7 p.m. On our team at NJIT, players showed up about 45 minutes before practice started so they could change, warm up as a group with a defined routine and be ready at the right time. Everything is very organized and deviations from the schedule are almost unacceptable.
2. Preparation: In American college sports one of the most important things to take care of in order to win games is good preparation. That preparation comes through in a variety of ways. Practices are always aimed at certain goals to be achieved that week or at preparing for the next opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. Teams use video scouting as an important element in analyzing opponents.
To get the student athletes’ bodies stronger for the games there are also weight lifting sessions on top of the regular practices. Injured players get their own specialized workout plans from their assigned coaches so they don’t fall out of physical shape being hurt.
[Avoid the challenges new international grad students often face.]
3. Teamwork: Many U.S. sports teams look for athletes with solid team spirit and the will to integrate into a team. Teams have events inside and outside of the gym, bonding activities that can include volunteer work in the community. At NJIT, pre- and postgame meals are held as a team with the whole staff – on the road and at home.
A player’s skills and his or her value to a team isn’t just about the statistics like points or rebounds, but what he or she will do for a team that will not show up in any statistic. European basketball is often focused on pure statistics and player efficiency, and teams often forget how motivating and beneficial players with great team spirit are for the rest of the team.
It was an honor for me to be part of an American sports team during my graduate studies in the U.S.
I was able to become a part of the team’s structure and made great new friends. I can only recommend making use of any opportunity that college sports and student life in the U.S. offers international graduate and undergraduate students, especially – but not only – if they are interested in sports.