Dealing with both academics and sports is a challenge, but a challenge that student-athletes know they will have to overcome when playing at a Division I university.
The Nebraska soccer team is one that has created a culture where its players are both great students and athletes. In September, the United Soccer Coaches, which annually honors the academic achievements of college and high school soccer teams, announced that Nebraska soccer earned the academic team award for the 12th straight year. The 2019 Huskers had a team GPA of 3.47.
It takes more than just a few individuals excelling in the classroom to win an award like this, as every athlete needs to buy into the nature of being a student first.
Nebraska soccer head coach John Walker, who has coached the team since 1994, has shown that he knows how to build a program with a great blend of academics and performance on the field.
Walker said that the players deserve all the credit for their academic success.
“Their work ethic, responsibility, dedication and motivation to work hard on and off the field is truly what has gotten them to this point of success,” he said.
Walker also said that the players are the ones that have created the team’s buy-in culture. Junior forward Natalie Cooke said that everyone is not only looking to be the best they can be in the classroom, but also doing whatever they can to make sure their teammates are too.
“We have all gone through some of the same struggles so we make sure that we help out the teammates that need it, and also just keep each other on the same page that we aren’t just athletes and that we are students first,” Cooke said.
Cooke said that the team takes pride in making sure that they are giving the same amount of effort to their academics as they do to their sport.
Even while giving it their all, the athletes can’t do it alone. A huge part of the soccer team’s academic success comes from the help that the university provides them. Walker said that Nebraska’s academic advisors and counselors for student-athletes help them manage their busy schedules as well as set them up for post-graduate life.
Walker said that the team’s counselors are very important to the team’s long lasting academic success because they understand what student-athletes are going through.
“They understand how to navigate the dual-worlds with the athletes' demands and steering them in the right direction with career paths and course selection,” Walker said. “They are providing that needed structure to make sure the athletes are going to succeed.”
One thing that Cooke said helped her was a presentation a couple years ago that laid out the groundwork for making sure that student-athletes can succeed both inside and outside of the classroom.
“They really took us through things like to-do lists and how important organization is for success and how reaching out is just as important because you need to be proactive to making sure that problems can be figured out,” Cooke said.
However, this process doesn’t just start when the players get to Nebraska. Walker has high academic standards when recruiting as well. He said that he emphasizes to recruits that coming to Nebraska isn’t just about getting to compete at the Big Ten level, it’s also about getting a quality education.
“When a person comes in and sees what we bring academically I think it really resonates with the recruit because they are students first and need to see the nature of what our program holds here at Nebraska academically,” Walker said.
Freshman forward Eleanor Dale is an example of a recent recruit that was in part attracted to Nebraska because of academics. Dale comes from England, and she said that handling her schoolwork on top of an adjustment to a new country may have been too much if not for the help of the university.
“Things like the Apple Mac computer that was provided for me have made things so much easier because of how much is online,” Dale said. “The study halls and the help from the tutors have also made it so much easier to handle my busy schedule.”
Along with the help that the school provides, the older teammates are there to help as well. Cooke said that coming into college was an obstacle but the transition was made a lot easier with the help of her teammates.
“Really seeing your other teammates working hard in the classroom makes you want to do it as well because they know what sort of struggles you may be going through with a student-athlete’s schedule and it is nice to know that if I needed to reach out to anyone they would help me,” Cooke said.
The soccer team knows how to handle the tough schedule of being a student-athlete, and a big part of that is being able to admit that you need help, according to Cooke.
“Don’t be embarrassed to reach out for help because everyone has their struggles and there are always going to be people out there who are willing to help,” Cooke said.