Kessenich: College lacrosse fosters broad life lessons to student-athletes

North Carolina midfielder Stephen Kelly brings the ball upfield against Loyola Greyhounds during the 2016 NCAA men's lacrosse Division I championship semifinals.
North Carolina midfielder Stephen Kelly brings the ball upfield against Loyola Greyhounds during the 2016 NCAA men's lacrosse Division I championship semifinals. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

In any collegiate sport, it's a challenge for athletes to balance the demands of the sport with academic responsibilities and a social life that must take third place.

In lacrosse — where the top programs are also some of the most rigorous academically, and where players rarely strike it rich as pros — the balance takes on greater meaning for athletes.


The academics at schools such as Princeton, Duke, Notre Dame, Johns Hopkins and Cornell are hyper competitive. Then there's the athletic portion that can account for more than 30 hours per week, including practice, film study, weight lifting, meetings, treatment in the training room and travel.

Those who excel invest extra hours into their craft. The lazy and uncommitted sink deep on the bench.


Here are the life lessons several players say they're learning by playing lacrosse in college…


Stephen Kelly, North Carolina (Calvert Hall): "The most difficult part is the sacrifices you have to make, especially if you want to be great. Getting up at 6:30 a.m. everyday in the offseason to run our tails off is not necessarily the most fun. However, being able to work hard with my teammates, knowing we all want to accomplish the same goal is one of the greatest things about college lacrosse. It takes hard, difficult work, but when you do achieve your goal, there is not a better feeling."

Marshall Peters, Cornell: "I've learned how to deal with a myriad of personalities in a team environment. How to hold others accountable, even it sacrifices your popularity, and how to stay calm during pressure situations and trust your skills.

Compartmentalizing responsibilities 

Pat Myers, Boston: "It's a challenge to come each and every day with a consistent mindset that can't change due to outside factors. Whether you play poorly the day before or have a lot of homework that night, you have to wash it and get ready for practice, lifting, film study, or a game."

Reaves Klipstein, Army: "Balancing lacrosse, academics and military requirements is most challenging. Our days start early and go non-stop until late evening."

Time management

Tanner Scales, Virginia: "The most difficult aspect is trying to balance all of life's other obligations."

Myers: "Time management is key. To be able to balance a full class load with a physically and mentally challenging lacrosse schedule and to be able to bring energy to it all, is a skill I will use for the rest of my life."

Wilkins Dismuke, Johns Hopkins: "The time management skills I have learned will help me throughout the rest of my life.

Competing through obstacles

Kelly: "The most challenging aspect about playing at North Carolina is you have to come ready to play every day of your career if you want to consistently play. There's always a ton of new talent coming in who're gunning for playing time. The guys who play come to work everyday and take every run, every drill and every lift with a competitive fire."

Tyler Pfister, Ohio State: "I've been dealt a non-traditional hand when it comes to the collegiate journey. I've had two ACL surgeries and a few other setbacks. Faith has always been a huge part of my life. It's not about what happens to you, but what you do with those things that matter," said

Brady Dove, Navy: "I've learned to embrace the hard times. Those are the moments when a team builds strength. Fighting through the adversity on the field whether it be sprint after sprint or one of your teammates going down with an injury, those situations translate in real life."

Growing from failure 

Tommy Voelkel, Hofstra: "Handling constructive criticism is crucial. In school or lacrosse you're always working toward the best version of yourself and handling constructive criticism is a crucial determinant to growth. You have to learn to accept criticism from your peers and coaches without getting offended or bent out of shape.


Scales: "I've learned how to fail. I've learned how to cope with and rebound from failure. Sometimes you can do everything in your power to succeed and things don't go your way. I've learned how to handle these situations and how to persevere through them."

Bonding over common goals 

Sam Gravitte, Princeton: "You walk into a brotherhood the second you step on campus; that supports you, inspires you, and powerfully shapes who you are until you graduate and even after that. You're surrounded by people with a common love of the game and a common goal of winning, and those people become your best friends.

Nick Aponte, Penn State: "The biggest takeaway has been learning to be selfless, being part of a team and working together for a common goal. That's something I can take with me outside of lacrosse."

Myers: "It's grinding every day with 50 of your best friends for a goal you all want to achieve."

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