Become a Better Student-Athlete


We tracked down a handful of coaches and even a director of athletics – all associated with the Big West Conference, an NCAA Division I member – to find out top training tips for student-athletes, some important do’s and don’ts of training, and some things they know now that they wish they’d known in their school days. Plus, our August 2017 cover model, Sage Watson, shares some tips as well!

From proper sleep to engaging in active recovery, here are top training tips from the experts.

  1. Engage in Active Recovery: Todd Rogers, head volleyball coach at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, said this is critical. “I tell all my athletes that you have to take care of your body in terms of rest,” he said. By active recovery, he means athletes need to take advantage of the things they have in the training room that will help their bodies recover from training, such as massages, deep tissue work, cupping, heat stimulation, ice, etc. “This is what is going to help you train harder the next day. If you don’t do these things, the lactic acid, the soreness, will build up over the week … and you won’t do as well.”
  2. Get 8 Hours of Sleep Each Night: Tamica Smith Jones, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics for UC Riverside, said, “As collegiate student athletes, you are challenged with juggling the time demands of training, studying, competition, social interest, and the list goes on. It is important to get the proper rest for the day, and sometimes a power nap midday or evening helps significantly. Days get drawn out, and studying oftentimes comes late at night. But getting those eight hours [each night] allows the body to rest, recover and repair for the journey.”
  3. Eat Right: Maintain proper nutrition throughout the day. “Grabbing a healthy snack to help fuel you is priceless,” said Smith Jones. Keep protein bars, fresh nuts, fruit and other power bites in your possession to ensure you do not go for the many unhealthy options that seem so readily available. “Having energy handy while you are on the go that will both satisfy your hunger and keep you healthy is a win-win!” she said. “Besides, it goes a long way toward building a healthy physique. What you do outside the gym is just as important to the gains you want inside the gym.”
  4. Pay Attention To Details. “Everyone wants to get the big hit, set the new record or accomplish whatever relates to your sport, but big jumps aren’t usually the way progress comes. It’s about baby steps,” said Tairia Flowers, CSUN head softball coach. “Be patient and work hard.”
  5. Go Hard or Go Home! “Always put in 110 percent effort into your training or else, why are you there?” said Robyn Ah Mow-Santos, head volleyball coach at University of Hawaii, Manoa. “Also, respect your coaches, teammates, and trainers and they will respect you.”
  6. Lead By Example. “It’s not always about being the best player or your talent,” Ah Mow-Santos said. “You will be respected for your work ethic even if your skill level isn’t where others are.

Related: Better Nutrition for Student-Athletes

Sage Watson, a recent graduate of University of Arizona who won the 400-meter hurdles title at the 2017 NCAA Division I National Track and Field Championships in Eugene, OR, is this issue’s cover model. Here are her top three training tips for student-athletes:

  1. Get Your Sleep. Sleep is an important factor in recovery and mental awareness. Without sleep, you are going to break down your body faster and lose your mental focus for school.
  2. Set Your Priorities. Ask yourself, “Is what I’m doing today going to help me achieve my athletic and academic goals tomorrow?”
  3. Understand Your Training. Write down your goals and have strong communication with your coach, trainers, or whoever else is helping you. Understanding your goals and what you are doing each day in training to get towards these goals is an important factor for success.

Experts dish on things they know now that they wish they’d known as a student-athlete.

“When I was a college athlete, I used to joke with the guys who lifted and asked them why they were lifting. Now, looking back, I wish I had taken [weight lifting] more seriously. That, as well as [geting enough] rest and what you put in your body.”

– Todd Rogers, head volleyball coach, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

“As a high school athlete, I didn’t look at fitness as a lifestyle or sports as a profession. But now … I believe it’s important [for student-athletes] to remain disciplined and focused not just on maintaining fitness to perform in your respective sport but to train for a disciplined and healthy lifestyle.”

– Tamica Smith Jones, director of intercollegiate athletics for UC Riverside

“I wish I would’ve learned to eat better and execute that plan so that it would be more natural now. Once you aren’t on an intense workout schedule, you definitely have to be better in different areas of your life.”

– Tairia Flowers, CSUN head softball coach


“EVERYTHING!! I wish I’d listened more to my academic advisors. Now in today’s ‘real world,’ having a degree is something YOU NEED versus something only certain people can attain.”

– Robyn Ah Mow-Santos, head volleyball coach at University of Hawaii, Manoa

“Nutrition for peak performance. There are many things I put into my body as a [student] athlete that probably inhibited my body from optimizing performance. I can’t guarantee I would have made the right decision every time, but it would have been nice to be able to make a more informed decision.”

– Dan Klatt, head women’s water polo coach for UC Irvine

Don’t Miss: Student-Athletes Reveal Winning Secrets

Dan Klatt is the head coach for women’s water polo at UC Irvine. He is a former water polo Olympian and All-American. Klatt earned Big West Coach of the Year for the fifth time in 2014. He was appointed the head coach of the U.S. junior national team and then guided them to their first ever gold medal in the London Olympic Games in 2012. Here are his training do’s and don’ts for student-athletes.


  1. Do prepare for strength training. Elite level strength training is one of the hardest adjustments for incoming student-athletes without professional guidance during their interscholastic career. Understand the type of lifts and movements that will be emphasized and get a head start in a safe environment with proper instruction.
  2. Do incorporate sport specific movement in conditioning. Running and swimming alone cannot prepare you for proper fundamental execution while fatigued. Incorporate sport specific movements into your conditioning so you are used to performing technical skills while under mental and physical duress.
  3. Do learn to love fundamental repetition. Every sport has fundamental movements that are the building blocks of the game. Without these movements one cannot play the sport at a high level. These movements should be a consistent element of personal training.


  1. Don’t be too cool for stretching. Not only does stretching prevent injury, it also increases your athletic potential. Make this part of your routine. Leave time for stretching before and after training.
  2. Don’t ignore your weaknesses. Embrace them! People gravitate toward what they are good at and tend to ignore development of their weaknesses. A true competitor is driven by success that comes with challenge and adversity, not success that comes with ease. Before training, identify a challenge area you will attack that day. Persevere through failures you may face until that weakness becomes a strength.
  3. Don’t outgrow coaching. You can learn something that improves you from every coach and teammate you have on a daily basis. Sometimes as people become elite, and their ego grows, they become worse listeners. Having two sets of eyes and two brains to refine your game is always better. There is an article in The New Yorker from 2011 by Atul Gawande called Personal Best that eloquently professes the need for guidance and critique in even the best of us. Be coachable! Listen and apply.