Recruited athletes at Brown have a choice – since the University does not offer athletic scholarships, athletes can relinquish their commitment to their sport without affecting their financial aid, just like students participating in any other extracurricular activity. But this decision may lead to a difficult transition from student-athlete to student.
Of the recruited athletes in the class of 2011, nearly one-third dropped their sport by November 2010, according to a report submitted to the provost by the Compliance Office. This figure is relatively consistent from year to year, The Herald reported last semester.
The reasons for quitting vary, but a large percentage of athletes who drop their sport do so due to a career-ending injury, said Robert Kenneally ’90, associate athletic director for student services. Other athletes choose to quit due to lack of playing time, he said.
But some athletes simply do not want to or cannot keep up with the time commitment anymore, said Paige Simmons ’13, a former volleyball player.
“I wanted to know what it was like just being a regular student,” Simmons said. “And I wasn’t getting that much out of my experience … I just had to weigh what was more important to me at this time in my life.”
Lauren Kessler ’13, a former goalkeeper for the field hockey team, quit at the end of her sophomore year and rejoined the following year before quitting again and taking a leave of absence from Brown. The team’s poor performance was one of her reasons for leaving, she wrote in an email to The Herald. Because she felt Brown does not provide adequate financial support for athletics, she thought her team had little room for improvement, Kessler wrote.
But former hammer thrower for the track and field team Alex Lipinsky ’13 said he does not believe the high attrition rate in athletics is unique to varsity sports at Brown.
“I don’t know if any group gets people to join freshman year” and keeps those members for all four years, Lipinsky said. “Just after sophomore year, that’s when people start getting interested in their academics, and it’s just time to move on.”
Though all teams have trouble retaining members from year to year, female athletes both nationally and at Brown are more likely to drop their sports than males. Female athletes are six times more likely to drop their sports than male athletes through high school, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation. Though the gap is not so wide in college, female athletes are still more likely to quit their sport in college than male athletes, said Director of Athletics Michael Goldberger.
Just like there are many reasons athletes quit their sports, there are many theories about why this gender discrepancy exists.
“I definitely think (women quit more) because the opportunities for women pursuing a career in sports is a lot slimmer than guys,” Simmons said. “It definitely depends on where you are,” she said. A female basketball star at a state school may be drafted by the WNBA, but “if you go to Brown, that’s not going to happen,” she said.
Kenneally, a former hockey player at Brown, pointed out that many athletes come to the University for academics and do not intend to pursue playing professionally. Because the athletes who quit typically were not getting much playing time, he said he does not believe that the lack of future prospects for female players compared to men is the main reason for this discrepancy.
Rather, women may quit more often because they have less attachment to their sports, he said. Males tend to start playing sports earlier, and when they are in college, “even if they’re not an active participant on the team, they still tend to stay on the team … because that’s what they know,” Kenneally said.
Females tend to start sports later in life, “so maybe there’s not that sense of history and staying as part of the team,” he added.
Kenneally also said he thinks female athletes are able to find other passions to pursue on campus more easily than male athletes.
“The male athletes feel like the sport is their connection,” he said. “And if they were to leave a team by choice, I feel like they’re not sure what else they could do at Brown – where the female athletes tend to be more apt to get involved in other aspects of the community.”
Volleyball Head Coach Diane Short shared a similar point of view. “I think with men, there’s a little less drama around (seeing less playing time),” Short said. “They don’t take it so personally – they just want to be part of the team.”
Short cited her two sons, who both play hockey. If they did not receive much playing time, “they’d just be like, ‘I’m not good enough,’” she said. “Women are a little bit different. They’re like, ‘I have better things to do.’”
Though many student-athletes leave their sports by choice, students who have to leave because of a career-ending injury have the most trouble transitioning out of the collegiate athlete life, said Stephen Lassonde, deputy dean of the College who serves as a liaison to the athletics department. “The routines they have, the people they socialize with, the courses they take – everything is changed by that event,” Lassonde said. “And they can face a kind of a crisis.”
Lassonde said he reaches out to injured student-athletes to offer guidance. But often they do not respond, which he believes may be a good sign indicating that they do not feel they need help, he said.
Former ice hockey player Trevor Smyth ’13, who left the team after having surgery he had needed for years, said he is still heavily involved with the team. He still travels, helps to recruit for the team, assists the coaching staff when needed and watches video breakdowns with the team. Smyth also said his social circle hardly changed.
He added that he “always wanted to coach hockey, so I thought working with the coaching staff might be a good jump on that.”
Former volleyball player Christina Berry ’13 had a similar experience. During her first year, Berry sustained a shoulder injury. After surgery and rehab, she said she realized her shoulder was not strong enough to continue playing at the varsity level. She cried when she told the team she had to stop playing, but she maintains a close friendship
with her teammates, she said.
“The best thing about the aftermath of leaving is that the team has been so supportive,” Berry said.
Berry also said she has had more time to pursue other opportunities on campus. But like Smyth, her social group has not changed, and many of her classmates did not know she had stopped playing volleyball, she said.
“Obviously I’m still in that world,” Berry said. “It’s like once you’re on the team, you’re always a part of it, on and off the court.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Lauren Kessler ’13 would be rejoining the field hockey team for the 2012 season. She actually rejoined the squad during the 2010 season before quitting again and taking a leave of absence from Brown. The Herald regrets the error.