I play ice hockey in the winter and lacrosse in the spring here at MIT and spend a ton of time practicing, cross training and competing in my sports. I want to share my perspective on the pros and cons of playing a sport (or two) here and what type of adjustments being a successful student athlete at MIT requires. Personally, I wouldn't trade my spots on the hockey and lacrosse teams for any other opportunity at MIT. The pros simply outweigh the short list of cons. Yet I have friends who decided not to continue playing their competitive sports after high school or who quit their sports while at MIT because they decided the commitment wasn't worth it. So it's a personal choice. Let's take a look at the ups and downs of MIT athletics.
Playing hockey and lacrosse keeps me in shape year round. I never have to worry about voluntarily getting to the gym when I don't want to and the 'freshman 15' was just an abstract concept. If I didn't play sports, I hope I would be in shape-- but competing interscholastically forces me to stay healthy. Another benefit to competing is the sense of camaraderie and intense leadership training being a member (or being a leader) of a team entails. From aspiring to be voted captain to fulfilling smaller freshman duties, being a part of team builds character and encourages strong relationship building skills. Practice for most sports begins at 5pm and goes for an hour or two until 7pm at the latest. For both my sports, we practice Monday through Friday, and occasionally on Saturdays. We typically don't practice on game days (two games/week in season). Sundays very rarely have commitments. So that's 10-12 hours/week before including travel time or pre/post practice habits (taping up, stretching, biking, icing, or showering). A lot of time. Combining this schedule with a rather rigorous (understatement much?) academic workload and sprinkling in other social and extra-curricular events becomes a free time cruncher. On the positive side, this constant stream of commitments keeps me focused and disciplined during the semesters. It's worth mentioning that the MIT athletic facilities are amazing. I use the ice rink, the Jack Berry turf field, the Steinbrenner stadium, the athletic training room, the weight/fitness room and various varsity locker rooms. Frequently I have trouble with the laundry system, but other than that I'm really pleased with the facilities and management.
The big drawbacks of playing a sport at MIT, for me, all relate to a time crunch. This time crunch presents itself in a number of fashions. First, on a day to day basis, athletes have fewer hours to dedicate to psets, studying for exams, and pursuing extracurricular (research, leadership positions on campus, etc...) and social (parties, outings to Boston, relaxing with friends) interests. Second, practices (in most cases) are scheduled into the 5p-7p time slot. Most, if not all MIT undergraduate classes play into this schedule well by avoiding scheduling lectures, labs or recitations in these hours. However, if you want to cross-register (at Harvard or Wellesley for example) or if you want to take graduate level classes (most notably any Sloan (course 15) management classes), realize that these classes do not always avoid the 5p-7p time block. There are certain classes that I will not take while here because of this restriction. Bummer. Third, this time crunch also manifests itself on a larger scale-- Winter sports often compete during IAP (all of January) and spring sports frequently travel or compete during spring break in March. So while I can enroll in IAP classes and participate in research, I cannot leave campus, say, to do an international community service or design project (see D-lab). It's a trade-off. For spring break, I am already committed to a trip to Florida with the lacrosse team. Those are the biggest downsides.
MIT has various support systems in place to help student athletes. The sports medicine department has many functions from training and nutritional analysis to injury prevention and treatment. The student athlete advisory committee (SAAC), a student run group, develops and communicates changes in policy and procedure with regards to MIT athletics and athletic facilities.
All varsity sports are Division III except for crew (which is D-I). MIT also has over 30 club sport offerings. Lacrosse is D-III, while hockey is a club team. Although this is entirely personal, I love the level of competition. Athletes here care about results, and train hard. But we are not completely oblivious to other uniquely college (or MIT) opportunities as some more intense D-I programs are. I am a brother in a fraternity, I somehow find time to write for this blog, I frequently participate in UROPs and I have a pretty solid social life. So playing a sport at MIT doesn't mean shutting other opportunities out, but it does mean sacrifice. For me, the tradeoff makes sense. Staying healthy and being a member of a team in college is of real importance to me. Is it to you?