Steven is one of the co-founders of trackboundUSA. The Northern Ireland native attended Tulsa from 2009 to 2011 after graduating from Loughborough with a degree in Civil Engineering. He talks about his experiences in the US and motivation for getting involved in this website. He is an 800m specialist.
How the Process Started
I was in my final few months at Loughborough and had no plans for the following year. I wanted a bit of down-time before looking for a job so I was considering staying in Loughborough for another year and just training. It was around that time that a few schools emailed me asking if I’d thought about the NCAA. My interest took off from there. At that point my PB was 1:51 but I had just come off a good indoor season with a 1:52 flat to my name.
The Recruiting Process
I received a few emails from schools in the Southern States. I had friends at those schools and while they were enjoying their time there they weren’t convinced it was a move to make to further my running. I dismissed them relatively quickly as it just wasn’t any better than what I had in Loughborough to be honest. However, since I’d had a little interest from these schools, I started being proactive and contacted others that I thought would have been a better fit, i.e. Good team, decent location and reputation. I got in touch with the assistant at Tulsa. After a few emails and phone-calls I liked what I was being sold, and with a few Brits already plying their trade there it was easy enough to build a picture of life out there. I had a few emails with another east coast school but Tulsa showed the most interest and I liked the assistant coach. You can do all the research you want, but if you don’t get a decent first impression off the coach doing the recruiting, it’s not somewhere you want to be.
Doing my Research
I did a lot. I’m not the sort of person to make rash decisions and always give a lot of thought to decisions of any importance. I knew this move would ultimately decide how far my running was going to go so I made certain I knew what I was getting myself in for. I’d literally checked out everything that was researchable about Tulsa and the NCAA, as well as getting opinions from current athletes in the NCAA as well as a few old timers (Thanks Ricki).
Differences between the two systems
I consider myself relatively independent, both athletically and academically, so the collegiate system took a little getting used to. Every little detail is catered for by the coaching staff. Academically, I found the faculty much more approachable and willing to offer help. I’m not sure whether this was because I was a masters student and deemed more worthwhile. I think it’s just the American way. On the whole however, I feel the UK system promotes more independence. It seems that Brits are ready for university level studies immediately after high school, but in the US high school system they continue their general education in the first and second years at university. It certainly was not as challenging as my undergraduate degree at Loughborough.
College sport obviously is on a different level. It’s professional in all but status and it’s a culture we could never foster in the UK with the setup of our professional leagues and the supply of talent often circumventing university.
I studied an MBA, which is a globally renowned professional masters. I wanted to study something that would add value to my CV, so I picked a degree that had as much relevance and clout in the UK as in the USA. I knew I always wanted to return to the UK to work and to continue my running. I managed to combine the academics and running fine, and that’s with completing the course in two years rather than the allotted 2 ½ years. I had a lot of work, but none of which I would have considered difficult. It just required motivation and a good work ethic to get it done. I personally feel it compliments my running as I am notoriously bad at doing nothing; I’d much rather be busy.
The Overall Experience
I really enjoyed my time out there. It was the people that I met that will stick with me the longest. I wanted to get involved in this website not just to share my experiences and opinions, but to offer a different perspective as my NCAA experience differs from John’s. My athletic progression was not quite as I had envisaged heading out. I saw good aerobic improvements but I found the NCAA unforgiving and I never really got to grips with racing out there as many do in their first year. I graduated with an invaluable masters degree that is opening up doors professionally. Ultimately, there is much more to life to running and I think the NCAA system brings that home as most American collegiate athletes will end their running career as soon as they graduate. It’s a phenomenally tough environment where only the fittest survive. While it can be tough, it can be equally rewarding. I’m hoping this website can aid the decision making process and lead to the latter.
My best personal experiences would have to be the Conference trips or just the impromptu team get togethers. I met a lot of good people from all corners of the world, and I know its clichéd but it’s the people I will remember the most.
The basic premise of this site is the advice I would give; do your research. There are so many options open to athletes out there, but only a few of them will be right for a certain individual. I’m completely astonished by some the places very competent athletes have gone, are currently at or have committed to. Needless to say, many of these cases end in an impromptu return. The NCAA is not for everyone. It’s very easy to succumb to the lure of a scholarship and the American dream, but it has to 100% right for you, not your training partners or your mate. Conversely, I have witnessed athletes completely disregard fantastic offers from the NCAA citing ‘injury and burnout’. In both cases, misinformation and ignorance play a key role.
I had only one year’s eligibility when I arrived at Tulsa due to completing a placement year during my undergraduate degree. I didn’t have much of a case for appealing to the NCAA to get a 6th year. I managed to cover my second year expenses with an academic scholarship in order to complete my degree, but the whole process was stressful and not something I would want to do again. So, in other words, make sure you know the minimum eligibility you have and how that corresponds to the length of your degree.