Kerry-Anne Hastings: How I Manage Being A Student & An International Athlete
After completing my undergraduate degree at Northumbria University and working for a year as Northumbria’s Student Sport President, I decided I wanted to pursue a dual career by continuing my studies and following my dreams to represent my country- Scotland- in hockey.
I look back at my decision and I am so glad I stepped out of my comfort zone to continue my studies, even though those three years brought a rollercoaster of emotions.
Here is a bit of context behind my journey...
I was unsure what I wanted to do after my undergraduate. I therefore decided to apply for a part time Masters in Education at Durham University. Not only is Durham one of the best universities in the UK for their Education programme, it is also one of the best university hockey programmes in the country competing at the top level for BUCS (British, university and college sport) and national league.
It was a no brainer. This was a great opportunity to further my studies, bringing me closer to the education sector but also play some great hockey as well. However, going to university for the first time was scary enough but doing it all over again; moving to another city, making new friends, new course and new hockey club was very daunting.
On top of this, I was fortunate enough to be offered a role as Resident Tutor at Durham School, coaching various sports and responsible for boarding duties. Little did I know how crucial this opportunity was in the making of my current career within the education sector.
Everything was all falling into place, but I was not prepared for what the next 3 years of my life would look like. There was a lot of NEW, however, every day I had to remind myself of my why, and that was to follow my dreams of becoming an international hockey player alongside making a career within the education sector.
Here are the key things I learnt over my three years of trying to balance all my spinning plates.
Having a diary
I was always one for a paper diary. I loved writing neatly, colour coding and feeling organised. However, when it came down to using it, it was very impractical. I would quickly scribble things down, which would leave it a mess and psychologically because it looked like a mess - I felt in a mess. The main reason why it did not work for me, was 9/10 I would not even carry my diary wherever I went, which would defeat the whole purpose of having one in the first place.
This got me thinking - what do I always carry - MY PHONE - ding ding ding - we are onto a winner. I decided to start in putting events/ meeting/ training into my phone diary and hey presto, I started feeling like I had my life together. To make it even better I managed to align my phone to my computer, making everything colour coordinated so I could visually see what I had on every day. You can even set reminders to leave to go to a meeting, or bring something with you to a training session. Online diary has changed my life, however make sure you get something that works for you.
Lecturers are there to help
From day one of my course, I made sure to introduce myself to my lecturers or programme leads so they knew who I was at a one to one level. It also helped that I tried to engage with classes, complete seminar activities on time and participate in group discussions.
From there I knew I had built up a good working-relationship so that in the future (when I knew I was going to be busy or missing classes because of hockey) I was able to feel comfortable to approach them and explain my circumstances. They also then had the trust in me that I would do the work behind the scenes if I was going to miss anything and would catch up accordingly.
Go with solutions rather than problems
This learning took me a couple of years but I have finally got there. There were multiple times when I had clashes within my diary from the different areas of my life (school job, training, university work, Scotland etc).
An example within the university setting, which was a regular occurrence, was having to miss a lecture because of a BUCS fixture on a Wednesday.
Number 1. Ask permission politely if you can miss the lecture (which you will hopefully be granted)
Number 2. Rather than just saying “I cannot do this”, go to them with a solution, “I am very sorry I cannot attend this lecture because of this competition, however please may I attend another lecture slot OR I will be in touch with my fellow course mates who have said they are happy for me to use their notes. Is there anything else that you require me to do in the meantime please may you let me know”.
This skill is transferrable in all aspects of life, whether that is for work, training times or social life planning. By offering solutions, you are showing your organisation of planning in advance and willingness to engage with the area of your life which is being affected by the clash. With this learning, manners cost nothing, so remember to be polite when explaining your circumstances.
Communication is key
You need to communicate and keep all parties informed of what is going on in your life, which will affect their role that they play in your life.
Advanced communication is even more key, as I personally had to work with Durham coaches, Scotland coaches, my employers, my lectures, and of course I have friends and family who I need to communicate with to keep me grounded. This is a lot of people but it is important to remember that all of these people want to support your dreams, but they can only support you if you are clear what your dreams are too.
As one of my dreams was to play for my country, I needed to make sure I kept contact with the Scotland coaches, as I was not in the country. I would always email my Scotland coaches updates about what I was doing at university but also how I was getting on in hockey as well - how I was playing, where I was playing, how often. That meant that when I attended any Scotland camps they knew what I was getting up to and we could continue any dialogues or problems I was facing at university!
In particular, is to communicate any problems you potentially have that need to be worked through. I have always found that I am very good at overthinking things in my head but as soon as I speak about them I am able to come to the bottom of the problem quicker. Even if you feel like you cannot talk to anyone, try writing it down or even speaking into your computer for it to dictate what you have to say (this is another game changer for during university assignments).
Understanding my priorities was key to me starting to succeed in both my hockey and degree. However, to this day, I am still learning about my priorities as these change over time depending on the goals you set.
Every day is a challenge balancing what is important - and I tell you now, sitting on Instagram is not a priority if I have an assignment due the next day. As I figured out, hockey and my degree was my priority, I ensured I planned and created time to spend on them. This also takes into consideration time management, but by knowing what is important to you, allows you to then schedule in what needs to be done to fulfil your priorities.
You are the most important thing in your life
None of these priorities can be fulfilled unless you prioritise one of the most important things and that is “you”.
You have to make time for yourself and do things that you love to help you switch off from everything. Whether that is socialising with your friends, reading a book, trying another sport or knitting, you name it - make sure you do it!!! You need to be sociable because let's face it, that is one of the main reasons you go to university, to have the whole experience and make lasting memories.
As long as you look after number one as best you can by getting a balance of life (eating, sleeping, exercising and socialising) then you will succeed.
I could genuinely go on and on about how I balanced being a student and an international athlete but that is my own experience. There is no right or wrong way in doing it, as some may say I have not been successful, whereas others will say I have.
However, at the end of the day, it does not matter what other people think about you, as long as you are kind to yourself and try different ways to make your life a wee bit easier, then you are doing the best you can do. Asking for help is the biggest strength out there!