Summer holidays are here and that means that our student-athletes have time for more than just study and sports. That is why Slamstox tennis player Laura Rijkers is busy with her summer internship at Slamstox where she helps future college tennis players with their process. Laura is part of the University of Arkansas and plays Division I tennis.

After the summer holidays she returns to America and starts the second semester of her junior year. This means that she has already gained a lot of experience that she would like to tell us more about. That is why the fourth and final ‘College Talk with Laura’, part of a series of articles, is here!

Previous articles have been about clinch matches, what it means to her to be a Razorback and about trips across America, today she talks about her daily routine. In previous articles you read a lot about cool and crazy things Laura does as a student-athlete, but a realistic idea of an average day is good to know as well. Read Laura’s story below!

Days in the life of…

In the previous articles of “College Talk With Laura”, I took you guys with me in the stories of my most awesome experiences and what it’s like to be a Razorback. That is why I think it would be fun to tell you about an average day for me in Arkansas, in order for you to be able to imagine what the life of a student-athlete looks like in the US. However, I won’t be telling you about just 1 day, but 2 days: an average training/school day and a match day.

Training/school day

Most days of the week consist out of school and practices, like you might be used to back home when you’re combining high school with your sport. On some days you practice in the mornings and go to school afterwards and on other days it’s the other way around. In spring season (January – May), you’re playing lots of matches together with your team, which means that you’ll be traveling a whole lot. There are a little less of these regular training days than in fall season (August – December) and the coaches want you to be in good shape for all of your matches: they won’t make you come out of bed at the crack of dawn because of this. However, this is different in the fall. There are less matches and therefore it is possible to train just a little harder. Read on if you’re interested in how an average day looks like for me in the fall.

It is Tuesday morning and my alarm goes off at 5:15am. I wipe the sleep from my eyes and I put on the workout clothes that we discussed as a team the night before (our team always matches outfits for workouts, practices and matches). “Hills” is what is on the program for today. The name of the workout speaks for itself: basically you’re going to run up a hill in a 1000 different ways until you’re exhausted. It’s not my favorite part, but I know it’s an important part in order to get fitter. My teammate comes to pick me up from my apartment and I laugh when I see her “I-just-came-out-of-bed look”.

We start our workout by warming up. Everyone is present: the conditioning coach with his assistant, our head coach, assistant coach and our athletic trainer (a.k.a. physiotherapist). After our warm-up we line up at the bottom of the hill, waiting for the starting sign. “GO!” is yelled by our conditioning coach and everybody takes off. The ones to get to the top of the hill first, cheer the others on (as in screaming), until everyone gets there. That was 1 time, 9 more to go. The workout gets tougher and tougher and some girls are having difficulties to even finish it. But as a team you help each other get through it and in my opinion, that is really freaking awesome. The feeling of your teammates having your back is very comforting.

As a team we survived the workout. After a workout like that, I always feel very proud and content (and also super hungry). We’re heading to our dining hall where only student-athletes are allowed to eat. There is a fruit bar, salad bar, sandwich bar (basically a mini Subway), the egg line (where the chef cooks your eggs for you in the exact way you want them) and more. Sometimes there is even a pancake bar, where you can “build” your own pancake. My fave is a pancake with chocolate chips and strawberry. Am I making your mouth water already?

Team pic after 6am workout

After breakfast, I’m ready to go to class. It is 8:30 am by now and I walk together with my teammate to class, because she is in the same one (everything on campus is on walking distance, very convenient!). I have a little more than 3 ours of school today. After class I walk back to the student-athlete center (this is also where that dining hall is located), because I have an appointment with the sports psychologist. I love being able to talk about my tennis with her every once in a while to see where I can still improve mentally (this is all for free at my school, it is part of the services being provided for the student-athletes).

Teamgenootje en ik in een ijsbad

After my meeting with the psych, I’m headed to the dining hall again for lunch with some teammates. After that, we all walk together towards the tennis courts for our afternoon practice, which will be 2 hours long. Today the focus will lie on doubles, so we’re doing lots of little games with volley situations. During practice, you can hear players and coaches yell “Go Hogs” every 30 seconds. As a team we always try to practice with the highest possible intensity and energy.

After practice, we’re obligated to take an ice bath so our muscles can recover from the tough workout and practice. You can also get other treatments for your body if needed: exercises, massages, laser treatment, etc.

After we finish our recovery, I’m going out to eat at Chipotle with my bestie from the team. Our university has a deal with a bunch of healthy restaurants that are either on or close to campus: every athlete gets 24 dollars a week to spend at these restaurants. Chipotle, a Mexican restaurant, is one of these restaurants. We eat our food there and then my teammate drops me off at home. Once I’m home, I finish some homework and after that I may have some time to relax and watch an episode of Peaky Blinders. My day absolutely flew by and it is time to go to bed so I’ll be ready for the next day.

Match day

It’s Sunday and today we’re playing against the University of Memphis at 11am, our first match of the season. We are the favorites, but Memphis has a very solid tennis team and they could possibly surprise everyone. The whole of fall season we worked towards this moment: the start of our spring season. I get out of bed at 8:15am and I walk towards my walk-in closet (pretty cool huh, having a walk-in closet in your apartment as a student. Almost all the apartments have this in the town where I live and also a bathroom completely for yourself) and I get my match outfit. I get dressed, get all of the stuff I need and then I get picked up by one of my teammates. We’re headed straight for the tennis courts, because the coaches took care of a catered breakfast (we always get provided with 2 meals on match day. If we play in the morning we get breakfast and lunch, if we play in the afternoon we get lunch and dinner). All of us eat breakfast together and then we’re headed towards our locker room. Everyone has their own little spot in the locker room with their own locker where you can put your rackets and other stuff. There is also a TV and a party speaker, so we put on our hype playlist. The “hype playlist” is the list of songs that prepare us for the battle of today. While the music is blasting out of the speakers, everyone is doing their own thing to get ready for the match. Some of us are getting treated by the athletic trainer, some girls are doing their hair, someone else is getting taped, etc.

An hour before the match starts, we all walk on court to begin our warm-up. Our social media team has also arrived and they makes sure that our hype playlist is played all through the facility. Obviously, they’re also taking pictures and videos. During the warm-up we’re already constantly cheering each other on with our screaming voices, in order to hype up ourselves but also to impress our opponents. We want to make them feel that they’ll have to bring their A-game today to even have the slightest chance to beat us. After the warm-up everyone gathers and our coach gives us a little speech. Then, it is time to do the national anthem: before every sports game in the States, they play the national anthem. You’re standing next to all of your teammates, coaches and opponents and your aim your gaze at the American flag. The Americans put a hand on their heart and all the internationals put both of their hands on their back. This is the part where you really start to get nervous for the match. After the anthem, they announce the line-up. First they announce the line-up for the opponents and then it’s us. The line-up is also always done with lots of hype: “And here, for your Arkansaaaaaaas Razorbacks! At position number 5, a junior from the Netherlands, LAURA RIJKERSSSSSS”. Before you head to your court for your match, you first perform a yell with your teammates. Everybody huddles up and you scream your own made up yell as loud as you can. This is what it looks like:

Team yell

The matches have begun and it’s a mad house in Billingsley Tennis center. All the players are continuously cheering each other on; court 6 screams something to court 1, when somebody wins a set the whole facility will know, etc. The atmosphere and energy within the facility is intense but it is so amazing. Read my other article about clinch matches to find out what a close match in college tennis is like. Today we beat Memphis with a score of 4-3, so it was one of those close matches. Everyone is relieved and happy with how we fought today. After the match we eat lunch together and that is the end of this match day. Check out the video below to get an idea of our match days!

Impressed by Laura’s life as a college tennis player, and do you also want to become a student-athlete in the USA? Or would you like more informatie? Reach out!