Underclassmen on varsity teams make connections, improve skill


High school varsity sports inspire tight-knit connections between teammates through intense training sessions and a shared sense of responsibility to the team. The select few underclassmen on varsity team learn the tricks of the trade from upperclassmen and often form close friendships with them.

Sophomore Avery Adelman, who runs on the track and field varsity team, spoke about a warm dynamic between underclassmen and upperclassmen on the team. “We’re all pretty tight from running together and being in the same relays,” she said. “Even [as] an underclassmen with upperclassmen, I feel like I fit in.”

Sophomore Ethan Kitch, a member of the boys’ varsity basketball team who has played competitively since kindergarten, added that underclassmen players can be integrated with the team once they show commitment and determination. “I had to prove myself so [older players] respected me,” he said. “I became a part of the group once I proved myself.”

The relationship between underclassmen and upperclassmen extends beyond friendship to teaching, collaboration and friendly competition. Adelman recalled learning how to prepare for meets by eating well and hydrating from upperclassmen. “I’ve learned so much more just from watching the upperclassmen and seeing how they practice,” she said. “I’ve improved a lot more just from being able to get tips from them.”

According to Kitch, training with varsity athletes helps him rapidly improve. “You’re playing with more skilled players,” he said. “The overall plays are more advanced as well, which helps you improve because you have to keep up with everybody else around you.”

Not only do underclassmen on varsity get valuable tips from upperclassmen, but underclassmen on varsity also get more attention from their coaches than they would if they were on junior varsity (JV), according to freshman Luke Hines, who has played on both boys’ varsity lacrosse and JV water polo. “[In] JV water polo, we only had one coach for both varsity and JV, so [JV players] didn’t get as much coaching from him,” Hines said.

Being on varsity requires lots of commitment and effort, according to sophomore Nina Albers, a member of the girls varsity water polo team. “On varsity, you’re expected to be at every single practice and show up, do the work and make the games,” she said. “You want to show the coach that you’re working hard to earn a spot, [because] you can always get moved back down to JV.”

Skill level is the most obvious prerequisite to making any varsity team, according to sophomore Sophie Hahn. “You have to be able to compete with people who have had more experience than you and played longer than you,” she said. “You have to have improved at a faster rate than others.”

Adelman noted that playing varsity also requires self-motivation; players have to be passionate about the sport in order to become a starter at games, get more playing time or become an attractive candidate for college recruiting. “If you don’t like what you’re doing, you just don’t push yourself as much,” she said. “You can’t get where you want to get.”

In some cases, underclassmen on varsity serve as leaders for JV team members. Albers has been on the girls’ varsity water polo team for the past two years. She said she enjoyed helping out other sophomores or freshmen on the JV team this year, since varsity and JV practiced together. “I could even take more of a leadership role on the team, which was weird as a sophomore,” she said. “I could help teach them how we run practice and what we do in games.”

Practicing with better athletes isn’t always smooth sailing, however. In Kitch’s experience, being surrounded by more experienced players can cause imposter syndrome. “It was harder to gain the confidence I needed [for varsity] than if I was on JV because [on JV] I would already be one of the better players on the team,” he said.

Ultimately, Kitch realized that it is important to have trust in your abilities and your knowledge of the sport. “Once I realized I’ve been playing [basketball] for a long time [and] I know what I’m doing, [playing on varsity] became easier.”

In games, audience members may also expect more from underclassmen because they have to have reached a certain skill level to be on varsity. According to Hahn, this can result in a lot of pressure. “[The audience] pays attention to you,” she said. “If you do well or if you do badly, they remember it.”

Varsity practices are also more rigorous than JV team practices. Kitch recalls his team training for an average of 18 hours per week during the season. “The conditioning is rigorous,” he said. “On the first day of tryouts, we ran somewhere between 6 and 10 miles. That was definitely a surprise—I didn’t sign up for cross country.”

Although playing on varsity takes hard work, it’s ultimately worth it. Playing on varsity was a challenge that allowed Kitch to grow immensely as a player. “I was very glad I was on varsity because it pushed me to become better as opposed to just staying in my comfort zone,” he said.

As competitive and intense as playing for varsity is, Albers said that it’s important for underclassmen to enjoy the process and be confident in their skills. “You’re there because you’re supposed to be there,” she said.