What I Learned as a College Athlete

Every year, my college’s athletics program puts on a dinner for the athletes and hand out awards to deserving students for their athletic and academic achievements. It’s a night to commemorate the hard work that is being put in every day as both a student and an athlete, which is not always an easy feat to juggle school work and practice times, along with every other aspect of being a college student. As my final year in college comes to a close, this year’s banquet was extra special to me. As a senior, I swam for all four years, and played softball for the past three. I’ve watched the program grow and improve, making friends and long-lasting relationships along the way. So here’s a summary of all that I’ve learned during my time as a college athlete.

You Win Some, You Lose Some

Everyone likes to win, but more importantly, no one likes to lose. When you put all those hours of practice in, going to a sporting event and doing your best, coming in second or losing a game can be devastating. After that, people can usually take it one of two ways: ask themselves ‘why do I keep doing this’; or tell themselves ‘here is where I can improve.’ Being able to get up after a loss is a feat in itself. Being a swimmer taught me to look at hurdles and obstacles in life in a similar manner. Sometimes, someone is just better than you. Sometimes, you beat yourself, and your best wasn’t truly your best.

Regardless, it’s necessary to understand where you can be better. It’s not easy being rejected from a job or doing poorly on a test, but that just means there is room for improvement. Having never even picked up a softball until my time in college meant that I needed to be clinically and technically good at the sport. I could not just skim on by, only putting in a little heart and energy. I had to give it my all to even be halfway decent, and even then I had to work just that much harder than my teammates who had been playing since they were children. And it paid off. While I wasn’t starting on the field as often as some of the other girls, I still earned a place and respect on the team from my coaches and fellow teammates. Gaining that respect counted as a win in my eyes.

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Know the Difference Between Being Friends and Being Teammates

Sports bring together an eclectic group of people with all different backgrounds and interests. Because of that, you’re going to run into a few people that might not have the same views or opinions as you do. With that, it’s important to understand the distinction between friends and teammates. Oftentimes my teammates become my friends, because of going through the same pain every day and the countless hours spent together. However, there was always someone that rubbed me the wrong way, someone I didn’t always get along with, or just someone that didn’t become a close friend. And that was fine, because we still learned how to work together and be a team, and be the support network we all needed at our lowest points. It didn’t matter if we went out to dinner after a practice as one massive team – it mattered that we came together and worked well with one another when we needed to.

Your Coach Is There For You

Your coach is there to push you. They’re there to find your limits and extend them, break you down just to build you back up. But they’re also there as support, a shoulder to lean on, and a mentor. While not all coaches will be that open, I’ve had the pleasure of having fantastic coaches that let me open up and talk about my personal life with them and help me work through my problems, even if they were minute. Having that mentor in my life was extremely necessary during my time in college. For some, they find that role in a professor or a friend, but with the amount of time I spent with my coach, I developed more than just a player-coach relationship, but a true friendship.

Know How to Trust Your Team

Along the same lines as working with your team, you need to learn how to trust them. You need to learn their strengths and weaknesses to fully understand how you all work together. Similarly when working with a group of people in an office setting, knowing where someone excels more than another can allow for more efficient working. With softball, it was important to know how hard my teammate could throw, or knowing how fast they could run in order for the team to operate as efficiently as possible. With game sports like softball where there is a set number of people playing at a time, there is an automatic sense of competition within a team that is bigger than the number of people playing. When you spend so much time practicing, you want to be able to showcase your talent and make the practices seem worthwhile; yet, when someone is consistently better than you, they are going to take your position and chance to play. So it is necessary to understand and trust your teammates’ abilities, and only use that to drive your own excellence.

Be There For Your Teammates

I spent the last three years as a captain for my swim team, which taught me a lot about people and how to interact around them. Firstly, I learned to never flaunt the title of captain. If anything, I was a teammate first, and a captain second. My role was to be a liaison between my coach and my teammates if need be, a shoulder to lean on for my teammates, and to be a mentor for those in need of guidance. I would always tell my teammates that if they needed anything – a study buddy, a wall to vent to, or just someone to eat lunch with – that I would be there for them, and all they have to do is ask.

Image: Courtesy of Sam Amberchan