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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

Education

We are now in the beginning weeks of a new semester and last semester is nothing but a distant memory. Any bad grades we received or mistakes that we’ve made have been replaced by a clean slate. This is our chance to start fresh. I know that starting fresh might be easier said than done, and that many of us might still be feeling down about the grades we received last semester, but don’t spend too much time dwelling on the past. You can reflect on it from time to time, but when you do so think about your past in a positive light. Always remember that the mistakes of yesterday won’t prevent you from making better choices today.

Remember that you are in control.

If you want to be better and do better this semester, you have to believe that you can do it. After all, you are in control of how well you do in your classes. You are the one who makes the decision to show up to class, to study for a test, or to do homework. All of those things are important if you want to get good grades. If you go into this semester thinking that it’s okay to skip class, or if you don’t take your schoolwork seriously, then that will ultimately hurt your overall performance in the course. To rock this semester, not only do you have to be dedicated, but you have to want to be dedicated. I keep using ‘you’ in sentences because, really, this is all about you. Sometimes it may feel like your professors are the ones making your life miserable, but you have more responsibility and control when it comes to the grades you receive than you might think.

Make adjustments.

The next step in rocking your semester is to make adjustments. If you partied too much last semester, dial back on partying. Instead of going out every weekend, go every other month, or don’t go at all. Having study parties is much better and more beneficial than actual parties. Don’t get me wrong. It’s okay to have a good time and go out with your friends, but only do so if you have all of your work done. If your studying habits are what you need to change, then search around for new methods of studying to see which one works better for you. There are many ways to make adjustments. Just begin to weed out the bad habits and replace them with ones that are more effective and will give you better results.

Get involved.

Lastly, make sure you get involved. College doesn’t have to be all about homework and partying on the weekends. You get more out of your time in college when you make room for extracurricular activities. Not only will they enhance your semester but they will teach you valuable skills that will help you come out on top. Many of us are probably already apart of a few clubs and organizations, but for those of us who aren’t, try it out! Being involved has helped me become better at time management, which is something I have always struggled with. Having other priorities can really help put things into perspective, so figure out what those priorities mean to you. Having a great semester doesn’t always have to mean getting good grades. Sometimes being part of something bigger than yourself and making friends with people who share the same interests can make a huge difference in the way that you look at college.

A lot of people dread coming to school. I’ll be honest – sometimes I wish I didn’t have to go to class. But then I remind myself that I am my only enemy. You are your only enemy. No one can stop you from rocking your semester other than yourself. Sure there are outside forces that have to be taken into consideration but, for the most part, it’s all about you and your willingness to change for the better. Once you have more confidence and stop letting your past define your present, your future will start to look whole lot brighter and each semester after this will continue to get better and better.

Just like anything in life, improvement takes practice. Feeling confident and believing in yourself after a bad semester (however you want to define it) isn’t always a walk in the park. Believe me, I know. But if you work at it, you’ll begin to see positive changes. Both in who are as a person and who are as a student.

Good luck everyone! #SeizeYourYouth!

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Culture

There is something magical about a New Year. Not only do you get to say goodbye to the old, but you get a metaphorical clean slate. While it’s not always easy to let go of all of the mistakes you’ve made and start anew, January 1st is the day that begins a new chapter in your life. If you didn’t like the previous year, now is your time to make some changes and do things differently. This is why people come up with a list of resolutions. They say things like “this year I’m going to be a better person” or “this year I’m going to start being more active.”

While these are both great aspirations, it’s not necessarily a good idea to decide to make lifestyle changes because you closed one 365 page book and are now starting a new one. It takes a lot to change. Saying you’re going to do something now means nothing if you couldn’t do it a week ago or even a month ago. I have a lot of friends who post their resolutions on social media every year and people like them and comment how they want to make the same changes, but I can’t help but notice that their resolutions are the same as ones from last year.

Again, there is nothing wrong with change. Change is healthy. Especially when you genuinely want to better your life by working on your health, choose more carefully who you let into your life, or even by coming to the realization that some of the choices you make aren’t the best and you want to do something about that. Whatever the case may be, change is something that we as young people will experience throughout our lives, particularly during the early stages. We don’t have control over all of the changes that happen, but we do have control over some.

So take control over your life.

If you think that you already have control and you’re one of those people who lives by the whole ‘New Year, New Me’ mantra, then I’m afraid that you aren’t in control. I say this because, if you were in control, you wouldn’t need a New Year to want to become a ‘new you’. You would change when you want to change without resolutions or the allure of the New Year being a clean slate.

I won’t deny that there are people who genuinely decide to change in the New Year because those people do exist and their resolutions are more than statements to them; they are actions. If you want to change, then that’s wonderful. But don’t do it because it’s a New Year. That’s like wearing pink because it’s Wednesday. Maybe that’s not the best comparison but the point is that don’t say you’re going to change your life because of the time. Say you’re going to change because you honestly want to do it; after you come to the realization that you want to make changes, turn those wants into actions!

Many people say they want to lose weight or travel more or do this and do that on January 1st, but then 365 days go by and they haven’t lost anything, they haven’t travelled anywhere, and they haven’t done all of the things they said they were going to do a year ago. This is not to put anyone down – we all encounter obstacles that keep us from doing the things we set out to do, and that’s okay. It’s life. But, with that said, it’s important to strive to be impeccable with your word. I talked about this in another post, though I think it bares repeating. Say what you mean and mean what you say. If you say that you want to do something, then do it! I know that some of the things we want to do requires work and pushing through any and all obstacles and, above all, time. But that’s okay.

It’s okay if you can’t achieve your goals in a day, or a week, or even a year. That’s not the point of change. Change is ongoing, so don’t be discouraged by time. And don’t let it control when or even why you want to begin the process of changing something in your life, either.

Just do it.

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Skills

By the end of a tough year of school, it’s easy to get burned out. Even if you’re not in school, doing the same routine everyday can bore you. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should avoid learning all together though. The more you use your mind, the better it will be. Here are a few ways to have fun while improving your mind:

1. Read

We all have those books we want to read if only we had the time. If you have the free hour, take the time. You may not be able to finish your book for awhile, but reading will transport you to somewhere else. More importantly, your brain will still be working on a new task while you’re relaxing.

2. Do Puzzles

Puzzles are an easy way to challenge yourself. This can include classic puzzles, Sudoku, crosswords, or any other puzzles you can think of. You’ll get a fun sense of accomplishment when you’re done.

3. Learn A New Skill

If you’re bored or burned out in your every day life, introducing something new can be just the change you need. Learning a new skill will challenge you in a new way. Plus, maybe you’ll learn something useful like how to cook.

4. Free Write

Writing is a good way to free your mind of distractions. Have you ever had a problem focusing because something was weighing on your mind too much? You can write a story, a letter or anything else you want to get out. You can unburden yourself and improve your writing at the same time. You could even create a new masterpiece.

5. Get New Experiences

You never know how many new things you will learn just by getting out there and doing something that you’ve never tried before. Even trying a dish you never had before will give you a new experience. When traveling, you have to train yourself to know your way around which will give you a sense of direction. Meeting new people will strengthen your memory when you have to learn faces, names, and details. It will all expand your mind while being perfectly painless.

Get out there and try to re-energize yourself. Don’t stop learning. Taking a little time out of your day to improve yourself will be helpful in the long run, even if it is something as simple as taking an hour to read. Be your best self and have fun doing it!

How do you keep your brain active?

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