By Erin Greene
COLUMBUS, Ohio, October 12. ADJUSTING to college is often a difficult transition for swimmers. It is generally the first time students have lived away from home, trained under a new coach and discovered new-found freedom. These new experiences, combined with the pressures of performing at high levels of competition, disrupt the regular ebb and flow of swimmers’ lives.
While some athletes adjust to their new lives better than others, Director of Student-Athlete Development at Duke University, Leslie Barnes, suggests nearly all student-athletes experience some turbulence in the transition.
“Sometimes someone who is struggling with adjustment to college may not necessarily show it in an obvious way,” Barnes said. “But, overall, I’d say almost all freshmen go through their own type of challenges in learning how to deal with new freedom, new roles, a new place, new friends, etc.”
One of the biggest obstacles to endure is the new challenge of college classes. The single biggest difference between university-level and high school classes is that students are not required to attend college. There also is an increased distance between students and professors, as instructors sometimes have hundreds of pupils. On top of that, student-athletes often have difficulty accepting that academia must come before their athletic careers. Barnes suggested the key to academic success is communication and preparation.
“Talk to the instructors and teaching assistants,” Barnes said. “Use tutors and other academic resources. Ask questions when you are unclear on anything – material, content, expectations, even the syllabus. But most importantly, go to class.”
University of Florida swimmer Billy Mrazek advised freshmen to take their first semester of college easy.
“You are making such huge adjustments in every other area of your life,” Mrazek said. “Just take basic classes you need to graduate but that won’t stress you out. That way you can make those adjustments without the added pressure of grades.”
Along with becoming accustomed to a new academic setting, swimmers must adjust to a new aquatic environment. This usually means time spent training in the pool increases along with yardage. To be successful both in the classroom and in the pool, swimmers must prioritize their lives.
“Time management and organizational skills are key,” Bridget Warren, Ohio State’s life skills coordinator, said. “Student-athletes must be able to balance their hectic daily schedules, which can be done through effective time management and organization.”
New training, while difficult to adjust to, can propel swimmers to greater heights. Nicole Maglich, a swimmer at Ohio State, once considered transferring to another school. Now a fifth-year senior finished with her collegiate career, she has decided to remain at the university to continue training with the program she once wanted to leave.
“You have to be open-minded to new training techniques,” Maglich said. “I went in stubborn and thinking I was right and my coach was wrong. Once I began to trust my coach, I began to swim faster than ever before.”
As if encountering new aquatic and academic atmospheres were not enough, college athletes often adjust to their new surroundings at a distance from home. Many swimmers also leave high school as the biggest fish in the pond. Completely altering their athletic program while being forced to accept they are no longer the best is sometimes too much wake to swallow. Upperclassmen can be a big asset in keeping their younger counterparts from choking.
“My teammates helped me a lot,” Mrazek, a senior breaststroker, said. “When you go on a team you have 50 instant friends. Lots of people have done what you have and can help you out.”
Liz Osterer, who moved from Canada to attend college in America, shared Mrazek’s sentiments.
“The hardest part of moving away to college was not having my family and friends around and the support they provided,” Osterer said. “For the first few weeks of practice, I felt like something was missing. I had the same group of teammates and training partners for so many years. It didn’t seem right for me to be swimming without them. What really helped me get over my homesickness was our team, especially my class. After a few days of living in the dorms, we seemed to click. I started to feel like I had a support system kind of like the one at home.”
Many swimmers do not anticipate the effect simple things such as home cooked meals, their own bed, and new scenery will have on them. While new experiences can be exciting, missing home can drown a swimmer. Barnes again stressed that communication is key.
“Talk about home,” Barnes said. “Find a way to keep what you like about home in a place that can be motivating or encouraging or that you can share with others. Teach someone something about your home; connect with people from similar backgrounds.”
Testing out new waters at college can sometimes seem like swimming through a typhoon, but it does not have to be. Water, no matter what pool it is in, is the same everywhere. If you ever get lonely, you can go to the pool and visit a faithful friend who never leaves – the black line at the bottom of each lane.