By Sarah Lloyd, Swimming World College Intern
As I sat in the library writing this article, I couldn’t help but think about the amount of schoolwork that was piling up around me for the week. I had an annotated bibliography and the opening four pages of an history research paper due for Wednesday, 150 pages of reading and a quiz to study for on Friday, and a rough draft of another research paper for the coming Monday. I sat there, thought about everything I had to do on top of practices, and then thought: “Yep, I can do this” because that’s what swimming has taught me.
I don’t know if my professors have just been being polite, but at the beginning of every semester when I introduce myself to them and let them know that I’m a swimmer and that I may be missing classes for meets, there’s always some sort of “Oh, that’s okay! Swimmers are some of the best students at this school!” as a response, by which I’m constantly flattered. But when I really took the time to think about it, it makes sense– swimming is the kind of sport that facilitates high-performance students.
1. Time Management
Swimming takes up a lot of time and I’m not just talking about the three-hour workouts everyday. There’s the commute to and from practice, which can be upwards of an hour each way for some club swimmers, the time it takes to eat an adequate meal before and after each workout, a shower after as an attempt to get rid of the chlorine smell, and a good night’s sleep so we can be ready to go for the next workout, usually a morning one. Add school into that mix and the time that swimmers have to complete homework quickly shrinks.
Someone on the outside of the sport may think, then, that swimmers let homework go in lieu of swimming and everything that comes with it. But that’s not the case. Swimmers somehow find a way to get all of that homework done in the finite amount of time we have to do it because swimming has taught us the value of time…down to the hundredth of a second.
We learned early to efficiently maximize our time, to squeeze homework in during the rides to and from practice, finish a book during dinner (much to the chagrin of our parents, of course), and use those precious few hours between school and practice to get as much done as possible. We’re experts at time management, in and out of the pool.
2. Attention to Detail
The one thing that I’ve noticed about myself and my teammates in regards to school work is an obsessive tendency to strive for perfection. Part of this tendency is grade-based, I guess– none of us really accept anything other than A’s in the classroom. But the other part of it is a genuine pride in our own work. Why would we work so hard on something we don’t care about?
I’m convinced that swimming is at least somewhat involved in this characteristic. We spend 20 hours a week for nine months of every year focusing on the smallest details in the pool to make each race as perfect as it can possibly be. And then we go back and work on those details more because we’re never quite satisfied with how it turned out the first time.
This perfectionist quality has undoubtedly spilled over into our academic lives. Why else would I have a recipient of the Elite 89 Award as a teammate? Or a teammate who’s received offers to buy the furniture she’s made in her studio art classes? This is not a unique phenomenon…swimming produces excellent students.
3. A Buckle Down Mentality
Swimming is considered to be one of the most grueling sports because of its individual nature. You have the choice each and every practice to put as much effort as you want. You have the choice to give up or keep going when you think you’re going to break. You have the choice to take that extra breath under the flags or keep your head down to get your hand on the wall first. The best swimmers buckle down and do what they need to do and, just like everything else about the sport, this quality spills over into the rest of our lives.
We buckle down in the pool, which means we also buckle down in the classroom. Whether it’s losing an hour or two of sleep to finish a paper that’s due during an invitational, or spending less time with our friends on the weekends to get a head start on a project, we know how to get things done. It’s not enough for us to do things halfway- -we don’t stop trying half way through a race, which means we don’t half complete assignments.
I’ve never been in a more focused environment than when I was studying in a room with a dozen or so of my teammates the week before finals. Much like a tough workout, we can keep each other on task while also keeping the atmosphere light. There’s food, laughter, and jokes that accompany a lot of high quality studying. Buckling down doesn’t have to mean a miserable existence, it just means that we get things done quickly, efficiently, and well. Just like in the pool.
We’re Student-Athletes, Not Athlete-Students
At least here at Kenyon, and other DIII schools, we emphasize that we’re students first, swimmers second. Basically, our academics come first, with swimming taking a backseat when it needs to. But honestly, swimmers in general are so capable of getting everything done at the same time, that we exist in a world where swimming and school are on equal terms. Is it permitted to miss practice to do work with permission of our coach? Absolutely. But we don’t often need to use the lifeline because we’ve done both so well for so long. But it’s nice to know it’s there. We’re capable individuals, accustomed to balancing our swimming, school, personal, and social lives with the expertise of tightrope walkers.