By Emma Merrill, Swimming World College Intern
As we approach the end of August, and therefore the end of the short-but-sweet break from the pool for most NCAA swimmers, it’s time to start gearing up for another year of college swimming. No matter what program you come from or conference you compete in, college swimming is unlike anything else. It’s just freaking awesome.
But, an incoming freshman might not be so sure of that yet. At this point, rising freshmen may have found out the names of their teammates and dorms, determined exactly how many minutes they will need to get ready for morning practice, and stocked up on Clif bars and Gatorade. They’re ready to leave for school, yet unsure of what to expect.
Freshmen, you are probably terrified and excited at the same time–I know I was. You can’t wait to get on campus, but some nagging questions still linger in the back of your mind.
What will classes be like? What will practice be like? How do I balance swimming, school, and friends? Will I even have friends?
If any of these questions have worried you over the past few weeks, please read on. Here are seven tips to help you have an successful freshman year, both in the classroom and in the pool.
1. Go To Class
This shouldn’t have to be said, and yet it does. No matter what school you go to, you are a STUDENT-athlete. That means that class comes first. No ifs, ands, or buts. Even if you’re exhausted from morning practice or leaving that afternoon for an away meet, the benefits of attending class always outweigh those of skipping. If you can’t do it for your own sake, do it to prove to the NARPS (Non-Athletic-Regular-People) that swimmers aren’t stupid.
2. Go To Practice
The first part of this is really a no-brainer. If you want to see results (not to mention not get kicked off of your team), you’ve got to at least make the minimum number of practices. But, you also should treat swimming as a part-time job, which means being fully present at practice. i.e. pay attention to your coaches, swim the set correctly, and motivate your teammates.
3. Get Strong, Not Fat
There’s no need to be scared of gaining a little weight your freshman year, just make sure that the pounds you pack on are mainly muscle. This will follow naturally from adhering to your team’s strength regimen and proper nutrition after practice and lifting sessions.
4. Trust in the Process
Everything: your training, schedule, routine, friends is going to be different, weird even. And thats perfectly okay. Trust that your new coach knows what he or she is talking about (they most likely do) and knows how to make you swim fast when it counts.
5. Work Hard in the Pool
Going to practice just isn’t going to cut it in college. The days of garbage yardage and just making a certain number of practices a week to pat yourself on the back are over. Everybody is required to make the same number of hours, what will separate you is how hard you work day in and day out. Don’t be content to just float along in the back of the lane every day. If you put in the work in practice, the results are infinitely more likely to show come taper time.
6. Time Management is Key
One of the most important life skills you will hone (or perhaps learn) in college as a student-athlete is time management. Planning out ample time for studying, sleep, and fun all around a packed swim schedule is difficult, but you can do it. Prioritize what needs to get done now versus what can wait a day or two. Managing your time wisely means studying efficiently and well in advance so that you can get the rest you need to perform your best in the water.
7. School 1A, Swimming 1B
Might seem redundant, but this is one is so crucial to your success that it needs to be said twice. You’re a STUDENT-athlete. Putting school first falls under the category of “common sense stuff” that your parents were there to remind you about during high school. Now that you’re in college, it’s your responsibility to set your priorities. And, like it or not, you are here to be a student first, swimmer second.
Head Coach Matt Crispino from the College of William and Mary explains his mentality saying,
“It’s our belief that young people don’t have to choose academic excellence or high-level swimming. The two are not mutually exclusive. If a student-athlete can make solid choices, prioritize his or her time, and live a disciplined lifestyle, then her or she can have the cake (straight As) and eat it to (fast swimming). Student-athletes have TWO number one priorities on campus — so we say “school 1a, swimming 1b.” All their other on-campus endeavors will have to take a back seat.”
It’s as simple as emailing your professors in advance when you knowing you will miss a couple exams because of an away meet or studying in the hotel between prelims and finals. With a little common sense and some hard work, you’ll be killing it in the classroom and the pool from Day 1.
So, incoming college freshmen, get ready for one of the most dynamic and exciting years of your lives. We can’t wait to have you on deck with us in a couple of weeks. Study hard, have fun, and of course, swim fast.