Applying the Lessons of Swimming to the Workforce

will-manion-NASA
Photo Courtesy: Will Manion

By Will Manion, Swimming World College Intern

The impact of swimming is not limited to the pool. The sport has taught me a wealth about leadership, teamwork, and time management. The skills an athlete picks up from practice and competition are valuable and essential in the real world.

While the athlete may not identify all these skills at a young age, the result of years of collaboration with coaches, parents, teammates, and competitors comes to fruition by the time an athlete is ready to step into the workforce.

Effective Leadership

Leadership is absolutely essential in a career or internship. Leadership involves managing a situation or decision process to ensure all parties are equally benefitted and negative results are kept to an absolute minimum. This involves seeing the world through another’s lens. I uncovered theses skills during my time as a lead research intern with NASA this past summer.

Like athletes in the pool, we all have our own individual strengths and weaknesses in the professional field. When a coach sets up their medley relay, he or she will arrange it based on who will be fastest in each event. The same thing applies in the real world. When assigning roles for a project, you evaluate the strengths and weaknesses each person brings to the table.

Sometimes it is more complex. For instance, imagine a relay team is expected to win by a considerable margin. The coach may choose to give someone slightly slower the opportunity to race. Or what about a free relay? Who should go where? Probably the person most confident leading off should go first.

The first thing I did with my team at NASA was discuss what aspects of the project each team member would like to work on, even if they had little to no experience in that realm. Though it’s not easy to accommodate all those involved, it is beneficial for team morale to make an honest effort. Of course, those who had the most experience with computer coding were given that lead role.

However, encouraging someone relatively unfamiliar to programing to follow his or her potential interest allowed for a more positive work environment. Allowing team participation and mixing up the typical day-to-day dynamics keeps the work environment interactive, fun, challenging, and inspires thoughtful collaboration.

Teamwork

Hitting Deadlines

My internship involved meeting deadlines on a weekly basis. Bits of our project needed to be submitted for editing. We also had weekly consultations with our science advisor and constant communications with the end users of our research. Time management was absolutely essential for this internship.

Growing up with swimming made me realize the importance of being meticulous with your personal schedule. Being prompt to practice, school, lifting sessions, and any out of class group work is important for keeping all entities happy. On top of that, efficiency will be at its highest. Allocating time to study before or after swim practice was important for gauging performance in the pool and classroom.

The Swimmer’s Resume

Swimming also taught me something we can all benefit from. We all start out in the sport with a B cut or two. As time progresses, we might find opportunities at the Junior Olympics. We build our resume with experience in the pool and we become qualified to race at sectionals, Nationals, and maybe even Olympic Trials. Those with the best resume will represent the United States abroad.

The same thing goes for your career interest and the job search in the real world.

College is a funny time for an athlete. Many of us will conclude our distinguished NCAA careers upon graduation, and we will take our immature interests we acquired during our past four years into an entry-level job. Whether we realize it or not, we have already experienced this.

A graduating collegiate swimmer has already felt the demands of a career lasting over a decade. We have climbed the ladder of success in the pool, so we are truly equipped to climb the ladder and fight off the obstacles the real world throws at us.

I’m an environmental science student at university. Most would not associate that with NASA, an organization the public associates with getting a select few men and women to Mars. However, NASA has an Earth Science branch dedicated to utilizing their satellites to address environmental issues.

My team created a procedure to earlier detect oil spills and natural oil seeps off coastal Alaska utilizing NASA Earth Observations, directly benefiting pollution response agencies.

The sport of swimming has taught me that persistence is key and the opportunities are everywhere around us, in every field. Swimming at an elite level requires passion. Applying that same passion to what you are truly interested in opens the door to unimaginable opportunities.

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