Denying the Stereotypes: An Inside Look at the College Swimming Grind

Allie Szekely; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick allie-szekely-

By Ashleigh Scott, Swimming World College Intern.

Close your eyes and imagine a world free of stereotypes and assumptions. Marginalization and snarky, ignorant comments are virtually non-existent. Having trouble picturing this world? You’re not alone. Trying to imagine a stereotype- and assumption-free society on a global scale is a rather complex task, so let’s narrow the scope.

Now, imagine this type of environment on a smaller, more immediate scale: collegiate athletics. Phrases such as, “They go to school for free!” or, “All they care about is their sport and that’s it,” come to mind. “They don’t have to worry about their academics, they’ve got their sport to keep them here.”


Photo Courtesy: Teresa Kilday

Does any of this ring a bell?

If your answer is yes, then you have come to the right place. Soon enough, the new school year will be upon us. Returning athletes or incoming freshmen college swimmers will walk on to campus ready to tackle another year. However, it may seem challenging at times to quiet the noise that comes along with the title of being a college athlete.

The Assumptions

College students create the atmosphere of their school. Each campus has a unique student body with its own traditions and personalities, setting it apart from any other school. However, one aspect that remains true to most schools with athletic programs is the predominating assumptions about the athletes’ values. People who only see the surface of what college athletes do tend to be blind to the “behind the scenes” components that are just as important as what goes on for the public to see.

Those who look from the outside in tend to only see things through the lens that athletes get it all: free gear, excused absences and extensions on assignments. However, these people often do not see the darker side to athletics: the daily grind of trying to stay afloat amidst all of the responsibilities and commitments that come with being an athlete.

What It’s Really Like


Photo Courtesy: Pexels

A college swimmer’s day typically starts anywhere from 5 to 7 a.m and looks like this: morning practice, lift, class, a second practice, then homework. This type of day may shift depending on practice times, but usually a college swimmer’s day is jam-packed. Hard work happens both in the pool and in the classroom. Craving athletic and academic success are two fundamental ideals that fuel a college athlete.

However, comments from other students such as, “Don’t worry about your grades,” or, “You swim, you’ll be fine,” can frustrate a college athlete. The general assumptions being made about the “worry-free” life of a college athlete sting.

Of course, there are multiple sides to any discussion. In this case, the other side to the academic issue is the actual athlete’s perspective and experience. To better understand this position, let’s take a look at what some swimmers have to say.

What They Have to Say

Laney Thomas, incoming sophomore at Boston College, shared her view on this issue: “There’s an assumption that a lot of things are handed to us, especially academically. While we are given access to free tutoring and have study hours, that doesn’t make our work any easier, especially with the added time constraints of practice and doing our work around that.”

Alex Theocharidis, an alum of Texas A&M, says, “A stereotype for student-athletes is that they made it to college just because they were recruited to join a college team. This is not true, because I had teammates who graduated with honors degrees and had a very successful career as athletes.” This shows the ability to do both: have a successful athletic career while also having a fulfilling academic career. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. You can have the two!

Silencing the Noise


Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Nowadays, the word “grind” is often used to describe a repetitive, demanding lifestyle. Coaches often say, “Embrace the grind.” What they mean is that when athletes set their mind on completing each practice, repetition and task with persistence and dedication, it will ultimately lead to satisfying results. The life of a student-athlete is, in fact, a grind. Despite what anyone says or how anyone chooses to discredit this lifestyle, it only ever will be totally understood by those who actually live it. Silencing the noise is important to stay focused and positive. Staying true to your own reasons as to why you have chosen to take on two full-time jobs in college is crucial.

Now, close your eyes again and tell yourself that no one and nothing will get in the way of you being the best student and athlete you can be. College is the time to truly step into your potential and allow people to see what you’re capable of.

Open your eyes. Is it quieter yet?

-All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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3 years ago

Sebastian O’Leary