How to Excel as a Collegiate Synchronized Swimmer & Student
If you’ve ever watched college athletics on television, chances are you’ve seen the commercials that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has been running for a number of years. You know the ones — they feature young men and women explaining that most student-athletes will be “going pro” in something besides sports. Although it’s a bit of a downer, there’s validity to the NCAA’s message. Only a small percentage of collegiate synchronized swimmers will have the chance to swim on the National or Olympic Team.
If you find yourself among the majority whose synchro careers end with their collegiate eligibility, be proud! Simply making it far enough to swim for your college is a tremendous accomplishment. Second, you should be aware that after school ends, your professional prospects will depend far more on your success as a student than as an athlete.
Participating in college sports is a huge time commitment for a full-time student. Unless you learn to manage that time effectively, it will be difficult to succeed in the pool and in the classroom. Follow these guidelines, and in a few years you will conclude your tenure as a student-athlete with some life-long memories and a college diploma to boot!
Establish Your Priorities
Life as a college student is filled with temptation (particularly if you live on campus). There will virtually always be opportunities for distraction. Parties, shopping online, and midnight trips to the drive-thru can provide a welcome break, but you simply won’t always have time to fit everything you want to do and still keep up with your responsibilities. So how do you know which leisure activities you can afford to partake in without neglecting schoolwork, or sacrificing your training?
The key is to establish your priorities, and more importantly, stick to them. As long as you’re aware of what’s truly important, you can juggle even the busiest collegiate schedule. Here’s an example of an appropriate priority list for a college synchro swimmer:
- Class and schoolwork
- Synchronized Swimming practice, meets, meetings etc.
- Sufficient sleep
- Social relationships
- Leisure activities
Organize Your Schedule
The next step toward success as a student-athlete is figuring out when to accomplish all the items on your priority list. In most cases, the easiest parts to manage will be your synchro obligations, even though they will likely take up the largest chunk of your time.
You’ll have responsibilities to your team nearly every day of the week. Typically, your coaches will give you detailed schedules of your practices, meets, meetings, and cross-training, so that you’ll always know when and where you have to be.
The struggle comes with managing your schedule outside of your sport. No one is policing how you spend the rest of your time. So, it’s entirely up to you to make sure you prioritize your non-synchro life. The best way to do this is to create a master schedule. Once the synchro schedule is in, fill in everything else you need to keep track of. Here are some examples of what your master schedule might include:
- Class schedule
- Dates of tests and exams
- Due dates for papers, assignments, and projects
- Scheduled meetings with advisors
- Professors’ office hours
- Deadlines for course registration
- Doctor/dentist appointments
- Friends’ and family members’ birthdays
- Vacation dates
Take Your Schoolwork Seriously
As an athlete, you understand the concept that the results of whatever you do largely depend on the amount of effort you put in. The same goes for your college experience. It’s okay if you don’t like school as much as swimming. Some of your teammates might feel the same way. But just like in the pool, your success in the classroom will be largely based on your effort level. Ultimately, you cannot approach school like it’s a chore and expect to be a good student.
This comes more naturally to some than others, and it doesn’t make you a bad student if you’re more excited for the debut of your trio than English class. However, if you take your schoolwork seriously, then others will take you seriously as a student.
Here are three steps you can (and should) take that will help you successfully balance school with your time commitments to your team.
1. Go to Class
If this sounds obvious to you, then you’re on the right track. Attending every class is the easiest way to put yourself in position for good grades. And yet, it can be the most difficult part of life as a student-athlete. You will undoubtedly be faced with the temptation of getting a few extra hours of sleep or going to the beach with your friends instead of dragging your tired body to class in the morning. Since no one is going to put you in detention for cutting biology, it may seem like a consequence-free decision.
Do your best to avoid this temptation. Missing class will put you behind, and you can’t afford to play catch-up when you’re already trying to manage the demanding synchro part of your schedule. The last thing you want is to face a suspension for being academically ineligible.
2. Meet with Your Advisors
One of the perks of involvement in collegiate sports is that your school will typically assign you an academic advisor to help keep you on track to graduate. Your advisor can help you construct your class schedule, let you know what courses you need to take, and put you in touch with tutors if need be. In addition, your advisor may be willing to act as an intermediary with your professors if you have to miss class because of meets.
Remember, an advisor is a luxury that the average college student does not receive. So take advantage of it by staying in touch with yours on a regular basis.
3. Communicate with Your Professors
When it comes to your classes and professors, you may unfortunately have to battle the stereotype that athletes are lazy students. Do your best to defy that label from the very beginning of the semester. Go to class, be awake and attentive, and turn in your assignments on time. If you’re concerned about an upcoming test or struggling to understand the material, communicate with your professors through email and meet with them during their office hours whenever you can manage.
Most professors are more than willing to assist a student who takes the time and makes an effort to ask for help. Even if the subject is not your strong suit, it’s possible to pass most classes if you do your work and display legitimate interest.
Synchronized swimming in college is an outstanding way to prepare yourself for the so-called “real world,” because it forces you to manage a schedule that’s as busy and demanding as anything you’re likely to face in the professional realm. Your time as an athlete will provide you with fond memories, and your accomplishments as a student will open doors for the rest of your life. Regardless of your vertical height, how perfectly synchronized you do that last hybrid, or even if you win a title, leaving college with a degree is what makes you a successful student-athlete.