Being part of Oberlin's swim team has been one of the absolute best aspects of my life here so far. Going into the experience, though, I was pretty terrified. I had no idea what being a college athlete would be like. Now that our season is over, in all my post-season nostalgia, I realize I've learned a lot from being an athlete here.
1. Your team is like your family
I know, I know, it's cheesy. But this cliche of all cliche phrases took on a whole new meaning for me this year. I've always said my team was like my family, but in college, that became much more literal since my actual family isn't here.
My parents have always been incredibly supportive of me and attended all my swim meets. Especially at first, I missed having them at my races a ton, but my teammates stepped into their role of supporters. Whenever I'm swimming, I see a blur of red jackets and hear screams from the Oberlin section of swimmers on deck and it's the best feeling. Now when I'm nervous before my races, instead of looking in the stands to my parents, I look over at my team giving me thumbs up and making faces to ease my nerves.
Because we have practice right before breakfast and dinner every day, the team usually ends up eating at least two meals per day together, just like a happy little family. We even celebrate holidays. We cooked a full-blown team Thanksgiving dinner-- complete with homemade crepes and an entire ham baked in the Barrows kitchen, played white elephant after we got back from winter break, and spent New Year's together in Florida for our training trip.
But while your team is like your family...
2. Your coach is not your parent
Your coach is someone you'll likely become close to and is hopefully someone you can go to for advice and help, but they are very much not your parent. They will not come knock on your door if you decide to stay up until 2 AM the night before a practice and sleep through your alarm. They will not make sure you're on schedule and come to practice every day like your parents might, but they will likely be pretty upset if you don't show up because of poor time management.
I don't mean for this to sound scary. There are parts of my relationship with my coach that are different from the way things were in high school that I really like. For example, by the time you get to the collegiate level in a sport, it's safe to say that you know yourself well as an athlete in a way that your new coach doesn't at first. This creates a really cool dynamic of trust. My coach understands that I know my own body and what it needs, but at the same time, I've learned to trust that he knows how to make me better with methods that are completely different from the way I used to train at home.
That being said, your coach will always want to push you; it's their job. Without a parent with you at school, it's your responsibility to advocate for yourself to your coach, which is a really valuable skill to have.
3. You will eat so. Much. Food.
A common phrase I hear when I eat with non-athlete friends: you're going back for more food? They don't say it in a judgmental way, it's more pure awe. You burn so many calories every day; I literally couldn't believe how much food I was capable of eating when the season first started. Because our exercise routines are so intense, our coach makes sure we learn proper nutrition from a nutritionist who works with us so that we're eating in a way that optimizes the work we do at practice.
Grocery shopping with swimmers (this is for 2 people... for a week)
4. There will always be upperclassmen to guide you and give you advice
Put simply, having upperclassmen friends is really fun. It's so valuable to have people you're close with who have already been through what you're going through as a freshman-- both in academics and athletics-- to reassure and help you. I've gone to our upperclassmen on the team with so many questions, some of them probably super dumb, and they've been nothing but excited to help me.
Because you know upperclassmen...
5. You'll have all the inside scoop during orientation week
This was something I totally didn't expect, but it ended up being extremely helpful. First of all, coming onto campus knowing you'll already have friends on the team is reassuring in the craziness that is freshman orientation. I remember the first time I hung out with the other freshmen on the team, we were already picking out which house we wanted to live together in our senior year even though I couldn't even keep everyone's names straight yet.
I quickly found out that the older members of the team love showing freshmen around and giving them all the pro tips about Oberlin. I knew 'Sco protocol and the best things on the menu at Slow Train before all my other freshmen friends because of them. Using your insider knowledge can also be a great way to make friends outside the team in the first few weeks of school.
My relay team at NCAC Conference Championships was with 3 seniors.
Photo credit to the NCAC Facebook page
6. You can't do everything
Oberlin has a culture of passion and investment in an incredibly wide array of interests. It often seems like everyone wants to do everything. I absolutely love being a part of this atmosphere, but it can get difficult to balance other activities with your sport if you take on too much.
As you probably already know, being an athlete requires sacrifices. As hard as it is to say no to your friends headed to Fourth Meal at 11 when you have 6:00 practice the next morning, or to not be able to take a super cool Exco the semester you're in season, you have to learn that you're a human who needs rest and recovery and can't go to all 300 concerts on campus as much as you want to.
Personally, I struggled with the FOMO that comes with being an athlete a lot first semester, but I also learned that I'm much happier investing deeply in a few activities instead of dabbling in a bunch. Plus, now that I'm out of season, I'm able to take on more of the extracurriculars I want to be part of (like my Illuminati Exco, volunteering at Oberlin Community Services, and reporting for WOBC News).
7. You will travel to lots of places you never knew existed
Seriously... there are SO many colleges in Ohio. I love being able to explore the state, even if all I get to see are highways and pools, because it's so different from where I'm from and that's a huge reason I decided to come here. Also, as full of life as Oberlin may be, it's undeniably small. The opportunity to leave town occasionally for swim meets definitely keeps me from going stir crazy.
Speaking of highways and pools, we travelled 40 hours by bus round trip to train in this gorgeous pool in Florida for training trip over winter break. Totally worth it.
Photo credits to Andrew Brabson.
8. The time constraints involved with athletics can actually be helpful
I know that I work best on a schedule, so I was a little worried about all the unstructured time I would have in college. Because of this, having the constraints of practices and meets actually helped me stay on track academically. Since we had practice at 6:30 every morning, I always knew that I had to be productive enough to go to bed at a decent time, and that I wouldn't be able to let myself sleep until noon every day. Being at a meet almost every Saturday all day meant that I had to get all my work for the weekend done on Friday and Sunday. I learned how to plan and use my time efficiently during my first semester of college because I had no choice but to do so because swimming took up three and a half hours of my day.
9. You will learn to love naps
Before college, I never napped. I just couldn't sleep in the middle of the day and believed naps were for the weak. Now, I scoff at younger me. After morning practice and class, it was all I could do to drag myself back to my dorm room before crashing. Naps became my main survival tactic as my body adjusted to the sudden increase in the intensity of training and they are basically the only reason I was able to remain coherent while doing homework. I can now proudly say that I am a napping expert-- I've fallen asleep on buses, planes, pool decks, beaches, and once on the linoleum floor of an athletic center hallway. Believe me, naps will be your new best friend.
10. You have to do your sport because you love it, not because you think it looks good
I once read somewhere that being a Division III athlete is the highest level of sports you can compete in without being monetarily compensated in some way. At first I felt kind of jipped by this fact, but then I realized how cool that is-- everyone who is an athlete at Oberlin competes because they love their sport, not because they're paid to continue playing for the school.
The other side of this, though, is that there's no outside motivation to be an athlete: no more trying to get into college through athletics, or practicing harder to make the varsity team, or getting a big check when you score the winning point, which means you have to be passionate about the sport itself to make it worthwhile to continue participating in at this level. The thought of this can definitely be intimidating. Who doesn't need a little outside motivation every once in awhile? But that's where your teammates come in. Because being an athlete at a DIII school means that everyone else on your team is there because they love the sport as much as you do, and you'll be able to push each other as a result.
11. Bonus Round
Another unexpected benefit of being an Oberlin athlete: your mascot is an albino squirrel. How can it get better than that?
The team :)
Photo credit to Jesse Gregory