By Airwaves Writer Lydia Whiteford. We’ve all heard the classic college tagline, “between sleep, studying, and having fun, you can only pick two.” When you are also a college athlete, dedication to your sport is another variable that gets thrown into this mix. However, as I enter my final year of college, I find myself thinking that this stereotype may not be as true as people think. I believe that you can make the most out of your college experience in all aspects, even if there’s a lot on your plate. College sailors often have 30, and sometimes more, hours a week etched out of their schedules to dedicate to being on the water. So, as an experienced member of the college sailing world, I’ve compiled a “to do” list for those who are new to the game. Sooner than you think, you can find a way to juggle sailing, studies, and living your college life to the fullest.
1: Be Honest: This tip is threefold. The first person you need to be honest with is yourself. For example, if you have practice 4 days a week and regattas on weekends, are you really going to have time to take organic chemistry, head up your team’s social affairs, and sail full time on a varsity level? If you are, props to you because you might be superman. But if you don’t, that’s okay! Most people are, pun intended, in the same boat. What that means is that it is time to have a frank discussion with yourself on where you might have to allocate your time in order to be the most successful.
This brings me to my next point, which is to be honest with your coaches and professors. Make sure you keep an open dialogue with your coaches about how your classes are going; most of them uphold the popular motto that “school comes before everything.” If midterms are fast approaching and you are drowning in work, it is okay to miss a day or two of practice. It can sometimes feel like you are letting a coach or your teammates down by doing this, but that feeling can be avoided by telling your coach in advance how you are doing. A conversation on Monday that starts with, “hey coach, I have 2 papers and a test next week so I might have to miss Wednesday to go to office hours” will have a much better end result than a panicked email saying, “sorry no practice today way too much work” at the last minute. Along the same lines, it is equally important to be honest with your professors if something pops up in your athletic life that may affect your workload. I’ve found that it is valuable to discuss your extracurricular activities with your professors early, so that when the time of the season comes to head to Navy two weekends in a row, you can politely ask to be excused from a Friday class for traveling purposes without it being a surprise or sounding like an excuse. Many professors are very accommodating of college athletes, and as long as missing class does not become a habit, they are more than willing to grant you an absence if you need one.
The last group to be continually honest with are your friends. College sailors are on a different schedule than most other college athletes, and instead of having 2 halves that last 20-40 minutes each our “games” span 2 days, often for at least 6 hours a day, and most of the time they will be off campus. While this does allow for some intensely close bonding within the team, it can often leave non-sailor friends by the wayside. The best way to manage relationships with these friends when you can’t go out on the weekends is to work hard to plan other meeting times. Lunch together in the cafeteria or study sessions in the library together are great places to start until you know each other’s schedules, and then things will fall into place more easily as long as both parties understand the limits of availability.
2: Use Your Free Time Wisely: The first thing that most new college sailors will learn is that sailing takes up a lot of time. After practice, regattas, meetings, and “team bonding” every week it can soon feel like everything you do revolves around college sailing. The most important thing to remember in these times is that the more you plan ahead, the fewer nights you will spend staying up until 4 am frantically scrambling to do neglected work. Take advantage of the time you have during the day; an hour or two between class is perfect for getting some reading or studying done. Allocate days of the week so that some are for work and some are for socializing – days off of practice are usually good working days, as they are usually earlier in the week. Also, if there is a particular social event you know you won’t want to miss, know that you may have to sacrifice more of your after practice hours to studying in order to free time up. Get to know your classes to prioritize work (learn the critical art of skimming!) This will help with knowing what work will be imperative to keep up with and what can be moved around on your list.
The off-season is a critical time to keep up with good work habits, because you lose the structure of practice and regattas to keep everything moving forward. It is easy come December to think “Oh boy! No more practice for 3 hours a day! Free weekends! I will finally have time to do all the work I need to!” but often, what this quickly turns into is “Oh boy! 3 extra hours to watch Netflix! I’d usually be at practice now and it’s cold outside so just one more episode of House of Cards couldn’t hurt.” Don’t fall into this trap! Work with the free time if you have it, and before you know it, you may even be ahead on work come March when the season starts again.
Most importantly, if you start to feel overwhelmed and run-down, take a break. If you need to sleep, make sure you do! Your teammates will forgive you if you decide to stay in for a night to catch up on some rest. Coaches and professors don’t get disappointed in people who simply have too much on their plates, they only get disappointed in people who slip in performance because they clearly weren’t taking care of themselves.
3: When in Doubt, Lean on your Teammates: Sometimes the unavoidable happens, and the hectic tornado of stuff that college kids have to worry about swallows us all up. If this happens to you, don’t panic, and take some deep breaths because I have some good news for you. You have teammates, several of which are in your class and are probably going through the exact same things as you. Or, even better, you have upperclassman teammates and alumni that went through it all already and lived to tell the tale. Use these people to your advantage, and be there when they need you to be. Ask for advice when you need it, vent when you have to, and bind together to try and get over hurdles like extra hard classes or tough regatta weekends. Because, in the end, nobody knows the ups and downs of college sailing quite as well as other college sailors. Your teammates will quickly turn into family as you all try to navigate sailing, school, and social life to come out on the other end unscathed.