Being from South Africa, one of my greatest dreams has always been to make it into a division one college in America. I knew that if I wanted to take my swimming to the next level, I would need a next-level environment. For me, America was the only option. I will never forget the feeling of receiving an offer from Florida State University, one of the best programs in the country.
I have had the opportunity to work with a fantastic coaching staff and teammates throughout my four years at Florida State. As a result, I have learned valuable lessons along the way and would like to share my top six things I have learned from being a college athlete in America.
1. Everything you do is for the team
One of the biggest shocks for me was the sheer size of the team atmosphere. In South Africa, swimming is generally seen as an individual sport. Although we are still part of our high school team, club team, or national team, we tend to compete against ourselves rather than the person next to us.
One of the hardest things in the world is to win a battle against yourself. As we get better and faster, our times stop dropping so drastically, and we might not swim personal bests at every meet anymore. Things like this can mess with our minds as athletes if we don’t have the right mindset.
All of this changed once I got to the United States. For the first time in my life, I was not racing for myself anymore. I was racing for my team, for my university. It was always about touching ahead of the person in the lane next to you. Times didn’t matter anymore.
2. Time management
As athletes, we do not want to be spending time stressing about whether we will have enough time to get assignments done or study for tests. This is where time management comes in. Time management was probably one of the most important and useful skills I have learned.
In America, all our classes are scheduled around our practice times. Therefore, we know exactly how much time we would spend in the pool, weight room, or classroom way before school even starts. This allows you to plan in advance—something I would highly recommend.
Once I started to manage my time more effectively, it felt like I had so much more time on my hands. It takes a lot of unnecessary pressure off you as an athlete, allowing you to focus on what you do best.
3. Make time to have fun
No human being on this planet is perfect. No one can constantly work without taking a little break. My advice to all athletes is to take a break now and then from what you do. I am not telling you to take a month off from sport and be lazy. Take a mental break.
Do something else to get your mind off work and practice. It is always good to rejuvenate ourselves. It’s like pressing the reset button on your remote.
This way, we stay fresh and can keep performing at elite levels without getting exhausted or depressed.
4. Be open to change and learn to adapt
Throughout my four years at Florida State, I have had several coaches come and go. I swam under three coaches in my time there and have learned valuable things from each of them. One thing I have learned through this process is to accept change.
Change allows us to grow and become better athletes. Your performance will depend on how fast you can adapt to change. Something that has helped me adapt quickly to new situations in the past is to view them as opportunities to learn more.
No one knows everything there is to know. I recently wrote an article about it, Practice Makes Better, if you would like to go check it out. The more we learn, the more we grow. So whenever you are placed in a situation that is new or that you are unsure of, see it as an opportunity to get better.
5. Every disadvantage is an advantage
It was the summer of 2018, right before my junior year. I badly hurt my ankle and had to get surgery done to get it fixed. I was heartbroken because I was unable to train for several weeks and had no idea what my future at Florida State would hold. Check out my article to learn more about it HERE.
As I have mentioned in my previous point, you can always get better at something. That is when I realized that this minor setback provides me the opportunity to focus on something else. I started with some core work outside of the pool, and in the pool, I focused on what I can control.
I never once thought of my injury as something that would put me at a disadvantage. I realized that every disadvantage could be turned into an advantage with the right amount of focus and work. We get injured as athletes; it is part of what we do. The important thing, however, is not to lose hope when we do. Always trust the process.
6. Life goes on
The most valuable thing of all I have learned is that life goes on. When we don’t perform like we would like to, we get demotivated and upset with ourselves and sometimes the rest of the world. Ironically, it doesn’t matter. You might get some sympathy from friends and family, but at the end of the day, you are competing for something much bigger.
The world doesn’t stop when you don’t meet your goals. The harsh reality is that it will keep beating you to the ground if you let it. We all have had bad performances at one time or another. The important thing is to keep your head up and keep pushing.
I recently watched the television series Ted Lasso. It is about an American football coach who got a job in England coaching soccer, of which he knows nothing about. When one of the players wasn’t performing up to standard, he called him up and told him something that I would never forget.
He asked him what the happiest animal on this planet is. The answer he gave was a goldfish. Confused, the player looked at him as if he were crazy. He continued to say that a goldfish is the happiest animal on this planet because it only has a ten-second memory. If it would mess up, it would only remember it for ten seconds and then move on.
So today, I want to tell you to go out there and be like a goldfish. It is OK to be upset after a bad performance for a little while, but then we have to move on. The lessons I have learned in my four years at Florida State are values that I will carry with me until the end of my days.
Dream. Dare. Succeed.
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Hi there! My name is Rudo Loock. I am a former competitive swimmer from South Africa. I went to school and trained at Florida State University in the United States of America. I have always had a great passion for both writing and sport and now I have found a way to combine the two things I love most. My goal is to help you achieve great things you never thought were possible. I hope you enjoy my posts and dream big!