This is a post I wrote for our work blog, but I have recreated it here.
Every summer at TOP Fitness, we have a crop of athletes ready to take the dive into freshman year of collegiate competition. With that come mixed emotions. Some athletes do not seem to be fazed by the transition. Others anxiously anticipate the running or lifting testing. Occasionally, we will see distress. Moving on to the “next phase” can be a challenge, but altogether thrilling.
When I was entering as a freshman, I remember feeling incredibly anxious. I worried about getting along with the other girls, about being a late recruit, and about testing, among other things. Now, as I look back, the older and wiser Mandy sees things through a new pair of specs, and there are many things my 23-year-old self wishes she could tell the 18-year-old one. Luckily for me, I would be just as happy if I can help other freshmen athletes along the way.
So, dear freshman Mandy:
Alumni Game 2007, first collegiate game experience
Be present in every moment
This is something I feel passionately about. When I was entering my Senior year, playing my best defense, I suffered a career-ending head injury. My lacrosse experience ended prematurely, and now I would tell myself to make the most of every possible moment. Love the hard stuff—the sprints at the end of practice, heavy lifts after a two-hour workout, waking up at 3:45 AM for a flight to Los Angeles, late nights and long mornings—because it is blissfully temporary. Celebrate the good times; the good outweighs the bad by a long shot. Jump up and down when your team causes a turn over or makes a shot against the odds. Fist pump! Double fist pump! Whatever works for you, and always celebrate.
By being present, I mean do not worry about the past or the future too much. Plan for the future, and learn from the past, but look at them objectively. Ultimately, the present moment is all we really have. When you are in a competition or a practice, be there wholeheartedly because you simply never know when it will be taken from you. When that happens, I know from experience, you would do anything to get it back.
Be open to all types of people
On my team, the ones who were most respected were the ones who respected everyone else. One of my greatest mentors whom I attempt to emulate taught me to always look out for the underdog. When the team was giving one person in particular a hard time, Sarah would make sure to have her back. It would be something simple like if the team pointed out a teammate’s eating habits, she would say “Oh, that’s great I totally support it!” Sometimes I was convinced that she did not really support it, but I remember being the recipient of one of these comments as a sophomore many times, and it made me feel better about my choices. Little things like that can go a long way and make life easier for you. Look out for your teammates.
Also, get to know the non-athletes. Sometimes, athletes can have a certain stigma about being an athlete. Some believe they have more on their plate than the typical student, and they may have trouble if a non-athlete talks about how busy he or she is. The truth is, the average athlete does have a lot on his or her plate, but college is about learning about people, among other things, and I wish I had gotten to know more people outside of athletes. If you have space in your schedule, join a club. Be part of the student government. Reach out to the girls or guys who live next to you and ask them to come to the dining hall with you. I know that the people who got to know a wide variety of students overall enjoyed their college experience even more. I keep in touch with my teammates now, but some of my greatest friends from college were not athletes, and I loved them for it.
Work hard, but enjoy your rest days
At BU, we pride ourselves on putting the extra time in. If you wanted to get better at shooting, you did not just focus on it in practice. You were out there with a teammate and a bucket of balls shooting reps beforehand. If you wanted to improve your mile, you got up early and did split times with someone who was faster than you. Coaches love to see that you can take initiative for your own game and work to earn your spot. There is nothing worse to a coach than complaining about playing time if you are not putting the time in to get it.
With that being said, I know of many people who put too much time in and forgot to relax. Like any muscle, the body requires an increasingly heavier load, and rest time to build from the previous stress in order to get stronger. If you feel burnt out, be sure to take your rest day to lie down, drink tons of water, and stretch. The most important thing is that you feel fresh and ready to go once game time comes around.
Use your pockets of time wisely
In between classes and practice, there may be an hour or so to yourself. Learn to use these periods to your advantage. I used to always keep a school book with me, and when I found myself with some down time, I would crack it open and start taking notes. This could happen on the bus, in the dining hall, or in the locker room. This worked for me, and I found myself with less of a load in the evening time. Some days, I would get up early and squeeze in a chapter before class. You will thank yourself later.
To balance that out, make sure you take time to enjoy your teammates and friends outside of your sport. Practice and workouts can be stressful environments where you are constantly competing. Factor in time to just sit in a common room and hang out, debrief on practice, or get dinner. Free time in collegiate athletics is precious, so cherish it.
No matter how freshman year goes, it only gets better
As far as freshman years can go, I consider mine successful. Yes, I did have to carry the supplies and as a group we ate last, but I had a blast, and I learned a lot from the more experienced and talented players and leaders in front of me. However, through my experience, I have watched other freshmen really struggle. I have also seen them decide to give up. I always say, IT GETS BETTER. I told the freshmen at BU that this year, and I am telling you now. Hang in there. Freshman year can be fun, but each year you gain a little more experience, you gain relationships, and you gain confidence. You learn the ropes, and you can come back from the off-season in a better place than previously. Use your freshman year to soak up everything—the things your upperclassmen do that you would emulate, and the things they do that you would change; what your coach looks for; the proper fueling for competition; etc. As that first year comes to a close, ask your coach what you can do better. Then, do it, and even more in the off-season. If you feel overwhelmed, you can always reach out to me. And I will tell you, it gets better.
Sometimes I wonder if I would have been a better player if I had gotten a solid night’s sleep every night. Now, with increased body awareness, I realize the difference between a good night versus a bad one, so I am almost certain that my performance would have been enhanced if I had slept well. I once had a teammate tell me that every hour you sleep before midnight is worth two after midnight, and I think she was right. Sleep early, and often.
Being on busses, in hotels, the locker room, or the dorm common room, junk food is abundant. It is so easy to sit with a big group and munch down a whole box of wheat thins. It is likely that your activity level will be high enough that you will need more fuel than you think; however, it is about the proper fueling. The one rule I live by is always eat within thirty minutes of an intense workout. I think this is one of the universal truths in the sports nutrition arena. Each body is different, and no one diet will work for everyone. I know from my experience that I liked the methodologies of Mark Verstegen at Core Performance, but do what works for your schedule and your body. You know you better than I do.
Other important notes I live by:
-Water on hand all day long
-Always have a snack in your bag or locker as a back up
-Eat tons of vegetables
-Find a live-source multivitamin that works for you
-Never skip breakfast
-Work in the foods that make you happy
You are constantly being watched—a blessing and a burden
I think the BU hockey players learned this the hard way this year. With the recent sex abuse coverage, the hockey players at BU were under constant scrutiny. It just goes to show that the higher you fly, the harder you can fall. Let that be a word to the wise, be aware of who you reach out to. Make meaningful relationships.
Also, I think it is very important to be friendly to the other coaches. They know who you are. The other coaches are typically passionate about the school, and they are aware of the activities of the other teams. They can report back to your coach about your demeanor, and you want it to be a good report. When you are part of a college sports team, you are typically part of that team for life. Choose now how you want to be remembered.
Being part of a group can make you susceptible to groupthink. I always say, never ever apologize for who you are. If your teammates are doing something that you do not agree with, stand up for yourself. Be assertive. You are an incredible athlete—otherwise you would not be on a college team. Remember what got you there, what your goals are, and what really matters to you. If you want to win and you want to play well, choose that in every moment. Be so absolutely set on achieving your desires that no one can knock you off your path.
To the younger me, have fun. Approach each situation as if it is the best thing that could ever happen to you. Ultimately, it is. ENJOY.
Love, the timeless Mandy