I love the Olympics. LOVE THEM. Every two years, I dedicate myself to two weeks of near round-the-clock Olympic watching. After every Olympics, I feel a surge of inspiration watching how all of the athlete’s stories play out: the sure-things who underperform, the long-shots who win, the perfectionists who falter, the almost-last-place finisher who competes purely for love of sport, and those unpredictable, “you have to see this to believe it” moments.
But wait, you might be thinking, this is an academic coaching website. What do sports have to do with school?!
Quite a bit, I think.
Students can take many lessons from observing high performance athletes that compete at the Olympics; here are five:
- SHOW UP
Have you ever heard a gold medal-winning athlete discuss how they skipped practice regularly to sleep in or binge watch their favorite show on Netflix?
Olympic athletes, even non-medalists, achieve their goals because they show up every day for their sport. These athletes attend practices, complete their workouts, and listen to their coaches. They may not always operate at 100% each day, but they go and give what they are able.
I am sure that Olympic athletes would rather sleep in some days and skip practice, or go out with friends one afternoon rather than hit the gym. Nevertheless, they commit themselves to showing up every day for the boring, repetitive, challenging, exhausting days because they know that the difference between being an Olympic athlete and not comes down to whether they put in the effort.
Students must do the same. If your goal is obtaining a college degree and starting a promising career, then you need to show up to class. ALL classes, not just the ones you like, or the classes for your major, or the classes that meet at the times you like best. ALL OF YOUR CLASSES. Whether required or not, each class offers the chance to practice a life skill you will need after college.
In skipping class, you risk missing information that may mean the difference between passing and failing. Think that homework is too tedious and you’d rather binge watch TV? That homework is your practice, the way to improve your skills so that the function you are working on becomes second nature. That homework can also identify a principle you haven’t quite grasped yet and show you where you need help.
Professors are your coaches. We want you to succeed, but we can’t do anything if you don’t come to class and/or don’t do your work. We can help you when you are stumbling, and we can motivate you to keep going, but we cannot show up for you.
This seems like an obvious step, but there are so many students who just refuse, for one reason or another, to get in their classroom seats. Showing up is the majority of the work and it truly makes a difference.
- KEEP A SCHEDULE
Olympic athletes practice on a regular schedule. They don’t move their practices around to suit their social calendar. They don’t tell their coaches they can only practice in the afternoons because they don’t like waking up before noon. Many athletes are either college students or people with regular jobs and families to support—not all Olympic athletes have sponsors. They practice at undesirable morning hours to make room for the rest of their life obligations. They get up and go to bed on a consistent schedule as well, which helps regulate their biorhythms.
Students seem to equate making schedules with punishments or a juvenile habit that adults don’t take part in. Everybody outside of college lives on a schedule of some sort: work and meetings dictate where we spend time and with whom, extracurricular activities order out downtime, restaurants and stores tell us when we can get services, and kids come with their own schedules. Students are no exception to the scheduled world.
Schedules make sure the multitude of things we have one our plates run smoothly. They take the guesswork out of trying to remember what to do when. Research your favorite athlete’s (or team’s) practice schedule to see how s/he structures the day to make room for work and for play.
- TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY
Yes, Olympic athletes are in excellent physical condition. I am not suggesting that you spending forty hours a week in the gym, but I highly recommend that you engage in some form of daily exercise. Exercise offers tremendous benefits for overall physical AND mental health, especially in the arena of stress reduction.
Sedentary lifestyles (to which studenthood belongs) are unhealthy. Because most of the student day is spent sitting, making time for movement is important. If you don’t already belong to a school athletic team, add a thirty minute walk or run in your daily schedule, lift weights two or three time a week, join a club sport, or take a dance or aerobics class. Your school probably offers a variety of activities for you. Check your gym for student activities schedule.
Watch the foods and drinks you consume. College can be a hard place to find a balanced meal, and there are the ever-present calls of caffeine and sugar when facing fatigue. You need protein, fruits, and vegetables to fuel your brain. As a student your brain is your engine and it needs the proper fuel to function effectively. Water is important to have on hand as well: it can easily replace any caffeinated and sugared beverage, and hydration is important for your physical and mental health.
If you aren’t sure how to maintain a proper diet, ask the Health Services office at your school (or your primary care physician) for the name of a local nutritionist who can help you create a food plan that will maximize your energy and help keep you healthy. Your school may even have a nutritionist on staff.
There are also the obvious things you want to watch and/or avoid: drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. Before you experiment with all sorts of things in the name of “college fun,” do your research to find out what these substances actually do to your body in both the short- and long-term. What you do to your body now will come back to haunt you later in life. (Not to mention the fact that you are a legal adult in college. If you get arrested, you may have a record to explain to future employers.)
- GET UP AND TRY AGAIN
Many of the televised interviews of Olympic athletes offer profiles of competitors who overcame a huge hurdle during their journey: massive injuries (skier Lindsey Vonn), a disastrous performance at a previous Olympics (snowboarder Shaun White), or a lack of support for their abilities (curler John Shuster).
Life goes badly for everyone at some point, we will all be sidelined by challenges (long- or short-lived), we will all suffer a disappointing failure, and people will lose their faith in us. This is life. When facing these challenges, Olympians demonstrate a quality that helps move them through these trying moments: resilience.
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from hardships and failure; it’s mental toughness.
If Olympic athletes stopped competing every time they experienced some failure or met someone who didn’t believe in them, we wouldn’t have the Olympics at all. Each of us has the ability to be resilient and come back from difficulty with a new strength and focus. Life is tough and it will kick you around from time to time. The important thing is that we get back on our feet and continue moving forward.
- NO ONE LIKES A CHEATER
The Olympics, and sports in general, are mired in doping scandals. Russian athletes weren’t allowed to compete under their own flag this year, or in their country’s name, because of the widespread doping habits discovered at the previous Olympics.
There is a short period of time where it appears that you can play the system and get away with it, but, if you just watch the news, deceptions never stay hidden.
Professors always know when students cheat and no one really relishes the act of turning a student in, but we are obligated to do it. At best, you will get an F for the assignment or class, at worst you will be expelled (especially if you have multiple infractions). Fs come with consequences. College is too expensive these days to cheat. You will have to take extra classes (which cost extra money) and you may lose funding because of the hit your GPA takes after receiving an F on your transcript.
If you are struggling and are at the point where you feel compelled to cheat, GO TO YOUR PROFESSOR OR YOUR ACADEMIC SUPPORT CENTER. They are there to help you succeed, not to judge you for seeking assistance.
If you have any other lessons college students can take from Olympic athletes (or sports in general), send them to me for inclusion in a future post!
For tips on how to implement these five lessons in your student life, see my AcademicRX boards on Pinterest.
Until next time,