Integrating university study and rowing
As the beginning of the academic year rolls around for many university students, many students pick up an oar for the first time and their dream of being a top athlete starts to take shape. For student-athletes, meeting the demands of training and competing, whilst studying for a degree, can easily become overwhelming. So how can a student-athlete strike the right balance? Australian Crossing the Line has some advice:
1. Maintain an identity outside of rowing.
As well as being a top athlete, you are also a friend and family member. Are you really great at maths? Do you love working with animals? These all form your identity and can be important in a future career outside of your sport.
2. Think about how your life outside rowing can enhance your performance as an athlete.
Those time management, focus and resilience skills you learned from your studies? Apply them to your sport!
3. Manage your time and energy
a. Create a schedule for yourself, make sure you never miss a training or study session!
b. Plan ahead. Would you start training for an event the week before? Don’t leave writing that essay or revising for an exam until the last minute either! Not only will your grades suffer, but so will your performance after the late night cramming sessions.
c. Prioritise. It’s likely many of your training sessions are non-negotiable, but prioritising your studies can be harder.
d. Set and celebrate goals. Whether it’s a new PB or an A on an assignment, set yourself attainable and measurable goals throughout the year.
e. Make the most of your downtime. Use this time wisely, spend it with friends or family, or look after your mental health by practising mindfulness and mediation techniques.
4. Learn to see the positives in your study.
Study can help you recover from training or competing by providing a mental focus, rather than replaying your session or race over and over again. It can give you a much-needed break from training, so you come back feeling fresh and enthusiastic every day. At times of injury, study can provide a sense of focus and purpose.
5. Remember that mental health is just as important as your physical health.
Talk about how you feel. Talking about mental health is not a sign of weakness, in fact, it takes considerable strength to acknowledge that you’re struggling.
Think positively. Simply thinking positively can have a big impact. Ask “what’s right?” instead of “what’s wrong?”.
Notice how you manage your emotions. Do you take constructive criticism well? Are you able to let go of a bad training session to fully focus on studying? Start noticing your emotions, think about how you respond to them, and how it affects your performance, both as a rower and academically.
Think mindfully. This can help you manage unhelpful emotions. Next time you feel overwhelmed, bring your focus back to your physical body and take five long, slow breaths.
Start building resilience. Balancing sport and study is tough, there is no doubt about that. Whilst you may face set-backs, try to see these as an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than as a failure.
Crossing the Line is an Australian organisation founded by three-time Olympic rower, Gearoid Towey. They offer support to athletes during and after their sporting careers, providing “a confidential service where the sporting community can share their stories and receive expert advice and information on mental health, wellbeing, education and transitioning to life after sport.”
Article by Molly Shaw
Molly Shaw learned to row at Sudbury as a junior during which time she medalled at Brit Champs and NJIRC and represented the Eastern Region at JIRR. After illness put a stop to her competitive rowing at university, Molly has since qualified as a coach and begun writing more widely, having started a blog in 2015.