For your average Swarthmore student, returning to campus after a summer away means the return to a life of over-‘s. After the syllabi have been handed out and the sheer mass of papers, exams, and readings have begun their bi-annual descent into unmanageable, it can be difficult to remember that even a few weeks ago you were living in the far-off land of Not-Swarthmore.
No matter what you were doing over the summer—an internship, a job, taking long walks around your hometown and contemplating your lack of any discernible career path with your religion major—odds are that your time off from the academic school year gave you the time and energy to commit to focusing on just one or two of your interests and obligations as opposed to the constant juggling act that is being a full time student. When the semester begins, so do the difficult choices: do I have a social life, sleep, or hand in thoughtful and completed assignments? At any given moment in the year, a Swarthmore student is engaged in the delicate balancing of the workload of multiple classes, extracurricular activities, and recreational pursuits.
However, for a handful of students, the return to Swarthmore is marked not by the start of their classes, but instead the start of their season. As a member of the field hockey team, I have had access to the unique culture of preseason Swarthmore.
Setting aside the perks of being able to move in without the combined sweat, frustration, and limited staircase space of regular move-in, it might be difficult to understand what exactly is so great about being an early return student (especially a preseason early return student). What is the appeal of coming back to Swat two weeks early to do nothing but go to practice all day in the late-August Pennsylvanian heat? What is the allure of a near-empty campus and a limited Sharples menu? What possible fun can be had on a dry campus?
Preseason is the one time all year that I have to be committed fully to one thing and one group of people. It is the one time that there is no tug-of-war between my obligations as a friend, teammate, and academic. It is the one time that I get to be a student-athlete without the student part. For two weeks I get to live in a Swarthmore that is neither devoid of purpose nor fully operational. Preseason Swat is almost purgatorial in a sense—it is an interim between summer and semester. Having one purpose, to practice and bond with my teammates new and old, is a nice segue into being a full time student and collegiate athlete. I get to re-remember how to focus all my attention on one task at a time before I pick up my first reading. I get to center myself as a teammate and friend before the onslaught of different social groups I am a part of return. During preseason I don’t have to be anyone other than a field hockey player, and all that is expected of me is that I come ready to compete. With my responsibilities limited to this one component of my life at Swat—being an athlete—I have the opportunity to ground myself in a positive mentality, healthy eating habits, and routine before the additional aspects of my life make their way back to campus.
Is constant practice exhausting? Yes. Is it draining? Yes. Do I sometimes question every life choice I’ve ever made that has lead me to walk out onto the track for the dreaded run test? Yup. But is it something that is worthwhile, something I look forward to, and something that is maybe even necessary for the future success of my semester? Also yes.
I’ve never experienced a fall semester at Swarthmore that was not preceded by a preseason, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. There is a sense of camaraderie and closeness that comes from spending nearly every waking moment with the same group of women focused entirely on the one thing that most unites us for such an extended period of time.
Then again, this is merely my opinion of preseason. For other teams, and even other members of my own team, preseason holds its own meaning. In asking my teammates what preseason means to them, the answers I received ranged from a frustration with the mental and physical toll the stress of constantly having to be prepared for practice engenders, to the discontent that comes from having your social life restricted to the same group of people until friends and classmates begin to slowly trickle back to campus, to the catharsis of having the time to focus on team bonding and field hockey without the added pressure of class work. Despite the differences in attitude and outlook, the common element throughout my teammate’s responses is the satisfaction we get out of being allowed the opportunity to solely devote ourselves to our chosen extracurricular in a way that many other clubs and teams do not get the chance. For this we are lucky. Even when we somewhat reluctantly make our way down to the field for the second long and grueling practice of the day, we realize we are lucky.