Pressures, academic or others, no big deal for athletic titans

After visiting or reading about Swarthmore, some prospective students might feel that they have learned two pieces of information about Swarthmore College. First, this school is a pressure cooker. Second, this school is full of kids who are so smart they couldn’t possibly be athletic. I believe that because our top-tier Women’s Volleyball  and Soccer teams each carry All-American athletes, you can be smart and athletic at Swarthmore. However, it’s false to say that Swarthmore doesn’t have any impressive athletes, but because Swarthmore is a place with plenty of pressure to succeed, they might find it hard to meet expectations. Now, imagine that you go to Swarthmore and your team makes the playoffs. How do you handle the added pressure?
    This year, Swarthmore is sending two fall sport teams to playoffs. The Women’s Volleyball team ended their conference season with an 8-2 record, placing second in the Centennial Conference heading into playoffs. Women’s Soccer is following closely behind, ending conference play with a 7-2 record, setting them up as the third seed in conference playoffs. Both teams are in the midst of impressive runs, with players from each team ranking with high individual stats in the conference and many players earning Player of the Week commendations. Currently, Marin McCoy ’19 has the second most points for Women’s Soccer players in the conference, and Sarah Wallace ’18 has the sixth most kills out of players in the conference. These girls are worthy opponents by anyone’s standards.
    They may be physically talented enough, but can they handle the playoff pressure?
    According to several players, the added pressure is undeniable, but certainly not crippling.  Different players feel the weight of the game in distinct ways.
    “The only time I feel the pressure of a big match is in the days leading up to it. Once I actually start playing, I get so invested in the immediate action that I don’t worry about the pressure involved, and just focus on myself and my teammates,” said Sarah Girard ‘19, the libero for the Women’s Volleyball team.
     McCoy ’19, starting forward for the Women’s Soccer team, looks at pressure from a different perspective.
    “All forwards feel a pressure to score a goal in an important game, and when we give up a good scoring opportunity, we are especially hard on ourselves,” said McCoy. Both athletes recognize the pressure, but its timing and weight plays in differently for them. Although both are key players for their teams, McCoy and Girard differ in how they handle stress. While their personalities are likely explanatory factors, it is probable that the type of sport they play contributes as well. Volleyball is a high-scoring and fast-paced game compared to soccer, where it is possible that no one scores in an entire game. This divergence can lead to a varying amount of pressure placed one individual’s mess up or scoring opportunity.
    While these sports may have stark formatting differences, they have one vital similarity. They are team sports. Although one player’s performance can make a difference, in both sports, there is always a teammate there to help pick you up when you’re down. McCoy knows exactly what the word teammate means.
    “When I think about this being the last opportunity that our seniors play college soccer, I am the most motivated. I know how much they have put into this team, and I put more effort in the game when I think about how important it is to them.”
    Only a sophomore herself, McCoy lays it all out on the line as if it was her last chance because she knows that for some of her teammates, it is. Girard also weighs in on the significance of the team as a motivator, commenting,
    “I have to play for my teammates, so that I can win with my teammates.”
This team dynamic drives Swat Volleyball, with Wallace agreeing that they have a very strong team focus.  She explained that they, “Always stand in a huddle in the middle of the court, and tell each other to play hard and to play for each other.” Doing well for their team challenges these players to conquer the pressure and work hard for themselves but, more importantly, for the team.
    Unfortunately, for these athletes, their seasons and the extra pushes of playoffs do not mean they get to skip out on their work for classes. Despite the extra work, Girard and Wallace both recognize their ability to separate school from volleyball, avoiding thoughts of work during practices or games and use their sport as a break from the busy world of Swat. For McCoy, the stress and constant flow of schoolwork is actually an advantage.
    “If I did not have as much school work, I would spend a lot more time analyzing rankings, film, and soccer in general,” she said, adding, “The way that academic experiences at Swat challenge us to push through help me maintain my determination and motivation not to give up and to continue working hard in soccer.”
Just as all students here feel the strain to do well in their classes, these athletes feel the pressure to perform well in their games. As our two teams head off to playoffs, we can support them knowing they will go all out on the court or the field despite the pressure. Wallace said, “It’s a great thing to feel pressure, because that means you want to win.”
Each player conquers the stress of both their athletic and academic worlds in different ways, but we know that each player will put their best foot forward to win. They sometimes use academics as a distraction from sports, or they use practices and games as a break from their rigorous workload. Though it may be tough, these athletes will always persevere through the pressure for their teammates; after all, they are Swatties, and Swatties know stress best.

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