Dr. Joan’s Sports Psych Talk: College competition ahead
Dr. Joan’s Sports Psych Talk-
Summer is about to end for athletes who plan to go off to college. Whatever the sport, playing at the collegiate level presents a new and unique situation from athletic endeavors at other times in life. And even for the new vs. returning student athletes, there exists a different experience. The high level of competition is one challenge, but also keeping up with academics and a social life presents others. The mental challenges facing these young adults are vast. There is a need for strong focus and concentrations skills. The importance of positive thought habits is invaluable. The mental skills used for sport are also important in their approach to the college setting.
To take a closer look at the new vs. returning collegiate athlete, I interviewed two young crew competitors both developed out of Marin Rowing in Greenbrae. Kristy Wentzel will soon leave for her first year at Stanford. Natalie Wong is returning to Harvard for her final year. They both share a love of rowing. What they further have in common is their tough mental fortitude to perform at high levels in crew, each in her own respective style.
Kristy’s (at right) main challenges are leaving her tight knit athletic family and facing an even higher level of skill for crew at Stanford. She’s quite excited about the opportunity to work with Yasmin Farooq, the head coach of the Stanford women’s team. Yaz is a former Olympian who has helped the Stanford Cardinals continually increase their success in her three years as head coach, including winning the national championship in 2009. Kristy is excited about what she can learn further from Yaz. Kristy sees her life at Stanford as more centered on athletics than in high school. She will have daily practices both morning and afternoon; whereas with Marin she practiced after school. Kristy appears to work hard as a team player, evidenced by having twice made friendship bracelets for fellow team members in Marin and for the national women’s 8 teams. I’m sure she will continue this tradition at Stanford. Her biggest concern, “keeping up with everything.” Although she views time management as the key issue, opportunities abound for Kristy, including bonding with the new team and coach. She recognizes the collegiate level as a whole different spectrum. As a member of the Stanford crew, she hopes to continue to improve and eventually make the Olympic team. Kristy approaches this next year as a huge transition.
“This is a transition that’s really going to benefit me in the grand scheme of things. I know it’s going to be a wonderful aspect in my life,” said Wentzel.
Crew for Kristy will be a serious and important part of her life for years to come.
Natalie Wong–an only child with supportive parents, worked hard to be a crew member–especially given her diminutive size. She is not very robust like the more typical competitive rower, and she rows in the lightweight 8 class, weighing only 130 pounds or under. With Marin Rowing coach Sandy Armstrong, she persevered and continually focused on improving. Natalie (at left) strove to make each ERG test (stationary rowing device) a “personal record”. All her work paid off and she ended up on Harvard’s lightweight 8 boat, which she’s rowed in for the past three years. As a senior, she’s been elected to be co-captain of her team.
“Harvard gave me more of a chance for camaraderie than high school. Our team is really bonded together and this helps us in the boat,” said Wong.
She describes them as often eating meals together and going out on weekends. In addition, Natalie has been involved in a variety of activities at Harvard. The school has lots of “extra curriculars” (Natalie’s term) for students to be involved with. She’s worked on a variety of projects, including the Food Literacy Project. The project’s goal was to educate students about sustainable foods and how to eat right. Natalie loves to bake and cook. She would often bake cookies to be eaten right after weigh-in for a race. Looking ahead to the future, this summer she tried her hand at sports event management, working as an intern for the San Francisco Marathon. She learned a lot about business development in the sporting event world. She even branched out and ran a 21K trail race in Pacifica at her boss’ urging. She has always striven to have the right amount of self-confidence, not too much or too little. She enters her final year at Harvard knowing this will probably be her last year for high-level competitive crew as she plans for other work after she graduates, but rowing is what she loves.
Both Kristy and Natalie live and thrive from athletic lifestyles. For Kristy, this lifestyle is about to escalate to an even greater intensity; whereas Natalie’s will be shifting down in the next year. This is the role of the freshman vs. senior athlete. Each of these young women use strong mental skills in approaching sport and life. They demonstrate motivation, focus, concentration, and self-confidence. Effective time management also plays a key role with all the demands of the student athlete. These skills are necessary to succeed at the high level of competition in the collegiate world which involve not only sport, but academics and socializing. Natalie and Kristy serve as role models for other aspiring collegiate athletes.
Dr. Joan Steidinger is a sports and clinical psychologist with offices in Mill Valley and San Francisco. She has been practicing sports psychology with clients ranging from recreational to pro athletes for the past 17 years.
As an athlete herself, she has been a competitive ultrarunner, Ride & Tie competitor, and ultradistance cyclist.