By the time I came to Swarthmore, I felt disillusioned by lacrosse. I had played since 6th grade and always expected, as did my parents, that I would continue it in college. I played club, visited athletic programs, and emailed coaches. However, as my junior year came to an end, I had decided not to play club that summer. I had a list of schools I was recruited for and I simply did not have the time to continue playing on a travel team. That summer, I began to question if I really loved lacrosse as I once did. Truth be told, I still wonder that to this day. So, as I began applying to schools, I had a handful I was recruited to and a handful that I was not. Either the school did not have a division III team (the only division I was looking to play), or I had decided on a whim to apply to the college.
Instead of the common Early Decision application many athletes did, I had decided to apply Regular Decision. Due to this, I had many colleges to choose from when it came time to decide where I would spend my next four years. During my senior spring, I even felt that it may be nice to go to a school I had not been recruited to. Lacrosse was always something I had to work hard at. It always seemed more difficult than school and I worried it would be an added stressor in college.
However, I could not have been more wrong about it all. At Swarthmore, I saw myself improving at a rapid rate, I felt closer with my teammates than I ever had on any other team, and I felt motivated to work outside practices to get better. This was a result of many things that I feel are unique to Swarthmore Athletics. To begin, the school is filled with brilliant and motivated people, including student athletes. I am constantly astonished by what my teammates and many other athlete friends accomplish academically and extracurricularly on top of the commitment of a sport. I can always count on my teammates for a solid vent session about a stressful class or study group after a practice. Off the field, they are also my close friends, the people I share inside jokes with or go into Philly with. The great thing at Swat is that I have my amazing friends on my team and I have friends on other teams and one’s that aren’t in athletics. Unlike many schools, the size of Swat limits cliques, and you find yourself knowing many people from many different circles. Having a team just makes it that much easier to meet more people.
The positive atmosphere of athletics extends to coaching. Coaches are often understanding with the workload and academic atmosphere of the college. My lacrosse coach has coached at Swarthmore for over 20 years, so she probably understands the Swat culture better than I do. This makes it easy to talk to her and work through conflicts. However, athletics is still a commitment and there are times when a practice must be put above a review session. Also, every coach is different. New coaches can change up dynamics or new rosters can make playoffs a newly attainable goal. Even in my second season, I see the intensity increasing as we have more players and new talent.
This comes with more time commitment and stress around the sport, but the results are worth it. I have gotten considerably stronger and faster since last season and on top of the personal pride I have, my team as a whole has improved. Biweekly lifts with the strength and conditioning coaches make up some of my most productive minutes at Swarthmore. Playing a sport has kept me fit and the work I do inside and outside of lacrosse to prepare always leaves me feeling accomplished and ready to take on whatever else there is to come.
Granted, like any commitment, athletics can be stressful, time-consuming, and exhausting. The most important thing for me is to be realistic with myself when planning classes and activities. I am a busy person, juggling four classes, independent research, two jobs, and a club or two. This is a lot for the average Swattie (most Swat classes require about 10 hours of work outside of class a week), and with a sport on top, it can feel overwhelming. However, I found that lacrosse was my opportunity to focus on something else entirely. At practices I can forget about all my other responsibilities and just play. The social benefit of athletics also becomes really helpful when the stress begins to pile on, because we are all in the same boat. Having a team to connect with and support me has proven immensely valuable in my time at Swarthmore.
At the end of the day, athletics aren’t for everyone. Just because you did a sport or were even recruited while in high school does not mean you are obligated to keep playing it. But, the experience you get from a sport, the successes, the support, and the community all make it worthwhile. The hardships make the accomplishments that much greater and the ability to share your successes with your team will help propel you forward. Most importantly, your teammates can become some of your favorite people.