by Margaret Amory
It’s that time of the year . . . back to school time! As a synchronized skater, it is equally as important to keep your pencils sharpened as it is to keep your blades sharpened. Learning to balance academics with the demands of being a synchronized skater can be complicated and unique to each skater. Get It Called reached out to some top Team USA skaters for some tips to help you balance life as a scholar athlete. For example, DREAM skater, Emily Fitzgerald of the Crystallettes and student at University of Michigan Dearborn, shares, “skating on Team USA has been a dream of mine for years, and even though I take my academics very seriously, skating on the Crystallettes is why I chose to go to school in Michigan. The dream of being on the World Team, the opportunity to represent my country on the biggest stage as a member of the Crystallettes, is what drives me to be the best skater and person I can be. It puts everything in perspective and makes it easy to prioritize my time.” One may ask exactly how accomplished skaters prioritize and organize their time. Just ask Maddie Sena of Adrian College’s Senior Varsity Synchronized Skating Team. She is currently working towards a double major in mathematics and physics while at Adrian College. She explains “ I would estimate that I spend about 50% of my time working on academics, 30-40% on skating/training and related activities, and about 10-20% of my time working, and participating in clubs and social activities.”
If you are a skater with dreams, you may wonder what level of discipline it takes to be a competitive scholarly athlete and how one learns to manage their time. Sena shares, “I think that it takes an incredible amount of discipline to be a student athlete. College academics on their own are challenging. When you add in the rigors of competitive athletics it is not easy to keep life balanced. I find that even small changes in one part of my schedule will have a big impact in other areas. Much of the down time other students have is time I spend practicing and training. From time to time I do feel as though I am missing out on doing fun things with friends. But the flip side is that I have accomplished a lot of things and have had so many amazing experiences that other students haven’t. It is important to find a balance between academics, skating and personal time. I think I am getting better at it as I get older but it is still a challenge.” As for organizing one’s time, Fitzgerald explains, “a wise person once told me ‘If it takes less than five minutes, get it done immediately. You’ll be shocked at how productive you can be’.” She continues to share, “this lifestyle is definitely something you have to want for yourself. You cannot skate at this level, while balancing school and work, for anyone else. You need to have the level of dedication some people would call ‘obsession’. Your life quite literally becomes eat, sleep, skate, and repeat.” Sena reminds skaters it is important to take some time for yourself and “it may be as simple as taking a study break, walking to practice or class with friends, or listening to some music.”
When it comes to keeping school and skating organized, Sena shares, “the key for me is to write everything down. I use my planner and make lists to stay organized. Writing things down helps me remember and helps keep my stress level under control because I know I don’t have to rely on my memory alone. In my planner I keep my class schedule, practice and competition schedule, due dates for class assignments, exam dates, meetings, and events. I carry my planner almost everywhere, and as soon as something new comes up I write it down immediately so I don’t forget. My other strategy is making lists. I make a list almost every day to help me keep track of what I need to accomplish that day. This refreshes my memory and gives me a way to see my progress. I love to cross things off my list! This gives me a sense of accomplishment even if it is a small task.”
When it comes to managing a school schedule it is also important to reach out to your advisor or counselor to develop a relationship and educate them about your commitment to skating so they can help guide you in the correct direction. Sena explains, “there have been a few times, especially when I first started college, when I struggled to keep up in classes due to my skating schedule. This past year I had an especially difficult time because it was my first time as a member of Team USA, and we missed almost two full weeks of school at one time for our international competition and nationals. It took me a very long time to feel as though I was back on track and performing where I wanted to academically. At times when I feel like I am starting to struggle in class I usually do two things: I sit down and take time to look at my schedule and adjust it to give me more time to study, and I meet with my professors for extra help. I am very fortunate because my school is small enough so I can meet with my professors outside of class for extra help fairly easily. It is critical for me to address problems and make changes as soon as I notice I am struggling. It keeps things from getting out of control. In addition, I communicate with my professors about my skating commitments regularly throughout the semester. Fitzgerald shares, “I have always done my best to schedule my classes around practice times which can result in very long days, but ultimately it’s what we have to do. However, I have struggled with required classes interfering with my practice schedule. In my experience, with a lot of help from my counselors, it have been able to opt for online classes that I could complete on my own time without missing a practice. You can also always ask your counselors about classes being offered in different semesters. I had to wait a full semester to take a cognitive psychology class until it was offered at a time that worked with my schedule.”
Sena recommends “ start[ing] out with only school and skating and add other activities in slowly until you reach a balance you are comfortable with. This way you are less likely to get overwhelmed and it is easier to pull back on things if you start to feel you have too much on your plate. I also think that the worst thing you can do if you are feeling overwhelmed is to ignore it. If you don’t know what to do, talk to someone you trust who can help you figure out a plan to get back on track.” In summary, Fitzgerald shares, “we all follow the ‘skating is life’ phenomenon, skating is our happy place. It is who we are and what drives us everyday. However, we cannot forget about life ‘after’. Going to school and prioritizing your education and having a plan for your future is incredibly important.”
When it comes to prioritizing school and skating, one needs to practice organization, communication and collaboration. All of these critical skills can be pulled as life lessons learned from skating. Remember, one step at a time, practice makes perfect, and persistence is critical. If you fall down, get up. As a member of a team, it is imperative we learn to rely on one another for help when we need it. With these practical tips from Get It Called and Team USA members you will surely have a winning future balancing skating and academics!