Sport and School: The Right Mindset

As the end of the year draws to a close, we need to take a moment to look at what worked and what didn’t, and what should change in the upcoming year. In my opinion, the one thing that ought to change is the mindset Zimbabweans have about sport vs. school.

There should be no versus. It needs to be sport AND school. It has been proven multiple times that there is enormous benefit to children staying physically active at all times. We already have an edge in Zimbabwe because sport is mandatory at schools in comparison with schools in America and the United Kingdom but that is not enough.

Zimbabweans have a tendency to hang up their sporting equipment when October starts to roll around. We have such natural talent that isn’t being pushed enough, or made to realize its potential. Taking breaks means a loss of skill, and an ever widening gap between us and our international competitors. We are too afraid of “overworking, pushing or burning out” our youth that we have gone in reverse by becoming too soft.

Don’t get me wrong: exams are VERY important but there needs to be a balance. There is this mindset that you cannot excel at both, that you need to compromise one for the other. This is absolutely not true. You only suffer if you don’t make a concerted effort at both.

Education is not meant for students to be able to regurgitate facts, but to create competent, intelligent and prepared youth equipped with relevant and necessary life skills. How are children meant to successfully negotiate real life if they are told that doing two things simultaneously means they will not be able to do both well? What happens when they are employed full time, start a family plus have a home to maintain?

We like to think of Zimbabweans as robust, independent and resilient, and our youth as being better prepared than those from the first world. First worlders have every resource imaginable. My belief is that we are slowly losing that ‘toughness’. Life is uncompromising. It is for the exact reason that we have less that we need to do more, work harder and be better prepared. It’s not a wholly unfair system: as hard work will always be rewarded in the long term.

Sport is a blueprint for life. Sport teaches time management (critical for university and life). Sport teaches competitiveness and determination that will extend to the classroom. It teaches that to be successful, you have to work hard day-in-day-out because excellence IS a habit. You have to show up every day, regardless of how your mood or motivation levels that day. It teaches youth to be focused, process-orientated and how to problem solve. It relieves stress and anxiety. It teaches resolve, resilience and grit. It teaches teamwork, leadership and initiative. It promotes self-confidence, belief and faith.

I am a student-athlete in California at a Division 1 university. I dedicate over twenty hours of my week to my sport for practice, traveling and competition. I am a full-time student as well. A typical day looks like this: Wake up at 5.25 a.m., Swim practice from 6-7.30 a.m.,Lectures from 8 a.m. – 1 p.m., Weights and practice from 1 p.m.– 4p.m. Then I rush home to cook dinner or go to study hall to do my homework and studying. Include trying to find time to fit in meals, naps (vital for recovery) and visits to the training room for any injury or rehabilitation. I try to do all this before 10.30 p.m. (11 p.m. at the latest) so I get at least 6 hours sleep.

It’s a busy schedule, but I am a straight A student (give or take a few B’s). I complete all of my assignments done, usually better than my classmates who aren’t physically active or don’t have busy schedules. I am able to study in America on a swimming scholarship because I didn’t give up anything for school. My parents received their fair share of criticism over the years because I trained ‘full’ time all year. They were told I would really struggle to pass my ‘O’ levels, AS and A levels. I’ve made the Dean’s list both years, received all-academic honors for our sporting conference and I am a member of my college’s honors cohort.

I continue to work incredibly hard. It is not about not being too overloaded, it’s about how badly I want to succeed. At the end of the day I am a STUDENT-athlete, and school comes first. I want to graduate cum laude and be the best swimmer I can possibly be.

We need to encourage sport and school academics working hand-in-hand. Coming to America was the best decision I ever made. Everything I sacrificed as a teenager has been worth it. Not only am I pursuing my education and my sport, but I have been able to experience a new way of life, meet new people and broaden my horizons.

Let’s not take that opportunity away from other youth because we feel that they need to focus only on school academics. Sports helps to set people apart and make them well-rounded, holistic individuals. Parents and teachers alike: don’t limit Zimbabwe’s children.

I understand that many people have no desire to pursue sport to the level I have, but maintaining a healthy level of activity is important. For those who do wish to become student-athletes, I say go for it, the world really is your oyster. It will be tough and it will require total dedication, but you can do it. The rewards are bountiful and you will have the time of your life!

Tarryn Rennie is a student athlete at Fresno State University in California where she is a valuable member of the swimming team. Tarryn who attended Hellenic Academy and throughout primary and high school was a top national age-group swimmer for Zimbabwe, still holding several records. She recently represented Zimbabwe at the All Africa Games in Congo in September earning a medal for her part in the relay medley. You can follow her on twitter @tarrynrennie.