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Why Being a Student is (a Bit) Like Being an Olympic Athlete

Why Being a Student is (a Bit) Like Being an Olympic Athlete main image

With the 2012 Olympic Games due to start in London later this week, I can report that anticipation here in the UK capital is pretty high.*

Meanwhile, students around the world are getting ready to start or return to university.

Bringing these two facts seamlessly together, here are my thoughts on why being a student is (a bit) like being an Olympic athlete, and what lessons can be learned from this comparison…

1. The (three or) four-year cycle

The Olympics, as you probably know, comes around once every four years. This means Olympic athletes have four years to get prepared. Similarly, most undergraduate degrees last either three or four years.

The key similarity here is how fast that time will disappear. Four years may sound like plenty of time to train for an Olympic event. But, once you account for post-Games partying, pre- and post-Games media activities, travel, rest and recovery time, and those almost inevitable injuries, four years starts to look more like three, or less.

Likewise, you may think three or four years sounds like plenty of time to do all those things you have planned for your university experience. But it’s very easy to suddenly realize you’re about to graduate and have barely even got started on your list.

The lesson: Whether it’s study-related or simply for pleasure, if there’s something you want to gain from your time at university, do it now!

2. The daily grind

Being an Olympic athlete certainly sounds pretty glamorous – jet-setting, spangly outfits, professional massages, fawning interviewers, stadiums full of adoring supporters, and a cabinet full of shiny trophies… 

In reality, it’s more about the early get-ups, hours and hours and hours of training, strict rules about what you can eat, drink or do – and oh, a few more hours of training before a good wholesome early night.

As a student, there may be less of the early nights, but there will almost certainly be hours and hours and hours of studying. Yes, you’ll have loads of fun, but there will be times when you simply have to force yourself to get your head down. 

This could even involve drawing up a study or revision plan, regulating your sleep pattern, and choosing foods that will help you to concentrate for longer (ie. slow-burning energy sources such as whole-grain pasta).

The lesson: If you want to get that gold medal (ie. degree), you need to stick to the training plan (study schedule). Be disciplined, get into the rhythm, and you’ll be headed for the winners’ podium.

3. The pressure

As event day (final exams/coursework deadline) gets closer, the pressure really mounts. Both athletes and students need to be able to cope with this, and ensure that the stress doesn’t prevent them from performing at their best.

We’ve previously shared some ideas on how to cope with exam stress and essay crises… Continuing the Olympics theme, another useful tip is to establish a stable routine; most competitors have a set routine of things they do before competing, which helps them get into THE ZONE.

Some athletes perform best when very calm, others build themselves up into more of a frenzy. Think about your own ideal mental state – and if you’re one of the calm type, try to stay away from any frenzied friends on your way to the exam/during critical study periods!

The lesson: Pressure can become a positive force, if you take control of your own response. Embrace the adrenaline!

4. The award ceremony

At last! You’ve made it! Those years of hard work have paid off, and this is your time to celebrate with course-mates, friends, family and mentors. Enjoy it. Oh, and try not to do anything embarrassing

*Mainly, people are talking about whether we’ll manage to break the world record for the longest-lasting traffic jam ever. Oh, we do love a good moan us Brits, especially if it involves traffic and/or the weather…

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Written by Laura Bridgestock
The former editor of TopUniversities.com, Laura oversees the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edits the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributes to market research reports including How Do Students Use Rankings?

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