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First-year athletes adjust to new athletic experiences

September 4, 2020

This fall, the first-year athlete experience will look a little different than it typically does. Instead of splitting their first couple of weeks on campus between practices with their new team and in-person orientation programming, first-year athletes will, along with most of their classmates, adjust to a life on campus that includes regular COVID-19 testing and social distancing. For fall athletes, there will not be a competition season this year.

However, for soccer player Julian Juantorena ’23 and field hockey player Maggie Frederick ’23, the first-year athlete experience is not just about the competition; rather, one of the highlights for both of their first semesters was being part of an already existing community.

This type of community will still be possible for this year’s first-year athletes, who will be on campus with teammates in their class year and able to practice with them in small groups.

“Being able to come in and have a group right away and just know that I have a built-in set of friends was so huge for me, especially [because] the five of us first years on the field hockey team became so, so close,” Frederick said in a Zoom interview with the Orient of her experience as a first-year athlete.

For Juantorena, having his team also function as his friend group was a new experience. He felt that team-based friend groups were not as big a part of his high school athletic experience as they seemed to have been for his teammates, though he grew to appreciate the strong connections team friendships enabled.

“It gives you much more of a family,” he said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “When there is that affinity and you’re getting meals together a lot, you develop more of a friendship and a familial bond with these people.”

Frederick noted that the full schedule that came with being on a team also made her transition to Bowdoin easier, even though the combination of practice, training, games, meals and classes forced her to fit her work sessions into smaller chunks of time scattered throughout the day.

“I didn’t really have time to think about being away from home … because I was so busy,” she said.

Juantorena felt that his adjustment to college academics was made easier by having a consistent schedule and upperclassmen teammates as role models. For him, having smaller, more defined windows of time in which to get work done enabled a greater level of efficiency. But he did find the soccer program to be more serious than any he had previously experienced.

“I think there’s definitely a level of…professionalism in the sport you play that you get coming to college, which seems inevitable because it’s the next step up,” he said.

Juantorena encouraged incoming first-year athletes to, accordingly, think of their coaches as resources and regularly ask them for feedback about their athletic performance. He also advised athletes to use their team not only as an athletic resource but also as an academic support network.

“If I’m in a class that I’m struggling with and I know another guy on the team is majoring in that, [I] talk to them,” he said. “If you have questions about how stuff works, talk to people, ask the question.”

While both Juantorena and Frederick expressed gratitude for their team and athletic community, they encouraged incoming first-year athletes to explore other areas of Bowdoin as well. Juantorena emphasized that, during his first year, he had made it a priority to build relationships not only with his teammates but also with non-athletes.

“I said to myself when I was coming in that I don’t want to be the athlete who is only friends with other athletes,” he said. “It’s definitely something you have to make a conscious effort to avoid … [but] I think I had a pretty healthy balance of athlete friends versus non-athlete friends. So it’s definitely achievable.”

Frederick also encouraged student-athletes to allow themselves to find interests on campus outside of their team, even if they feel that Bowdoin’s culture is pushing them not to.

“Athletes aren’t just athletes—they can contribute to the school in so many more ways,” she said. “But the social atmosphere in the school kind of pushes [them not to].”

Even though she will not be there in person to provide this kind of advice to her new teammates, Frederick has been communicating with them via social media and a buddy system that her field hockey coaches created, and she encouraged all first-year athletes to build these kinds of virtual connections with upperclassmen.

“Even though we won’t be with the team in person, really lean into the group of amazing student-athletes you have with you and use them as resources and really try to build those connections,” she said. “Not only will it help your season or your next year, but those are going to be connections that will last a lifetime.”

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