Three Ways Amherst Athletics Prepared Me for Life
Myles Gaines, Amherst College '17
A few months ago...
I received a letter from my alma mater. In the envelope was a photo of me just seconds after I received my diploma. That picture made graduating from Amherst College “real” for the first time - and sparked a curiosity about what those four years at Amherst instilled in me. As a former football player, I wholeheartedly identified as a student-athlete and owe many memories and lessons to football, and the role it played in my college career.
In hindsight, my career on the field was exceptionally underwhelming. I charted one start in the 4th game of my career, never scored a touchdown (as a running back), and my freshman year turned out to be the year I played most. Nonetheless, I look back on those four years with sincere pride and happiness, as I now understand that my personal development, and self-satisfaction, transcended far past on-the-field production. My career as a student-athlete at Amherst taught me three things that I'll carry with me for the rest of my days.
Be vulnerable enough to get to know the people around you.
From teammates, to floor-mates, I was constantly surrounded by all kinds of people in college. At first, it was somewhat intimidating being around people with such different experiences and views. I challenged myself to be vulnerable and seek understanding in people while allowing them to understand me. This vulnerability led to many great friendships with people from all over the world with a wide array of experiences and points of view. At my lowest points my friends, both on and off the team, were there to encourage me. When I was stressed about a paper assignment or upset about not getting playing time, I always had someone to turn to, someone to hear me out.
Ask someone about their heritage. Ask how they are doing. Tell them about your own personal experiences. Go past the surface. These things seem simple but they create genuine relationships and provide an opportunity for you to learn about people, places, and even yourself. Forming these relationships allow you to have those tough conversations, and allow for great memories to be made. Be vulnerable. Truly connect with people. These friendships and memories will surely outlive your playing days. No matter where you are in life, it's the personal relationships that make an experience worthwhile.
Put the work in.
You've heard it a million times: there's no substitute for hard work. College is challenging for everyone. Different aspects provide more challenges for some than others, but at some point you will face adversity. I remember the week my first major assignment was due. I had an essay due on right before a Friday practice. I stayed up until 6:00 am finishing the paper, slept for a few hours, turned the paper in, went straight practice, then hopped on a 5-hour bus ride for an away game on Saturday. On Saturday we didn't get back until 10:00 pm. We had practice on Sunday and I had another major essay due that Monday.
Needless to say, it was hard and I was tired; but I had to keep pushing, just as everyone else does. For most college athletes, including myself, time-management is an ongoing battle. With such busy schedules student-athletes must learn how to budget their time, work hard, and work efficiently. With ever-changing schedules you will lose sleep at times, but understand that the hard work you put in is necessary and unavoidable. Hard work does not end in college, and in many ways it's just beginning. So embrace it. Whatever you may be doing, be present in the moment. When you move on to something else, shift your mindset and give that new task the utmost focus. Embrace the necessary hard work, work efficiently, and always give maximum effort.
Accept a loss and learn from it.
Very early on was interested in STEM. I quickly learned that STEM courses were not my strong suit. Each grade I received in STEM sits at the bottom 1/3 on my transcript. I eventually learned that I enjoyed writing over test taking, and that I preferred discussions over problems sets. These weaknesses didn't discourage me. They just led me to seek other opportunities. As a Political Science major I eventually found what I was interested in, both in content and structure.
On the field my playing time diminished as I grew older. I put the work in year-round but things did not work out as planned. I decided to not only continue to work hard, but seek to help the team in other ways. I became a team ambassador for community engagements, I actively sought to help younger teammates develop, and I continually stayed positive. All of these things led to me becoming a team captain my senior year. I chose not to let my circumstance dictate my behavior, and in the end I was rewarded.
A loss is only a failure if you allow it to affect you in a negative way. I had to find my strengths in the classroom, and my role on the football team. In both cases I learned by making an effort, by trying new things and evaluating the losses. When something does not go your way do not let it defeat you, but instead ask yourself what you learned, and take something away from it. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and you cannot discover them without challenging yourself. In life you may not always get the result you want, but you can always learn from an experience and take something away from it.
Whenever I had trouble making a decision in college I'd talk to my dad and he'd say, "no matter what decision you make, don't regret it." This phrase, that he preached time and time again, rings true in all aspects of life. College taught me how to make every experience a learning opportunity, truly remain positive in the face of adversity, and continually satisfy my happiness. These skills take time to develop and only came about because I was vulnerable, put in the work, and didn’t let my losses become failures. No matter what happens to you, or what decisions you make, live with the result and live with no regret. College is a time of self-discovery and you will leave a much different person than you entered - so don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t regret anything. Learn from your experiences, mistakes, and successes, and most importantly understand that self-discovery and personal development are life-long.
Myles graduated from Amherst College with a degree in Political Science. He currently works at Putnam Investments in Boston as an Associate Advisor Consultant. Connect with Myles via LinkedIn.