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Comeback Season: Turning a Challenging Situation into a Unique Opportunity

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Runner starting a race.

By Chris Puntasecca
MD Student, Medicine
Graduate Learning Consultant and Peer Academic Coach

This article is intended for Stanford student-athletes. This is a condensed version of the full article. You can find the full article here.

You put in hundreds of hours of work, only to find out that your season and that championship weren’t coming – now what?


You didn’t make it this far as an athlete by rolling over when times got tough or by backing away from challenges. You got here because of your willingness to push through obstacles and to fight towards your goals. What makes athletes of your caliber different from so many other people is your familiarity with adversity. Like anyone else, athletes are human – we get hurt, we get sick, we make mistakes. We lose games, underperform at meets, and leave seasons feeling unfulfilled. By reaching this level in your career, you’ve proven that you can respond to temporary failures with grace and capitalize on setbacks. These qualities are as important now as ever.

Being a team is more important than ever

Remember why you chose to be an athlete in the first place. For many, the camaraderie and experiences with teammates are some of the most important aspects of being a student-athlete. These days, spending so much of your time inside, physically removed from teammates, is draining. Understandably, you might feel isolated while logging into online classes and working out alone. Consequently, it’s more important than ever that you stay in touch with teammates and maintain the crucial bonds you share. While you may be separated from them physically right now, FaceTime, Zoom, and texting still work. Check in with teammates when you can. Ask them how their classes are going. Commiserate about how hard yesterday’s workout was. Hold each other accountable when all you want to do is skip those drills today. Be there for your teammates. And when you need it, remember that they are there for you.

Time to focus on being a student

One positive outcome of this situation, then, is a chance to finally concentrate. Competing or not, you have the privilege of attending one of the strongest academic institutions in the world. That fact, combined with the temporary pass-fail model adopted by the university, makes this quarter a unique opportunity to grow academically and pursue courses you might never have taken otherwise.

With so much free time and without the regularity of a practice schedule, it can certainly be challenging to take classes while staying motivated and avoiding distractions. It’s important to acknowledge that you might not always be as productive as you would like when you sit at your laptop. It’s important to take breaks and get some fresh air. And if you ever need an extra push, you always have tutors, AARC advisors, and peer learning consultants here, ready to help you make the most of this strange situation. With a positive attitude and some thoughtful planning, you can take advantage of the academic opportunities offered at Stanford in ways that your athletic schedule would have never allowed.


Opportunity (abstract photo)

For those of you who expected to be standing on the podium this season, hold on to that dream. Let it motivate you every time you’re tempted to skip a workout or cut that last set short. Don’t let someone else take your spot next year. For those who might not have been ready this year to come out as champions, use this break as an opportunity to change that. Student-athletes across the country are currently faced with the same challenges. Take advantage of this opportunity. Let this situation be a reminder to never take a season, a competition, or even a workout, for granted.

Most importantly, use this time to take care of yourself. Catch up on the sleep you’ve been missing for so many months. Read something that isn’t for a class. Take the time to finally let that nagging injury heal. Be cognizant of your own and others’ mental health. As a Stanford student-athlete, you have resources available to help you overcome the obstacles you’re facing. Remember this and, now more than ever, what it means to be a student-athlete. A canceled season doesn’t change your identity, and a delay doesn’t have to change the end of your story. That next season is still coming, and all of us are waiting to see what you make of this unique time.

So, what will you make of it? The choice is yours.