Acclimating New Athletes

September/October 2005

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Acclimating New Athletes

Photo: Zack Cooper

You’d expect the football coach to welcome incoming freshmen with the toughest August workout, right? Tell that to the men—and petite female coxswains—of the crew team.

“We take the incoming frosh to Half Dome in Yosemite and run up to the top via Happy Isle trail,” says men’s crew head coach Craig Amerkhanian. “That 9.0-mile run with a serious vertical push brings the team together and passes on the true message that anything is possible at Stanford.”

That’s just one of the many ways coaches try to acclimate their newest athletes. After all, despite the confidence they project on the fields and in the pools, newbie varsity athletes have the same anxious questions as other incoming frosh. “You get so many packets over the summer and you don’t know what you’re supposed to read,” remembers water polo player Scotti Shafer, ’06. Choosing dorms and meal plans, she says, loomed especially large. “And you want to ask someone who’s been through it, who knows what’s going on,” i.e., fellow players, not the coach—even if he or she is an alum.

That’s why Shafer’s coach, John Tanner, ’82, sends a list of players’ e-mail addresses and phone numbers to incoming frosh each summer. As does women’s tennis head coach Lele Forood, ’78. “We strongly urge them to contact our current team for information on dorm preferences and [Introduction to the Humanities] choices,” Forood says.

Indeed, team rosters are common, as are workout packets. Some coaches get more creative. Synchronized swimming coach Heather Olson, ’99, adds a questionnaire about favorite foods and childhood heroes. She forwards the responses to the rest of her athletes a month before school starts, and uses them as an icebreaker at the first team meeting in the fall, where players try to match up pizza preferences with new faces.

Others send recommended reading lists. Skip Kenney, men’s swimming head coach, says he borrowed the idea from former football coach Tyrone Willingham. “He had a summer reading list for his players about success stories, winning people and champions,” Kenney says. “So I started sending out a book list.” The selections this year: The Magic of Thinking Big by motivation expert David Schwartz, Leading With the Heart by Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and Corps Values: Everything You Need to Know I Learned in the Marines by Georgia senator Zell Miller.

The reading list for incoming women’s soccer players leans toward the inspirational: Way of the Peaceful Warrior, a cautionary tale by champion gymnast Dan Millman, It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life by Tour de France champion and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong, and The Alchemist by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho. Like those in other fall sports, women’s soccer players will arrive early, living in a Wilbur or Stern dorm during August before taking off on a grueling two-week road trip in early September. “Hard times are some of the times you bond the most,” says assistant coach Sarah Kate Noftsinger. Just ask the crew team.

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