Samantha Monda, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of sport psychology at Robert Morris University. A former NCAA Division III swimmer, she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Carnegie Mellon University and master’s and doctoral degrees in sport and exercise psychology from West Virginia University.
Q: How did swimming contribute to your experience as a student at Carnegie Mellon?
Swimming set me apart from other students. It gave me some skills I wouldn’t have otherwise had. When other students were sleeping in, I was working out before going to class. I learned a lot about time management.
Leadership played a large role in college sports for me. Swimming taught me how to work in a group because you are always trying to figure out how to manage your team. It’s equivalent to a work environment in the real world. How do you get along with your boss? How do you co-exist with co-workers who might be different from you? It really prepared me for the real world.
I learned to manage myself efficiently. I knew how to handle stress. A lot of people struggled with how to manage success and failure, how to be criticized or how to take constructive feedback. As a college athlete you spend a lot of time learning from feedback and using it to make yourself better.
Q: What separates successful student athletes from those who are less successful?
The first thing I would say is understanding what their goals are: having an understanding of what they want to accomplish, athletically and academically.
One of the things that makes a successful athlete in college is that ability to develop some academic self-efficacy, some confidence for the classroom. Successful student athletes have some confidence in their ability to not only be successful in sports but to be successful in the classroom.
In my research, the successful athletes understood that there is sometimes not a reward right away. So academically they were willing to work hard even though it was tough because there was some sort of reward down the line. They were able to say, ‘It’s tough right now, and it’s a challenge, but it’s worth it for that degree.’
The unsuccessful athletes didn’t necessarily have that drive. They were more motivated to do their schoolwork because they wanted to stay eligible for their sport. Both groups encountered challenges and they made mistakes. But one of the differences was when the successful athletes encountered a mistake or a challenge, they were willing to figure out, ‘What can I do to adapt my strategy? Who can I talk to for help? What do I need to do to make it better?’ The other group ended up depending on others and not taking responsibility for their own learning.