The 2018 Senior Perspectives is the 13th in a series of annual collections. Senior captains and representatives of teams at Harvard have been invited to contribute viewpoints based on personal experience from both their senior seasons and full varsity careers at Harvard.
Sami Strutner, Women's Water Polo
Hometown: Redwood City, Calif.
Concentration: Human Evolutionary Biology
House Affiliation: Quincy
As I look back upon my four years of collegiate athletics at Harvard, I have a difficult time finding words that fully reflect my immense appreciation for the lessons my sport has taught me and how much it has enhanced my college experience. If you were to ask any Harvard athlete what they’ve gained from playing a Division I sport, many of them would undoubtedly say time-management skills and a supportive community. While these aspects are certainly true of my personal experience playing for this program, one of the most valuable skills I acquired in the past four years is learning how to fail.
Something I love about playing sports is the constant push to continue improving—there truly is no limit to being a better athlete, teammate, or leader. Within this space of taking risks, practicing a skill, or trying something new, however, are so many opportunities to make mistakes and come up short of a goal. Coming in as a freshman and playing most of my minutes on the bench was frustrating given the amount of time and hard work I dedicated to the sport. However, there was never a point that I considered quitting the team or giving any less effort. While it wasn’t easy all the time, I knew I needed to trust the process and not let my mistakes convince me that I didn’t deserve a spot on that team, or that I didn’t have the skills needed to play in college. Instead, over the course of my collegiate career I’ve learned how to internalize constructive criticism from teammates and coaches in a productive manner, and I believe this is an immensely valuable aspect of athletics as a whole. While making mistakes is by no means easy to be okay with, being a student-athlete at this level has provided me with the capacity to see failures and mistakes as opportunities to learn, grow, and be challenged. The countless failures I’ve accumulated over the years were all small trials testing my ability to rise above the sting of a letdown and bounce back stronger than I was before.
Of course, I wouldn’t have learned how to be okay with failure without the support of my teammates. I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded with such an amazing team and coaching staff that consistently inspire and push me to improve as a leader or player. Even more importantly, however, they were always there to encourage me if I did fall short of my expectations. Something so incredible about playing a team sport like water polo is that every single person has your back in the pool—one person can make a mistake but there will always be five other players that cover for you. I found a family in the water polo program at Harvard; they always believed in me if I couldn’t, and without them I wouldn’t have been able to turn my setbacks over the years into a fulfilling collegiate career.