Photo By Nolan P. Schmidt/J. Alan Paul Photography
Oftentimes, we get so caught up in championing what happens within the field of competition. The physical aspect of sport is the thing that makes us say “wow” and it is the reason we are so glued to our favorite teams and sports. As outsiders looking in, we only see the physical feats, but we rarely see the mental ones.
The mental gymnastics a college athlete goes through in a given year may stagger some. Student-athletes may be concerned about playing time or maybe they are going through a rough patch in their personal life. All of this while continuing to practice and focus on academics. Those tasks alone are enough to wear a normal person out, but somehow, not college athletes.
Syra Tanchin learned firsthand about the mental fortitude it takes to be a student-athlete last season. The college game was entirely new to her and all the things that come with being a college athlete. Despite going through a steep learning curve, Tanchin placed herself at the forefront of Bison volleyball.
She played in 23 matches, finishing with 252 total points including 230 kills. That kill mark was second-best on the roster and Tanchin did it as a true freshman.
Yet, Tanchin does not consider those numbers her greatest feat in year one. To her, the greatest accomplishment is tackling the mental side of the game. In reality, that may be the hardest aspect of sport.
It’s not easy coming in and being successful as a true freshman. How did you adapt to the college game because it is so different from the prep game?
For me, my high school and club did a really good job of preparing me for the amount of play and type of play you see in college. When I got here, it was super comforting and everyone was hyping you up. As a freshman, everyone wants you to step up and play well. At a lot of schools, they get wary of their freshman, but here they get excited for you to play right away. That was a big confidence boost for me.
This team seems to have had the same core group for years now. Was your transition to NDSU easier because you were coming into a very stable situation already?
It was kind of intimidating at first because as a true freshman, everyone is already really close. You kind of have to force yourself into a lot of things, but my teammates were all super accepting. Any time they wanted to go do something, I would invite myself but they were happy that I came along. I know all of us are very welcoming and I’m ready to do that for our freshmen next year and the year after that. Then when I’m a senior, I won’t be this scary person everyone is afraid of. I want to be the leader that welcomes everyone in.
What lessons did you learn last season that you want to carry over into your sophomore season?
I did a lot of lesson learning in year one. It wasn’t easy at times, but gaining all of that knowledge made me feel kind of wise in some ways. Having that first-year experience kind of rounds you out as a leader and not a lot of true freshmen get that. Now, I can kind of relate to anybody whether they are worried about playing time or anything, I’ve been through it all. It’s nice to have that wisdom.
Where have you seen your biggest improvements so far?
My biggest improvement probably is nothing physical. It’s probably the mental part of the game. Not only the game either, being a college athlete you have to be doing homework, studying, practicing and going to lift. All of that was so new to me, it almost made me grow up immediately.
And where would you like to see yourself improve now that volleyball has a little bit of an extended offseason?
The COVID part brings in a whole new aspect and mental challenge. You can’t really see anybody, you can’t do some of the things you’re used to doing. It gives you more time to work on the physical stuff and small details. Even getting in the weight room and trying to hit your max weight because you do have all this time to prepare for the spring.
Times are tough for a lot of people and it’s so easy to get into a negative headspace. How have you handled this whole pandemic from a mental perspective?
It’s really hard. It might be a small thing, but just going outside and feeling the world change. The world is going to keep moving regardless of what happens, it’s not going to stop for anything. Knowing that the world is going to continue to move forward and time will pass. When time passes, things will get better.