Switching teams – in gender and swimming

 In Coaches, Professional & Olympic Athletes
Harvard Men's Swim and Dive Head/Team Photos - Hall of History - Sept. 10, 2015

Harvard Men’s Swim and Dive Head/Team Photos – Hall of History – Sept. 10, 2015

“Just two years ago, Schuyler Bailar was one of the fastest high school swimmers in the country — a champion breaststroker with a stellar academic record who had women’s swim coaches from around the Ivy League coming to call. Schuyler’s first choice was Harvard, and as luck would have it, the Harvard women’s swim team was in need of a breaststroker. Schuyler was offered a spot, and a seemingly perfect match was made.” (Switching Teams)

Lesley Stahl conducted an excellent segment on 60 minutes last night. It was about a Harvard swimmer, Schuyler Bailar, who shortly after she started attending and swimming for Harvard realized she was transgender. She started making the switch from female to male and was faced with a tough decision: do I swim for the women’s team, which under NCAA rules she could have or do I swim for the men’s team, which again under NCAA rules she could. (NCAA Inclusion of Transgender Student-Athletes)

Part of the problem, swimming as a male on a women’s team particularly at a time when Schuyler wanted to be accepted as a male. Another potential problem was this: as a female she was winning most of her races but would it be the same if she swam for the men’s team. What would the outcome of this difficult decision be?

Schuyler made the decision to swim with the men’s team. Schuyler was OK with not winning every race and was able to maintain the integrity of his newly formed identity. In the interview he said, that his goal in every race is to not be last. Schuyler may be the first openly transgender male athlete to compete in a NCAA Division I men’s sport.

Wow, Schuyler had a lot to deal with in a relatively short amount of time:

  • Transitioning identity with self, parents, friends, classmates and two different teams of teammates.
  • Deciding to switch from the women’s team to the men’s.
  • Being a top swimmer on the women’s team but not on the men’s.

That’s a lot of transition and in the 60 Minutes segment Schuyler (and everyone else around him) seemed to be doing well with it all. I am happy for him. It’s not always the case for transgender people but it does seem fairly common for transgender athletes. I am glad athletes seem more accepting. One of my clients once said “that’s what draws athletes: the challenge, the fight, the win.” Is that why they are more accepting? Here’s a list of interesting articles from the Huff Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/transgender-athletes/.

Given Schuyler’s many transitions, being the first openly transgender male athlete to compete in a NCAA Division I men’s sport and being a swimmer I can see some potential mental-emotional challenges arising particularly around identity, as a male and as a swimmer, but these are challenges we all have to deal with. They are not specific to a transgender athlete.

Have a great week!

Dr. Michelle

Photo cred: commons.wikimedia.org

For the full transcript: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-harvard-transgender-swimmer-schuyler-bailar/

Dr. Michelle Cleere
In her own private practice as an elite performance expert, Dr. Michelle Cleere helps top athletes, musicians, and executives in competitive fields unlock the power of the mind and create the mental toughness to be the best. Dr. Michelle’s extensive academic background, which includes a PhD in Clinical Psychology and a Masters in Sports Psychology, allows her to help clients deal with performance anxiety, gain more confidence, and build resilience. In addition to personal coaching, Dr. Michelle takes on many roles – a best-selling author, athlete, and teacher. Dr. Michelle’s bestseller line, Beating the Demons, helps clients develop practical skills to gain more control over competitive environments and mitigate the interruption in play to overcome intense odds and defeat adversity. As a 15-year USAT Coach, she developed simple and effective tools to mentally train her athletes, and they are used by coaches around the world. She is a professor at John F. Kennedy University where she teacher her students to use the mind as an ally to improve performance.
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