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Cultivating the Back-to-School Mindset

By Desi Rotenberg, MS, LAT, ATC

As the summer months come to a close, and the seasons begin to change from hot, hot, hot to lukewarm, we are reminded of a cyclical occurrence known as “back to school.”  If you are living in the Midwestern United States or the New England area, you are accustomed to a seasonal, beautiful shift in the weather, as the leaves change colors and the mercury begins to drop.  Or you live in a warmer climate, where you are seeing the shift from hot summer to warm summer and then inevitability to cold summer.

Regardless of your location, the back-to-school vibe is everywhere including social media, commercials and the infinite number of “back to school” sales.  As an Athletic Trainer, high school teacher and an experienced student from ages 5-24, I cannot help but reflect on the mindset of a student prior to the start of the school year: The curiosity of which friend-group to choose; the excitement of the coming sports) season; the “thrill” of the SAT and ACT. All of the above occurrences, among many others, offer the promise of excitement amidst the monotony that is the school year.

Looking back on my years as a student, I remember that despite the back-to-school excitement, I eventually was blindsided by the inevitable large workload and stress of overwhelming obligations.  I felt that everything was happening all at once, and it was hard to gain control over all of my responsibilities.  It seemed that just as the new school year was getting underway, I was already muttering to myself, “The last day of school cannot come soon enough.”

I wish I would have known then, what I know now. The proverbial cliché of hindsight offers a resolution to the next generation. The purpose of this blog is to propose helpful organizational tools to Athletic Trainers and students based on my observations, experiences and reflections as a professional student.  Keep in mind, these are merely my opinions and my interpretations of the world I live in, and are by no means absolute or supreme; they are merely conceptual ideas, that can be attempted (through trial and error) or discarded.

Goal Setting

Before entering any new chapter in one’s life, whether it be a new school year, job or relationship, goal setting is one of the essential tools we can utilize to give our upcoming task meaning.  It first begins by coming to terms and acknowledging that the summer is over and a new chapter is beginning.  I deeply enjoyed this aspect of the process because it allowed me to reflect back on the summer. I was able to get a glimpse of how much I grew and matured as a person, the relationships that I cultivated and the experiences that brought me great joy.  As the quote goes, “Don’t be sad that it is over, smile because it happened.”

Plan to Achieve Goals

In order to set concrete, attainable and measureable goals, I needed a plan.  I identified what I wanted to accomplish: as a student, as an athlete, as a friend as an Athletic Trainer and any other aspects of my life where I felt I played a role.  It is also important to remember that change takes time.  Establishing a new routine is always challenging at first; it will take time to acclimate to the new school year as well as to the new you.  Patience and constant action (like with injury rehabilitation) will yield the best results.

Helpful Questions for Goal Setting

Questions to ask for goal setting and to keep in mind over the course of the entire year:

  • What do I want to accomplish this year?
  • What aspects of my job, school and personal life do I want to improve on?
  • What are my strengths?
  • What are my weaknesses?
  • How can I leverage my strengths to work on and improve my weaknesses?
  • Do I have an open mindset?
  • Am I living day-to-day or focusing on the future?
Set Realistic Expectations

It is important to not set expectations. I started by having a conceptual idea of what I wanted to improve. Then I learned if I did not reach my goals, I would always be able to refocus and start again.  By not having expectations, I found that the fear of failure or making a mistake in my journey did not inhibit my progress or my will to try again.  Having an open mindset and realizing a little perseverance goes a long way, can alleviate the tension of acute change.

The following quote gave me great solace in times of feeling lost:

“Journeying into the unknown is the adventure that allows for the greatest amount of self-discovery.”

We do not know what the coming year will hold for us; but if we set our intentions and establish a concrete plan for personal growth, we can experience intellectual and personal maturation. This will allow us to maintain a degree of control over our thoughts, our actions and ourselves and can lessen the effects of distractions around us.

There will be bumps, there will be challenges and there will be off-days. But always remember, there is no such thing as a bad day; there are only good days and character building days. Believe in yourself and commit to being a better version of yourself as we enter the coming school year.