Yale Captain Andrew Heymann: 5 Reasons “Athletics” is Most Important College Class

Andrew Heymann, the recently-graduated captain of Yale men’s swimming and diving team, delivered a thoughtful reflection on what he got out of four years as a student-athlete in New Haven, in a speech he gave at the annual Senior Student-Athlete Reception. Heymann will soon be commissioned into the United States Navy (a fact not lost upon Vice President Joe Biden, who mentioned Heymann in his address at Yale’s Commencement last month).

Yale men's head coach Tim Wise and captain Andrew Heymann. Photo courtesy of Yale Sports Publicity

Yale men’s head coach Tim Wise and captain Andrew Heymann. Photo courtesy of Yale Sports Publicity

Heymann’s speech, reprinted below, is an excellent perspective on the life of a collegiate student-athlete, and is applicable to NCAA, NAIA, and junior college athletes in every sport:


“Good afternoon.  My name is Andrew Heymann, captain of the Men’s Swimming and Diving team.  When the Athletics Administration kindly asked me to speak at this event, I instantly knew that I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about why athletics at Yale, at a place that focuses so heavily on academics, is so important.

My coach, Tim Wise, begins every year the same way.  He reminds us that his class is the most important, that we will learn more from swimming than from any course or professor at this school.  Looking back, I have to admit, I couldn’t agree with him more.

But over the last four years, it was easy to lose sight of that when I was walking through the snow to practice at 6:00 in the morning to jump into a freezing pool, and as my teammate Mike Lazris would say, “voluntarily drown ourselves doing under-waters for an hour.”

It was easy to lose sight of that every time I had to pull an all-nighter coding after a hard practice, then take a midterm the next day, exhausted.

It was easy to lose sight of that every time I had to say “No” – no to a party my friend invited me to the night before a meet, no to a family vacation over winter break, no to studying abroad, or taking that awesome seminar, or anything else a “normal” Yale student gets to do.

But since swimming ended two months ago, I finally got the opportunity to say “Yes” to anything I wanted.  And at the same time, as I sat in the library or my room from 4:00 to 6:00 when I felt like I should have been at the pool, I finally figured out the answer to the question “Why?”  Why do we do what we do?  Why is dropping half a second in a race, or perfecting a shot, or nailing down the perfect play so important?  I’m convinced that it boils down to five things, five reasons that make athletics the most important class we take at Yale.

The first is commitment:  Before I even showed up on campus, I made a verbal commitment to my coaches, to the swimming program, and to all of you, that I’d do everything I possibly could to move my team forward.  I committed to morning practices, missing school to travel, giving up vacation time, and enduring the rigors of day-to-day training.  If you say you’re going to do something, especially if it affects other people, make sure you see it through, and do the best job that you possibly can.  Being a Yale athlete has taught me to commit, and never be a quitter.

The second is time management:  On average, we spend twenty-five hours a week with each other.  That’s twenty-five hours a week we aren’t sleeping, socializing, lounging on old campus, or getting school work done.  You’re going to have a lot of work in life.  How much time you have for family, friends, hobbies, and travel will depend largely on how fast and effectively you get your work done.  Athletes are some of the most hirable people on earth, because we get good work done fast.  Being a Yale athlete has taught me to be efficient in how I work, and never waste time.

The third is teamwork:  Very rarely do you get to pick your team.  Most of the time, you have to work with the hand you’re dealt.  Whatever team you find yourself part of, remember that every member brings something valuable to the table.  The most successful teams put personal differences behind, and pull the best out of every person in order to reach a common goal.  I’d be lying if I told you that everyone on my team was my best friend.  However, I respect all of them as teammates, I know how important each of them is to the success of Yale athletics, and I firmly believe that the diversity of our experiences and personalities makes Yale one of the best places to train on earth.  Being a Yale athlete has taught me to be a great listener, follower, teammate, and leader.

The fourth is execution under pressure:  You need to be your very best when people are relying on you the most.  Anyone can perform when the stakes are low, when no one is looking, or when it doesn’t matter.  No one remembers those people.  The real question is who can perform when their career is on the line, when the spotlight is on them, or when the success of the team is in jeopardy?  These are the people that leave legacies.  Every team has a person that they want taking the game winning shot at the buzzer, that they want anchoring their relay with the meet tied, that they trust unconditionally no matter how high the stakes are.  Strive to be that person.  Never be scared to perform, especially when everything is on the line.  Being a Yale Athlete has taught me to be clutch, and to thrive when someone puts the gun to my head.

The fifth and most important is consistency:  I truly believe that consistency is the most important factor of success needed to perform at a high level all the time.  I feel that so much of my life is not about having great days as much as it is about avoiding bad days.  With the amount of training we do, the amount of school work Yale requires, and the social pressures to invest every free second of your time, it’s easy to get sick, fall behind on work, and have a bad day.  As an athlete, you have an amazing opportunity to fight through pain, illness, injury, and any other excuse, to test yourself, and make sure every day is at least decent.  Remember that no one cares about your situation when you get up to compete.  And on the off chance that you do have a bad day on the field, the worst thing that happens is that you lose – nothing else.  When we get out into the real world in the upcoming months, life isn’t as kind, isn’t as accommodating.  Next year, I’ll be working in the U.S. Navy as an Explosive Ordinance Disposal officer under the Naval Special Operations command, working side by side with Navy SEALs to diffuse and render safe any bombs or other ordinance that might explode.  If I have a bad day as an EOD technician, someone loses their life, and it might be me.  Keep what you do here in perspective, but remember that each time you put on the Yale uniform, jump in the water, or take the field, that it matters, and that your team cannot reach its full potential when even one person is having a bad day.

Navy SEAL Admiral William McRaven delivered the 2014 commencement speech at University of Texas.  It’s one of my favorite speeches of all time, and one that I drew inspiration from when deciding what to talk about today.  In his speech, Admiral McRaven says that “you must be your very best in your darkest moments.”  I have that quote written on the wall of my room as a reminder.  No matter how good or bad you feel, you must find a way to succeed.  Being a Yale athlete has taught me to perform at least at 90%, one hundred percent of the time, and never to have a bad day.

And that’s it.  If you can fully commit to what you do, manage your time, be a good teammate, perform under pressure, and never ever have a bad day, you will probably be successful in whatever you choose to pursue.  Despite what anyone tells you, that’s why sports at this school are so important.  I learned these five things, skills that cannot be learned from any problem set, class, or professor at Yale.  And for that, all of our coaches deserve to be commended for the time and effort they put into making this experience possible for all of us.

Thank you for making these last four years so memorable.  I worked hard, made awesome friends, had a ton of fun, and always tried to keep a smile on my face.  Never forget what Yale athletics are about, who you represent, and the opportunities opened to you as part this program.  I will forever hold Men’s Swimming, Yale Athletics, and the relationships that I have developed with every one of you near to my heart, because nothing else has better prepared me for life and career than being a Yale athlete.  Good luck.  Go Bulldogs.”

The above is excerpted from an article filed by Josh Mandell ’16 for Yale Sports Publicity.

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7 years ago

Amazing article!! All high school coaches and principals should read this article to their in coming freshmen.

Ron greener
Reply to  sally
7 years ago

I can learn those life lessons without sacrificing all that swimmers do. There is more than one way to skin a cat and they can’t recognize what they missed. Life doesn’t have to fit a certain criteria established by society

Princeton Swim Dad
7 years ago

congrats to you Andrew! excellent article and watched you swim fast many times! your parents and country are very proud!

About Anne Lepesant

Anne Lepesant

Anne Lepesant is the mother of four daughters, all of whom swam in college. With an undergraduate degree from Princeton (where she was an all-Ivy tennis player) and an MBA from INSEAD, she worked for many years in the financial industry, both in France and the U.S. Anne is currently …

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