Sports Data Analytics major Abigail (Abby) Salmon has been a volleyball player from age nine, and would have wrapped up her fourth year at Whittier College with the volleyball team had it not been for the pandemic. “Being a student athlete for most of my life developed in me a deep passion and appreciation for sports. [. . .] I found that I [also] really enjoyed the challenge and satisfaction that came with math, and once I figured out that I could combine both math and sport through WSP, I took the opportunity right away,” said Salmon. Her self-designed major pulled classes from the math, computer science, kinesiology, and business departments to assure she was getting all the education she needed.
With her self-designed major, Salmon hopes to one day become an analyst for a professional sports organization. Unfortunately, she graduated from WC at a very fragile time for sports, given that the pandemic is still ongoing, with no guaranteed end in sight. She refuses to let this obstacle stop her, though. “I am currently trying to enter the field of data analytics through other types of companies so that I can start my career and start gaining experience right away,” said Salmon.
COVID-19 has taken a little too much away from all of us, but especially student athletes, with the pandemic suddenly cutting off all opportunity to play, therefore robbing athletes of the ability to express their hard work. Luckily, Salmon has been able to keep up with her workouts and weightlifting, but it surely is not the same as being on the field. Salmon cited time management as one of the main issues when sports were still in session. “There are some points during the season where we’re dedicating around fifteen hours a week just for volleyball, not including travel times and time we spend in the athletic training room,” said Salmon. This led to many late nights in the library to keep up with school work; however, she was able to minimize those by spending time in the library between classes instead of going home to take naps.
“Another hardship I feel like not a lot of people talk about among student athletes and college students in general is the presence of burnout,” said Salmon. Between attending class, completing assignments, staying physically active, playing games, and often taking up jobs, exhaustion is inevitable. “That’s why I’m so glad I ended up being a student athlete during a time that emphasizes mental health [. . .] so that I actually knew how to take care of myself mentally,” said Salmon.
Apart from positive mental health stigmas, the people in her life and her own ambition helped Salmon through it all. Her family is extremely supportive, for which she is grateful, and her teammates became close friends that shared her experience and offered her a mutual support system. Her social life ended up being her escape from all the stress of school, her athletic life, and work. Her friends provided her this place to recuperate.
Even without the escapism, though, Salmon was able to pull through her last year of college. For her senior project, she worked on a research project called “Correlations Between Player Psychology and Performance.” This study “aimed to identify relationships between emotion and performance through data analysis and machine learning techniques,” said Salmon. Much of the research done in this area previously focused on athletics performed individually, such as running, so Salmon focused her research on sports that require teams. She collected data regarding athletes’ emotional state and their performance from a particular game and analyzed it through Python (a computer programming language) to search for any correlation between these two variables.
This kind of hard work and positivity is the only thing getting a lot of students through the pandemic, currently. “With 2020 being the year that [was], there is nothing I would love more than to be tired at 7 a.m., complaining about all the assignments I have due that week,” said Salmon. Unfortunately, COVID-19 took this away from students who had been to WC before: no more getting on the elevator in the SLC to go to class, no more face-to-face venting with friends or classmates, and so forth. Salmon recognizes that everyone is likely feeling this way, especially athletes. “Your time in college really does fly by, so make sure that you go about it in ways that you won’t regret and appreciate this opportunity that you have,” said Salmon.
Using resources available to you through the college or other opportunities is also essential. “As a woman in a lot of STEM classes, my pride would make me afraid to ask questions and too stubborn to seek help, but I quickly realized just how much more difficult that actually made things,” said Salmon. Reaching out for help, whether it is oriented in mental health or learning opportunity, is essential to making the college experience a great one.