There’s no such thing as luck for Penn women’s swimming.
Like every other sports team on campus, the squad has their own pick of pre-meet rituals and traditions, from team chants to chain-mail poems that are anything but grounded in superstition.
The most crucial game-day regimen, known as “secret psych,” is the exchange of anonymous messages between teammates to “psych” up team spirit and the mentality going into the meet.
“It’s been around since before I’ve been around,” senior Morgan Scott said. “My freshman year, the senior captains introduced it to us as a long-running thing, and it still pretty much is.”
Everyone on the team is assigned her own secret psych by drawing a name out of a red Solo cup. A long-running partnership that lasts the entirety of the season, swimmers and divers alike all choose their secret psych at the beginning of the year and anticipate the grand reveal at the season’s end.
For every meet there is a different theme to the note.
“It’s really nice, because every meet is a new surprise,” freshman diver Sophia Heiser said.
“I got my first note before the meet against Columbia. The theme for that meet was ‘Why your secret psych will beat Columbia?’” freshman distance freestyler Erin Kiely said. “I was really nervous because there was so much hype around beating them and our rivalry.
“My secret psycher wrote a list of things I had done all season to prepare — things that I had never thought of and it did a lot to boost my confidence and get me really excited.”
The most recent theme was Thanksgiving, bringing on an onslaught of turkey-themed cards. But in general, anything from acrostic poems reminiscent of elementary school days to old embarrassing photos wrought from extensive social media stalking goes.
“Sometimes girls like to get creative and include interesting pictures of guys from the men’s team. I’ve also seen some pretty funny Photoshopped pictures,” Scott said.
“It was really thoughtful of them. They told me I could do it because I persevered through mono,” Heiser said, on her first note. “It was great though. I got really excited for the meet and went in knowing that I could do it ... because I beat mono.”
The anonymity of these notes is another favorite part of the tradition, as it facilitates a unique relationship. The knowledge that a stranger is actually a close friend goes a long way in transforming the team into a family.
“You don’t know who it is, so it’s a great way for the older and younger girls to connect. We definitely do a lot of other things to help build team chemistry, but the inside jokes and stuff that we include in our secret psychs show how close our team really is,” Scott said.
“I know when I’m standing in the locker room and watching my girl open her note and seeing her face as she reads, it makes the writing process worth it,” Kiely remarked.
At the end of the day though, this tradition of notes is more than just an exchange of humorous and encouraging words. For some Quakers, it’s about making connections they never thought they could; for others it’s a sincere gesture of support.
“Swimming is a team sport and at the end of the day no one should have to feel like they aren’t a part of the team. I’m one of the few divers on the team, so it’s really nice to feel like the swimmers are family,” Heiser said.
“I didn’t really think that a note could get me to think about someone in the way that I do. But it does a lot to get girls to reach out to girls they don’t necessarily talk to on a daily basis, so it’s great,” Kiely added.
“It’s a way of reminding each other that you’re doing this for the team,” Scott said.
“Even though you’re swimming or diving alone, you have 35 girls rooting you on.”
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