Assignment: Write an essay about how your social/historical/ cultural/geographical background has shaped who you are.
The Mentality of a Swimmer
Swimming has had a tremendous influence on me and how I am today. Most of my morals and values come from swimming’s strict discipline and motivation. Throughout high school, my mom wanted me to be involved in a sport in order to learn how to multi-task and to exercise. The sport I ended up sticking with was swimming.
My mom valued sports and wanted to make sure my brother and I were active. She signed us up for almost every sport until we found one that we liked. The first sport I played was soccer when I was five years old. I quickly found out that I hate running and would play defense to avoid moving around a lot. Most of the time, I was in my own little world and didn’t focus on the game. I also played softball as a catcher, another position where you do not have to run that much. My mom always wanted to play field hockey but did not have the means to buy the uniform. Her constant encouragement made me think she wanted to live vicariously through me by having me try out for the team in middle school. Although I did not make the team, I still had the opportunity because I had the necessary equipment. My mom played basketball when she was in school, so naturally she signed my brother and me up on a rec team. I enjoyed basketball; it made me learn how to communicate with other people and work as a team. I had to quit playing basketball because it conflicted with my swimming schedule in high school.
My mom was never taught how to swim and wanted to make sure my brother and I knew how to swim. Therefore, she did not hesitate to sign us up for lessons when we were young. Swimming lessons can only get you so far. I didn’t really learn how to swim until I joined a club swim team when I was seven years old. Swimming is not a cheap sport. Club teams are very expensive and my parents did not have that much extra money to spend when we were younger. Along with team registration costs, you also have to buy little things like goggles, caps, fins and swim apparel.
I was not appreciative at first because I hated swimming. It was a lot of work and it was boring at times. Regardless of my complaining, my mom forced me to go to practice three times a week. In the end, I was thankful she did this because it reinforced the value that you should never quit anything you start. It also made me form a routine. She made me finish all my homework before swim practice. In this sense, swimming taught me to get my work done early and not procrastinate.
There’s a certain mentality you need in order to be a swimmer. As Michael Phelps says, “I wouldn’t say anything is impossible. I think that everything is possible as long as you put your mind to it and put the work and time into it”. Swimming takes a lot of time and effort in order to see improvements. It is not only a competitive sport but also an individual sport. You have to be a hard working person and have the motivation to continue swimming even when you want to stop. Through swimming, I’ve met some of my closest friends that have to same work ethics and mentality as me. By being competitive with each other, we motivate each other to swim faster during sets. We always try to have a positive attitude in order to finish an intense set. At times, your body may ache so much to the point where your arms and legs feel like jelly and you may feel like you can’t breathe. In the end, you know this burn is worth it because it will show improvements in your times.
The team aspect of swimming is something I miss dearly. Swimming alone is just not the same. It’s hard to self-motivate. There’s something about struggling with other people that helps you get through anything. Just knowing that you aren’t the only one having a hard time makes you want to keep up with your teammates. The bond I have formed with them is irreplaceable. I believe you can accomplish anything with a good team that can support you mentally.
Another mental aspect of swimming is to learn that winning isn’t everything. Ian Thorpe explains this perfectly by saying, “for myself, losing is not coming second. It’s getting out of the water knowing you could have done better. For myself, I have won every race I’ve been in.” It took me a while to accept this. When I was seven, all I cared about was getting that blue shiny first place ribbon. As I got older, people started getting faster than me and I stopped coming in first place. I became jealous and wanted to quit because I felt I wasn’t good anymore. My mom always reminded me that it doesn’t matter what place I came in; all that matters is improving. As I matured, I started to care only about my times instead of what place I came in. As long as I tried my best, I was satisfied.
My coaches have been inspirational as well. They say swimming is a mental support. At a meet, it is ninety percent mental and ten percent physical while at practice it is ten percent mental and ninety percent physical. Therefore, if I don’t think I’m going to do well, then I probably won’t. Coaches not only help build me physically at practice but they are also there for me mentally. They gave me pep talks before meets getting me ready to try my best and kill it in the pool. Wanting to make them proud, I work hard and give it my all in every event and at every practice. One coach in particular had a large impact on me. Even though I met him at the end of my swimming career, he was the best coach I’ve ever had.
I went through a transitional period with club swim teams. I was a part of Rockingham Area Youth Swim teams or RAYS for ten years when I decided that I wanted to switch teams. The coaches at RAYS had their favorites and paid attention to the fast swimmers more than anyone else. I considered myself an average swimmer. All I really needed was some individual attention. Therefore, seeking to improve, I joined the Executive Swim Club. It took a lot out of me to quit RAYS and join a completely new team where I did not really know anyone.
At my first practice at the Executive, I met Coach Brian. He was young so I was skeptical about how good of a coach he would be since I was used to older coaches. I thought he might favor the faster people. He proved me wrong because he treated everyone equally, which was new to me. I never got that much attention from my other coaches, but he made me feel like I was just as important as the fast swimmers. He made the fast swimmers try hard and if he noticed they weren’t trying, he would get mad at them and punish them with more sets to do. He also rewarded the hard working people by saying “good job.” Those two words can mean the world to a swimmer from their coach. Just by hearing that phrase makes you want to try harder. I always tried my best with his sets even though they were really hard. After completing a hard set, I would feel accomplished especially if I felt like I was going to die during it. His sets were long with fast intervals so you barely had a chance to take a break. On average, we would swim 6,000 yards a practice. He would make sets specific to every swimmer. My best stroke was breaststroke. He noticed my breaststroke kick was flawless but my arms were a little off. He helped coach me into improving my pull, which the other coaches from RAYS did not even bother to notice. With his help, I was able to improve my time by a couple of seconds—a significant amount in swimming.
The team was really welcoming and noticed I was a hard working swimmer just like them. If you don’t work hard, other swimmers will look down on you. A pet peeve of Brian’s was when people left to go to the bathroom during a set. He would tell people to just pee in the pool because taking a break during a set takes away everything you’re working for. He was very strict when it came to taking breaks which made people not slack off. Dry land exercises, consisting mainly of abdominal workouts on the pool deck, were done as a team. One of his favorite exercises was flutter kicks where you lay on your back and lift your legs up and kick for a certain amount of time. If someone stopped early we had to start over again or he would add more time on. This put pressure on everyone not to stop so that you would not let your team down. Dry land exercises were new to me but they helped significantly because I noticed myself getting stronger. Brian had the perfect combination of focusing on individuals and the team as a whole.
I will never forget my last state meet with Brian. It was my senior year club swim meet where all of the club swim teams in New Hampshire would together to compete. Not only did Executive Swim Club get first place in the meet, but I also got my personal best for my 100 yard breaststroke. I knew I did everything I could to train for this meet and I knew Brian was cheering for me. The feelings I get before a meet are indescribable. Even though I’ve been swimming for eleven years, I can’t help but get nervous standing behind the block. I always make sure to stretch before and focus on my goal of doing well. I go over the event in my head and what I’m going to do. I’m in the zone. Nothing can bother me. I tighten my goggles one last time when I hear the three whistles and go to the block. Once on the block, everything is surreal. It’s almost as if everything stops and I’m about to give it my all. The three words “Take your mark” is the crucial moment where everyone stops talking and focuses on the buzzer. The buzzer goes off, I push off the block with all my might and plunge into the water to do what I’ve been practicing all along. During the race, I saw Brian cheering for me on the sidelines which made me try even harder. I was so tired when I finished, but even without looking at my time on the scoreboard, I was proud of myself because I knew I tried my hardest. When I saw my time, I couldn’t believe it at first and looked at Brian’s priceless face. He was so happy. I knew the time must be right. I took off two seconds! I couldn’t stop smiling. This was an unforgettable moment for both of us. I knew, in this moment, I made the right decision to switch teams. I couldn’t have been more proud of myself for continuing to try even when my times were not improving. I ended my swimming career with a bang.
The one thing I regret is not joining the Executive Swim Club sooner. At the banquet, I started crying since I was so happy to finally have a coach that really cared. Brian told everyone that he does his job just to see the face on his swimmer’s face when their hard work has finally paid off and I knew he was talking about me at that meet. I tell people to join the Executive just because of Coach Brian. He made me realize the importance of hard work and dedication and how it definitely pays off in the end. My mom’s support also meant a lot to me. She went to every meet encouraged me to keep with swimming even when I was going through a rough time not seeing any improvements with the RAYS. Going out of my comfort zone changing swim teams was the best decision I ever made.