Life Lessons

Reflections of An Athletic Career 9 Months On

I recently immersed myself back into swimming. After seven months out of the water, I finally decided it was time to familiarise myself with it again. It was not easy, neither were the emotions I felt swimming again. My first thought was a feeling of bliss. It quickly followed by the realisation that my strength in the water had severely reduced. Things I had thought were easy before suddenly became hard. I wrestled between emotions of happiness and frustration as I drove myself through the water.

It was no accident to how I was lead back to the water. I started coaching. It was an assessment and a test to see what it was like on the other side of swimming. It was a conscious decision to a path that I knew was necessary to combat some of the remaining underlying emotions from swimming competitively as well as my relationship with the water.

My first sensation from coaching was the feeling of joy that came over me, I felt knowledgeable in my role, I was enjoying spending time around water and I cherished the feeling of impact that I had on my swimmers. But what surprised me the most about coaching was the feeling of inspiration.

I was three weeks into part time coaching and I was absolutely knackered. I was managing two jobs at the same time, I had given up all personal development outside of work and my social life was struggling. But it was then I discovered a lesson of coaching athletes that changed my outlook of my swimming career.

These swimmers I was coaching were darn right inspiring. They dragged themselves out of bed at five am, three hours before the rest of the school woke up, put their bodies through two hours of gruelling exercise, went to school and then returned back later for another two hours of punishing yards. They did this each day each week to achieve a personal goal. The truly inspiring thing is that these were not just high calibre athletes, they were athletes of varying abilities.

A lot of the media state how hard our champions work in their respective sports, but if you take a good look underneath it all, a lot of people are working just as hard. Success should not be defined as being the absolute greatest. If you define success this way, you will find yourself on a slippery slope towards anxiety, humiliation and unhappiness.

For myself success was defined as qualification for the Olympic Games. Anything short of that I regarded myself as a failure. After my career ended, I still regarded myself as a failure in my pursuit for success. I often think back to what could have been. Maybe if I had kept swimming, I would be on the World Championship team this year. And maybe that would lead me to the Commonwealth Games and maybe that would lead me to true happiness and success in qualifying for the Olympic Games.

The lesson of coaching and that fateful day I got back in the pool (coincidently around the time of the world championships trials) inspired me to change my definition of success. Success could not be based on my qualification to the Games. It had to be defined by something different. I chose to measure my success in terms of not only happiness but impact too.

Looking back at my swimming career, there have been points of absolute elation and absolute desolation. It has been a constant wave of ups and downs. But my level of happiness during swimming was not at the centre axis point between the peaks and troughs of those waves. It was below that centre point. It meant that I was happy most of the time I spent in my swimming career. I still am happy most of the time I coach. And for the majority of the time I spent in the water most were emotions of happiness not frustration.

Again looking at the past, I measured my level of impact whilst swimming. Impact can be defined loosely. I defined it as having an impact on someone, a friend, a teammate, a group, a club or an institution no matter how large or small. When I applied this definition of impact to my swimming career, it changed my outlook on it. Having an impact on anyone is possibly the best gift you can give and receive at the same time. For me at least it makes everything seem worthwhile. It made my swimming career a success story rather than a failure. Swimming made me happy whilst allowing me to make an impact on people and it gave me one hell of a rollercoaster ride.

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