Gasping for breath, I collapsed, crumbling to my knees on the cold earth. Each breath was an exhausted plead for air. Lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub, my heart pounded, an energizer bunny banging wildly in my chest. I need to get up, the game’s not over yet… I thought desperately.
Every inch of my body ached and groaned in protest as I tried to stand. Sweat dripped down my skin, the stench clinging to my jersey. Longing for a cold shower; I could almost feel the chilly water streaming down my back as I indulged in the sweet fantasy.
My mind screamed for me to quit, to stop and give up. Squeezing my eyes shut, I twitched each limb and slowly, painstakingly got to my feet. The soles of my foot throbbed through the cleats, sweat ran in streams down my body, but I got up.
There was no time to relish in my small victory. I sprinted down the field to catch up with my team, a small, knowing grin on my face.
Sports aren’t always how they look in movies, and in commercials. Training like Rocky Balboa isn’t easy. Mentally or physically. There’s no guarantee that you will always win in your sport, even if you train constantly and work hard.
If you do choose to become very involved and work hard, sometimes the results aren’t only just medals and ribbons. Many athletes suffer from athletics-related anxiety, exhaustion from overworking themselves, and even illnesses/injuries from pushing the limits too far. So how can we get the most out of sports, while also avoiding anxiety and overworking yourself?
Life and Lemons is here to help.
The Power of Why: Getting over plateaus and finding motivation
Stop! Don’t go anywhere! First we’ll be looking at what I consider to be the one of the most important motivators you’ll come across, not just in sports, but also in life.
Evaluating why you do things before you do them saves you from making a lot of mistakes. It can also be extremely inspirational, and can help athletes get over the “plateau.”
Ah, the dreaded plateau. I use this term to describe the point in any sports participant’s journey where they stop progressing for an extended period.
I experienced this in swim. Imagine every meet, every sporting event you improve, you improve, you improve. Caught up in the momentum, you almost begin to expect victory, as though it was a guarantee. And then one day?
It levels out. You don’t improve at the event. Momentum is completely, absolutely still. Naturally, this brings with it frustration and self-doubt. And, the cherry on top, anxiety. For a while, every meet, every game goes the same way. No growth. Just a flat, consistent plateau.
Why am I not improving? I can’t do this anymore. I should just quit now, I’ll never get better than I am at this place in time. So, when the athlete reaches this point, they can go one of two ways. They can either train harder than they ever have before… or they can quit.
When faced with that, my brain fumbled with this for the longest time. Each practice was a war between my natural instinct: to quit when it gets hard; and my love of swimming. Anxiety riddled me like bullets shot through my gut. My emotions swung so frequently I was beginning to believe my heart was a pendulum.
It couldn’t go on like this. I knew I didn’t want to quit my sport… I also knew that I lacked motivation to go any further. I’m still swimming to this very day. So what was my saving grace?
Why. I asked myself, simply, “Why am I doing swim?” To my surprise, a list leaped out at me. As though a switch flipped in my mind, and boom! Motivation seemed to flow naturally as I re-evaluated why I did my sport. Exercise! Friends! Competition!
My mental plateau was gone, and my physical along with it. Now I had reasons to keep going, to play harder, to work harder. One simple question saved my athletic career.
So how can you use this same question to motivate you? I suggest asking the question to yourself, out loud. As you come up with ideas, make a list on paper, something like this:
This is an example from my own bullet journal (stay tuned for that article!) that serves as an inspiring, tangible reminder that will never cease to motivate and help you improve in your sport! Before you think about how you will do something, always first evaluate why you are doing at all. Sometimes all that you need to be inspired is a simple list of reasons.
Technique comes first!
Rushing into anything head-first is like setting yourself up for disaster. Speed and brute strength will not do anything for you in athletics if you continue to make mindless mistakes. Especially in sports like swim and track where the whole point is to be fast, many lose sight of this and overlook the simple fact: good technique will make you faster, stronger, and better. Once you develop those skills, speed and strength will naturally follow.
However, being fast and strong will not necessarily improve your technique. Therefore, before you go into intense training, refresh your technique and review simple skills (this kind of quick review and slow pace skills training can also serve as a great warm-up).
How can you improve your technique? Drills are the main strategy to develop existing skills or build new ones, but you can also try a more mindful approach: simply being aware of each movement and repeating it over and over, noticing and correcting incorrect placements of hands and feet or adjusting stance for maximum efficiency.
Learn from your elders
Listen and learn. A great way to get better at sports and improve is to talk with someone who’s done it longer than you have. Sometimes it might be your coach, but it could also be an older, more experienced teammate.
What they have to say is definitely valuable, especially so if they were/are successful in the sport. Remember that they were in your situation once before, at the same level as you are now (whatever that may be), so just because this person is older/more experienced than you doesn’t mean that their advice isn’t relevant.
You can also learn from others without actually having a conversation with them. One of my favorite ways to learn new skills and notice possible techniques to implement is to watch youtube videos of the professionals. On youtube and other video platforms you can view almost all of the Olympic events. For sports like American football there are also videos of NFL games, or you can watch them live.
What they say is true! Watch and learn. However, I could argue that you could add one more, whether it’s in sports, school, or the arts. Watch, learn, and improve.
Sometimes defeat is hard to cope with. It’s natural to get down on yourself when you feel like you’ve failed yourself or your team.
It is my strong belief that though sports are a competition against others, the most important competition is against yourself. If you view it in that mindset, the pain of a loss won’t fade entirely. Instead it will simply become fuel. Motivation to work harder and do better next time. But, in my opinion, if you view the other person as better than you for winning, do you think that you are a failure after one loss?
Then you, my friend, need to evaluate what is most important. Always having the need to be the best will drag you down into the muck, whereas a more self-growth centered approach will propel you forward. It’s that simple!
Now you have my advice on how to get the most out of sports. To be motivated, to deal with losses and embrace self-growth, physically improving through use of technique training, and listening to others are all skills that will streamline your athletic development.