More Than a Sport; a Reflection on Swimming
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More Than a Sport; a Reflection on Swimming

How the right sport and the right support led to a lifelong gift of finding peace in my body’s movement.

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More Than a Sport; a Reflection on Swimming
Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash

This is a response to To The Coach Who Inspired Me.

Far too often in sports– especially those when athletes’ bodies are on display– unhealthy mentalities can be thrust upon the participants. Microaggressions (and overt comments) that can spur disordered eating and body dysmorphia are shockingly common. I’ve come to know this after taking sports media classes during my time in undergrad, getting to know athletes from a variety of backgrounds, and my own athletic experiences over the years.

I myself have played many sports throughout my life. From figure skating to water polo to swimming to quidditch, I’ve gleaned insights from each one that I carry with me to this day.

And some haven’t been entirely healthy or productive.

I’ve had coaches make comments about my body that made me uncomfortable about my appearance. I like to think I have enough backbone and mental toughness to say that those comments didn’t stay with me past their utterance, but I would be kidding myself.

Why am I introducing this article with anecdotes about body-image issues and the darker aspects of sport that we tend to want to look away from? Because I’ve seen firsthand and heard countless stories of what happens to athletes when they are not supported mentally and physically to excel in their sport.

And I’ve seen the magic that happens when they are.

Which brings me to my brief thank you to some coaches who changed my life. In high school, I swam with a club team and I had two amazing coaches– Ian and Jimmy– who truly understood how to coach and mentor swimmers. We never swam crazy distances in practice, but the yards we did swim we swam hard and put thought into every stroke. We were able to goof around and chat with our lane-mates in between sets, and we played four square and knockout before practice when we got there early.

They even had a diet plan for us to follow. It went something like this– “Y’all will be on a ‘see-food’ diet. If you see food and you’re hungry, you eat it.” There was no guilt surrounding fueling our bodies and minds.

A trust was established, and it was never breached. There was a kindness present in their coaching and a genuine care for each athlete. They weren’t ‘soft’ on us and it’s not like they never implemented tough love, but they did so in a healthy manner and a way that ensured we took lessons from the pool to our everyday lives.

The following list comprises some life-lessons that I’ve taken with me since leaving their pool and their guidance. Lessons that swimming was able to impart on me because I was nurtured in a healthy and supportive environment.

  • How to be more in touch with my body and breathing.
  • The power of feeling my body glide through movements and noticing how my muscles contract and relax to move me.
  • The importance of time– especially seconds.
  • The necessity of finding a way to move my body in a way that I love.
  • How to lose myself in a moment and be fully present.
  • The importance of having a safe space to push myself.
  • Gaining an understanding that there is beauty in imperfection and doing things in my own unique way (stroke, breathing pattern, flipturn, etc) is perfect.
  • The realization that only I can show up for myself (no one can force me to work hard) but to also surround myself with people who will support me whatever the outcome.
  • Find ways to have fun in the things you spend your life doing.

I could genuinely talk about the impact Ian and Jimmy had had on my life and the lessons I learned from swimming under their guidance for pages. But for the purposes of this article, I shall hold my pen.

And to those of you wondering if the aforementioned coaching methods work to produce athletes that go on to elite levels of sport, they can. While I may not have gone on to swim for a D1 college, many of my teammates did (e.g. The University of Texas at Austin, Stanford, Rice, etc.).

So if you take only one thing from reading this, let it be the following: Kind coaches create exceptional athletes and healthy humans.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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