It’s fall, the most beautiful yet turbulent season in swimming. Some aspects aren’t so nice, like the giant hissing cockroaches holing up in the locker room or the brown sludge forming at the bottom of the pool from fallen leaves. The water is either too cold because swimmers haven’t covered the pool or too hot because we started covering the pool and the owners started heating it too. At least the air is reliable — so cold that my throat feels as if it’s being scratched by icicles.

The sunsets, however, are beautiful: Striking slashes of orange dice up a royal purple sky. Or deep gray clouds promising storms during the day turn into cotton candy dream worlds by 7 p.m. Sometimes when I stop on the wall between sets, I catch sight of my coaches sneaking selfies with nature’s glory.

Autumn, however, isn’t all fluffy clouds and goofy coaches. Disappointments from the summer season cast shadows over practices and tug at my confidence. The wind, once a welcome gentle breeze, becomes a gale that slashes through my thoughts, blowing my focus away from swimming and back to my warm, comfortable, inviting bed or to the oodles of homework I need to finish before school. 

Starting up homework again after a relaxing summer throws my circadian rhythms into disarray. I never know when I’ll be able to go to sleep, but the morning alarm looms, ever taunting, in the near future. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, I have the luxury of sleeping in until 6:30; Wednesday and Friday, I’m up at 4; Saturday and Sunday, I’m up at 5. Some weeks, I feel lucky to get five hours of sleep a night. But, considering the six hours of school a day and 20 hours of swimming a week, five hours of sleep a night isn’t enough.

I’m not the only swimmer on DART (Davis Arden Racing Team) who struggles to readjust when school starts. I frequently overhear my teammates complaining, “Doesn’t Coach understand that we have homework? How can we be expected to do well in school and go to all these practices and swim fast?”

The lure of skipping practice to finish homework or catch up on sleep is like the fishing rod on an anglerfish, hooking some of my easily swayed teammates. The glowing bait is so attractive: “I’ll only miss one practice, and I’ll get all my homework done and go to sleep early … ” 

Then the big, bad anglerfish’s jaws come into view, and, as Marlin says in “Finding Nemo,” “Good feelings gone!” The next practice hurts even worse, homework piles up again, and now my teammates think missing just one more day of practice will get them back on track.

“Don’t,” “can’t,” and “won’t” overtake our vocabulary, and the mere idea of another day dedicated to aerobic freestyle makes us dread practice. Then we wonder why our results at championship meets are disappointing. 

This self-doubt cycle has overtaken me in the last three fall seasons, but I’ve decided to fight back. Before, I would let the wretched diction of skepticism possess my brain and haunt me. I’ve begun catching myself when my confidence slips, snapping back to the present and focusing on the feel of my stroke in the water. 

I cannot control the weather, temperature or next set Coach will give the team, but I can control how many kicks I do off the wall, how many times I breathe per lap and how much water I hold onto during my stroke. 

People tend to give up mentally before physically. By concentrating on the present — instead of the past or future — I will continue progressing and overcoming the negativity.

By Rebecca Waterson

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