Yesterday’s swim was both fabulous and slightly mournful. I was sharing a lane with a girl of about fifteen, also swimming seriously, not racing, just working hard and keeping her breaks down to a few seconds. When she stopped, periodically, it was evident she was being coached from the stands. Fair enough – I spent enough of my youth swimming at antisocial times with a piece of paper and a stopwatch acting as my coach, and having someone telling you your set really helps.
Upon getting out (Two kilometres, and she’d kept pace the whole time) and getting dried, I ran into the coach – her Mam – in the changing rooms. She said that I’d looked really good, and that my lung capacity must be awesome, since I wasn’t breathing very often in the water.
Not being all that sure what to say, I decided to go with the truth; It was a bad habit, and even if it wasn’t a bad habit, it was a sign that I wasn’t working hard enough (If I was going flat out, I would need to breathe every four, or maybe every two, pulls).
I decided to ask if the young’un was training for County – She was, but wasn’t quite making her times. So she was training first thing in the morning, and last thing at night, on top of the formal training sessions. And then her Mam said something that broke my heart; “She’s just a bit too old to get selected.”
It’s a thing, in swimming. Swimmers get retired young, younger than pretty much any sportsmen other than gymnasts. If you’re not hitting your time targets, progressively faster ones, by your early teens, you’re quietly dropped down the priority list and, well, retired.
Her Mam then went on to give her a small lecture about why my techinique was better than hers, and why she should be trying to breathe less (Debatably, not a good thing. Also, my technique has more than a decade of rust on it, and is modified for hypermobility. Pretty sure that my freestyle arm pulls aren’t physically possible for a non-hypermobile person to copy). I winced a little bit, because parents trying to coach, when they themselves don’t swim, is a terrible thing, and does nothing but add pressure.
The problem was, with the training routine that they had (Assuming that she was getting enough rest and not overtraining – But she didn’t seem to be overtraining) was that her Mam was right. She probably wouldn’t suddenly start making county-class times, since even with perfect technique she was running around the same times as a crippled recreational swimmer (No matter how fit I am, or how fast I was, I’m not swimming at county level, probably not even at county level in my Masters’ group). And it’s just unspeakably cruel – She’s not even in her late teens yet, and she’s being put on the scrapheap as if she’s got no hope.
And that’s what’s going to utterly wreck her love of sport and competition, if something does – That idea that, unless you’re one of the top dozen in the county, you don’t get to compete, and that competing for your team is “loss”. Good grief, I’ve known people for whom competing at county level was a loss and a disappointment.
I don’t know whether it’d help or not to point out that Masters swimming exists, that if she can just keep on training until she’s 18, there’s a massive, friendly world of swimming out there, with competitions and rec swims and people who will always push you to do your best… Or if that would sound like “You’ve failed, already, go and play in the geriatric pool”.
Honestly, though, it’s probably not my place. All I can do is offer to split the lane, give advice when asked, and generally model that you can be happy swimming four times a week without having to compete with anyone.
Sigh. Competitive sports are a cruel mistress, and I have to remind myself of that – It wasn’t my physical health that knocked me out of competition, it was my mental health, and it was pretty much a mental breakdown brought on by the combined pressure of the team, sixth form, work and my other hobbies all vying for space. It’s a shame that by the time most people are mentally old enough to deal with the pressure of competition without going crackers, we’re too old to be physically competitive.
On a less grim note – I contacted the NABD this morning, to ask about borrowing a bike for the CBT. The response was a phone call about two hours later, saying that they could probably lend me a bike for the day, and the three months after it, provided that one was available then. Either way, the bloke on the phone encouraged me to try my CBT in August anyway, since the worst that could happen would be that I failed.
It’s nice to talk to people who are really encouraging. They seem to genuinely care about their members and prospective members – On which note, I am definitely joining.