Bad sporting memories: Forgetting all my training at the most important moment
I grew up in a family where being athletic was a major part of our lives. Every single one of my siblings was a star of sorts in the sports that we played. Two of us went on to get college scholarships and one of us went on to play a sport professionally (it wasn't me.)
From as far back as I can remember we were encouraged to participate in any and all sports. Every single sport that I participated in I was good at, except for baseball. I was terrible at that and was relegated to left field which is where they always put the worst player on little league teams. I did make a fly catch once, I do remember that. I'm pretty sure everyone expected me to drop it.
This isn't about baseball though, this is about competitive swimming, which was another sport I excelled at.
There were multiple leagues that we could join in the town I grew up in but I joined the one at the country club because I spent almost every day there in the pool anyway. This put our team at a distinct disadvantage because in order to be on the country club swim team, you had to be a member of the country club. Therefore, our ranks were very limited and the teams we played against would almost always trounce us.... except for a few standouts and one of those standouts was me.
For whatever reason, I developed a natural "frog kick" as my preferred method of propulsion. It just came naturally to me and it was much faster than the flutter kick. Therefore, in breast stroke events, I naturally excelled.
There's a real science behind effective breast stroke technique and going as hard as you possibly can and repeating the stroke as often as possible is not one of them. Watch the the Olympics sometime and you'll see that the people that win are not the ones that are repeating the motion as frequently as possible. This is because it is difficult to remain streamlined in breaststroke and anytime you do another pull you actually create friction that slows you down. It is important to time your kicks and arms for maximum streamlining and pace yourself to keep a certain speed while interrupting the forward progression as little as possible.
For some reason, this just came naturally to me even though our coaches at the country club, I don't really think they were very skilled swimmers themselves... they were just adults and the team needed a coach. Even without proper coaching, I ended up winning the breaststroke events nearly every single time we had a meet. I only recall one time that I lost and the judges were wrong that day because the guy who beat me jumped the gun and also did 2 more underwater strokes than you are allowed to do both at the start and off the wall at the turnaround. He knew what he did and I could see it on his face during the award ceremony that even he knew he had cheated. I don't think he did it on purpose, but he knew, everyone there that knows anything about the sport (except the judges apparently) knew it as well.
This isn't the bad memory though because the people in attendance knew what happened there and the record books showed it as a DQ for him and a 1st place victory for me even though the judges awarded him 1st place on that particular day.
Because I was basically undefeated, I got invited to the state competition against all teens in my age bracket. I was only competing in breaststroke because in other events that involved the standard flutter kick, I was just slightly above average.
I don't know what happened to me that ill-fated day. It must have been nerves but I remember being in the water when the race started and being overly preoccupied with where the others were in relation to me rather than simply focusing on the wall in front of me. This is a terrible mistake in swimming, because even slight movements of your head can seriously slow you down. When I noticed that people were several meters ahead of me in a 100 meter race, I did the second thing that you should never do in breaststroke: I started to speed up my kicks and pulls... which made me even slower.
The entire year of training and relative dominance in my region was completely overshadowed by me not being able to handle the pressure of competing against hundreds of people instead of 5-12 people. When I was watching the tape later with my coach he was supportive, but pointed out several instances where I basically gave away the event. We were able to identify the exact moment that I started to slip behind and things didn't get better from there.
I ended up placing 11th in the state for my age group, which when you consider that there was probably hundreds of thousands of people my age in that state, isn't too terribly bad. However, in order to qualify for nationals, you had to be in the top 6. It is extremely likely that if i had just remembered my training that day and not decided to be all spastic that I could have actually qualified on that day. Instead, this actually demoralized me and I didn't even try out for the swim team the following year.
There were no awards for 11th place... you don't even get mentioned. I did find it extremely endearing that at the post meet dinner that my coaches awarded me a 6th and 5th place ribbon at our elaborate celebration at Pizza Hut. They don't make 11th place ribbons and I really appreciated the gesture, I still do to this day.
I am upset at myself for totally forgetting everything I knew about the sport when it mattered the most. Who knows? If I had remembered to stay focused on that day I might have gone on to do great things in the sport but because of that one mistake I instead totally gave up on the sport. To be fair to me this was because I wanted to focus more on basketball and soccer and not because I was being a baby about it. I would be lying if this humiliation didn't play a part in my decision to walk away forever though.