The USATF Olympic Trials and the AAU T&F District Qualifiers Got Me Thinking
"Amanda, I'm so nervous I feel like throwing up, but I'm also kinda excited!" I say giggling.
"I know what you mean. Me too! Let's do some cartwheels and not think about running."
Say hello to middle school me. Waiting to run the 300m hurdles with my best track friend Amanda. Cartwheels. That's how we used to calm ourselves down before a race. Cartwheels.
There's this horrible feeling in your gut just before a big race; or if you're me, any race or running workout. It starts deep in your core and the closer you get to race time it slowly rises to your throat. As you're setting your blocks, it comes to the surface in the form of sweat, a rapid pulse and sometimes literal vomit. It's called being nervous, or being excited.
Your mindset can literally make or break you. Learning to control it is one of the most difficult things we have to do not only in an athletic setting but also in everyday life.
By my junior year of high school I'd been running the hurdles (very well might I add) for five years. My form over the hurdle was the best on the team and it usually came down to myself and Amanda alternating between first and second place at meets by milliseconds. I still got sickeningly nervous before a race and the cartwheels had ceased to help. I'd never learned to get my nerves under control and because of it my first two meets of the season didn't go so great.
After having our new hurdle coach tell me, "you're just not THAT fast," I let the nervousness get the best of me. That one negative comment from a coach (who was probably honestly trying to motivate me) was all I needed to make the decision to quit the hurdles forever. I spent time before races and practice tearing myself down. Which caused me to get frustrated when I'd make one tiny mistake. I quit because I couldn't handle the pre race nerves. Those doubts and fears created a ceiling for my potential. Instead of taking a breath and focusing on what I needed to do, I focused instead on all the things I sucked at.
I thought about that decision to quit a lot this weekend at the AAU Track and Field District Qualifiers in Converse, TX as I attempted to talk my athlete down off a ledge before her races.
Nervousness and excitement
Nervousness and excitement are the exact same feelings in your body. Once you understand this you have the power to teach yourself to stay calm and collected in the face of anxiety inducing situations. Like lining up for the start of a race or starting a new workout program.
I didn't have a coach help me learn to control my mindset until I was well past my competitive track days. But I had my parents! Who, try as they might, used to tell me that I had the power to change my situation through my mindset. They'd tell me that if I wanted to feel or be a certain way that I just needed to take a breath and decide that I would be that way. Of course, until recent years, I thought they were full of shit and instead remained a youthful basketcase.
I often think about how my track career would have been different if I'd been able to create a better headspace for myself before, during and after a competition. Having a calm and peaceful headspace can affect so much in your life.
"Giving anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift." -Steve Prefontaine
The world happens to you and everything is the fault of some external catalyst. At least that's how many of us see it. In reality, that's not true at all. Your world happens BECAUSE of you. We each have the power to control our situations by creating a peaceful headspace for ourselves to work through decisions and process emotions. Self deprecation creates a stressful and anxious headspace, which in turn effects how we react to our situations. It can cause you to not give your best on the track or not even try at all.
Coaching a self deprecating athlete is really hard, no matter what age. You're trying to convince someone that they can be great when they've already made up their mind about what they're capable of.
When you bash on yourself, even if you're kidding, you begin to believe what comes out of your mouth. Team, that's not healthy! You wouldn't follow your friend around constantly telling them they suck at everything, right? That would make them feel awful and eventually make them stop trying to do new things if you were around. It seems obvious, so why, do we so often do this to ourselves?
This belief you've created about who you'll never be or what you could never do will stop you from reaching your fullest potential, because you're now living with a ceiling for your accomplishments.
When you put a ceiling on what you are capable of you'll only ever be able to accomplish so much. You'll only ever be so good because the thought of doing better than, whatever you've created the ceiling for, is so foreign that you can't even imagine it. You're now living with fears of physical and mental pain, rejection, failure and doing things that challenge you. In other words, you've become afraid of change and growth.
A WEEKEND AT THE TRACK
I spent the entire weekend around track and field for the first time in a long time. It felt so good and it makes me miss competition so much! I miss the nervousness before vaulting and running. I miss the anxiousness of uncertainty. I miss the post competition reflection and elation. Ultimately, I miss the excitement and I often regret not having a better mindset to enjoy the ups and downs of being an elite level athlete.
The USATF Olympic trials are going on in Eugene, OR right now and I've been practically glued to the internet trying to keep up with my former teammates and the athlete's I've been following all season. Knowing a bit about the mental obstacles that come with competing, it's so inspiring to see them compete at that high of a level.
Watching my young athlete run her 800 and 400 on Saturday literally brought me to tears. It was a HUGE mental barrier that needed to be broken. She's probably still mad at me and her parents for not allowing her to drop out of the meet but I know one day she'll look back with a sense of pride in her ability to do hard things and not with any regret.
Team, take a deep breath, decide who and what you want to be, then let nothing, not even your own fears, get in the way of your greatness.