Medals Aren't the Only Measure
Success in competitive sport is defined by performance in competition. Fact. There are no medals for participation, for effort or for wearing the biggest smile as you cross the finish line. Sport is only interested in the measurable. How high? How strong? How fast? You can be a centimetre or a hundredth of a second short of your goal, but no matter how close you are to success, the result of sport is always black and white.
Sport can empower, but if you give it the power to, it can also destroy. I’ve been a competitive swimmer for over eight years. Currently, I’m studying for a degree at Loughborough University whilst training an average of 19 hours a week in the pool and gym.
Whenever I’m not on form, not producing my best times, I’m failing. Take winning medals out of the equation (because this isn’t directly in anyone’s control), the aim of training as a swimmer is to reduce the time you take to complete a certain distance. I currently find myself experiencing a performance slump, I’ve not been able to get close to my personal best times and it has been hard not to feel like a failure. Maintaining my motivation to continue to train and to feel confident amongst my peers, who all seem to be doing much better than me, has been challenging. My self-esteem has been at a low.
However, if I stop to evaluate what I’m doing, I realise perhaps I don’t give myself enough credit. I’m 19 and still dedicated to my sport; despite the alternative university activities on offer, I still go to the pool for 5am starts three times a week. Alongside swimming, I have already achieved GCSE and A-level results that I am proud of. Competitive sport teaches many transferable skills; time management, commitment, patience, focus. I often fail to appreciate how I’ve developed as a person, not just as an athlete. In addition, I’m achieving a well-rounded lifestyle; I have good physical health and ample time to release daily stresses while I train, improving my mental well-being. If I’m enjoying spending time challenging myself with my friends by my side, can I really be failing?
Yes, capturing a long chased after personal best time is exhilarating, but keeping sight of your less obvious achievements is vital. The harsh reality is, nobody is successful all the time. Even an athlete with a gold medal can simultaneously fail to achieve a performance target. Fixating on podium positions and times will make falling out of love with your sport easy when you aren’t excelling.
But if we can enjoy the challenge, the constant chase, we will never be left feeling empty if we don’t achieve our goals. We may never get an award for our commitment, but we should be proud of it. Maybe it’s about time we celebrate what the journey teaches us, instead of obsessing over arriving at our desired destination.