Conquering My Fear

3 March 2019

Can this be happening again? The frustration radiates, and my coach knows how I am feeling. Practice lasts two hours, but I continue working on my dives. Tomorrow is the meet.
I go home and lie in bed—and what is supposed to be the most relaxing time becomes stressful and unpleasant. Fears invade my thoughts. I try to visualize myself doing the dive but it cuts short. Why can’t I see it? No one can tell me the answer to that: not my coach, not a sports psychologist, nobody.
This isn’t the first time I have dealt with this. For 12 years of my life, I did gymnastics. At age 10, I trained at the USA Gymnastics Olympic Training Center. My dream was to compete on the USA Olympic gymnastics team. But competition comes with pressure. And the year after competing in Junior Olympic Nationals, my body stopped doing several skills.
I wanted to do the skills, but I couldn’t. I talked with coaches, mentors, athletes, and even a sports psychologist. But my brain wasn’t allowing me to do it. And eventually I stopped enjoying gymnastics. After months of pain, tears and frustration, I ended my gymnastics career. And the decision to stop, short of reaching my Olympic goal, haunts me.
What’s the difference with diving? That is the question that I am consistently asking myself.
I arrive at the pool, put on my suit and start warming up. Warm-ups move quickly and then the youngest girl on the team starts sobbing.
“I still have four more dives and none of them were good in practice yesterday,” she says.
“Just relax and don’t worry about your practice yesterday. Start with a clean slate. Think positively.” I know how she feels.
Warm-ups are over, and the tension builds. Trying to avoid my fears, I concentrate on my breathing—in through my nose, out through my mouth—in a method I have been taught. My competitiveness pushes me through.
The seventh round approaches. My mind is lost. But I want it badly. So I gather the girls for a pep talk: “Only four more rounds. Go out there and finish strong. Make every dive count. I know you all can do it. You train for this. You know what to do. Let’s go out there and finish what we came here to do.”
My teammates complete their dives and I do too. And I’ve learned my inner voice and confidence have been my answer all along. I no longer allow myself to give up like I did in gymnastics. Instead, I focus on my discipline, mental toughness, and positive attitude—because I know that’s what allows me to succeed in my academic and life goals.

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