“For those of you like my freshman-self who continue to stare down aimlessly at that black line, please consider giving water polo a try.”
Every once in a while I see an article suggesting 8, 10, maybe even 25 ways to cure a discouraged swimmer. While some of these strategies may work for you or your children, I think back to the low point in my career, and recognize that my stubbornness and detachment would have warded off even the most extensive efforts from parents or coaches.
Truth is, eight years ago my swimming career was fatefully ill. There were just a few symptoms at first: A skipped practice here or there, a mid-practice bathroom-break, a grumpy look toward a smiling coach at 6 AM. But whatever I had quickly spread, and attacked the competitive edge in my mind that had driven me throughout my childhood. By the end of my first high school season I was fully consumed by an apathetic attitude – a malignant feeling I like to call the Black Line Blues (“BLB”).
Truthfully at the time (foolishly, I might add), I hated swimming. The beauty of the sport hadn’t “clicked” yet. As an immature high school freshman, I looked down at the black segment with lousy foresight, and I failed to see my future career filled with lifelong lessons and lasting friendships.
Saving my career required a different strategy – one that was risky, nontraditional, and even potentially catastrophic to the fundamentals of a swimming stroke. I joined the water polo team.
I still remember my first game. A competitiveness I once held, masked by my own apathy and the resulting boredom, suddenly erupted as I was grabbed, pulled, and scored on by an opposing player. When I returned the favor, I was hooked.
So, I stuck with swimming “to stay in shape for water polo” but played the game competitively for the next four years of high school. My high school team won two state championships and our summer club traveled from Illinois to California to compete in the Junior Olympics. I looked to play somewhere in college, and then fell in love with… you guessed it… swimming.
Yes, this may be untraditional. The truth is, many people who start playing water polo at a young age go on to try to play in college (I don’t blame them – it’s addicting!). I am confident, however, that I am not the only one for whom water polo ignited the deeply competitive spirit that led to a re-energized swimming career. Imagine all the kids out there whose “BLB” symptoms were too serious for traditional remedies, and ended up leaving aquatics all together. I pity those kids, and wish their parents or coaches made them at least try water polo before leaving the aquatic community for good.
Even this year, as I critique the fundamentals of my freestyle stroke during my last season and in preparation to compete at Olympic Trials, I still play water polo. I don’t listen to some coaches who think it might ruin my stroke; I rejoice that I still have the need for one.
So for those of you like my freshman-self who continue to stare down aimlessly at that black line, please consider giving water polo a try – it might also save your swimming career.