Short Story: Life Lessons from the Swimming Pool (By Gabby)

Head Position or How Not To Drown Yourself

I’m 14 and we have moved from California to Colorado and I am miserable.  I am starting high school friendless and alone in town that I honestly just don’t get…the boots, the music, the people are all just seem alien to me.  My parent’s solution…SWIM. Swim is a language I understand; even in Colorado a fish knows other fish.

So I am back in the pool.  The problem is having come from California “the land of swim” the coach believes that I must be great.  The truth is I had taken a break from swim before the move and I am anything but…great.

Coach throws me right into a meet.  My stroke is backstroke.  I have always loved backstroke…the sun on your face an endless pool arms reaching back and back and back grabbing and pulling the guiding your body forever forward  in the summer sun…delicious.

But this swim is anything but. I’m nervous.  I have something to prove to my coach, to these new teammates, to myself.  My coach still believing in that California girl stereotype has put me in a ridiculously fast heat.  I know the truth and I have lost before the race has begun. I’m on the block nervously watching my competition.  How bad is this going to be? What I would give for this to be already over.

And we are off and I’m still watching.  I’m thrashing and working…pulling and kicking harder than I ever have before.  They speed ahead of me.  I crane my head to watch my competition blast past me and work harder, every muscle bending and extending, gripping and working the water.  I fight the water with my head high watching their wake as the glide easily ahead of me.

Things just get worse from there.  I’m last…no not just last but LAST by yards the other swimmers are out of the water and dry by the time I finish. I’m exhausted, humiliated.  I get to the wall and all I want to do is sink to the bottom of the pool and let the water cover me and my humiliation up.   I hope no one has seen…but of course they had.  I crawl out of the water, hating the backstroke, hating swim, hating myself.

What happened?

My head wasn’t in the right place…literally…and mentally.

In the water head position is everything.  If your head is in the right place you swim, if it’s not you sink.

Think of your body like a teeter totter if your head is resting on the surface of the water your body will as well, you float.  A good swim is based on a great float.  When you float you allow the water to lift you up and support you. The water is your friend carrying you wherever you want to go, working with you and for you.

Now if you raise your head even a half an inch above the surface of the water your body teeters below the surface.  The water is now your enemy.  You are no longer floating and the water is drag and resistance pulling you down to the bottom of the pool.

This is the source of my humiliation.  I craned my head above the surface of the water.  Instead of looking at the sky, the right head position for backstroke I was looking at them, the other swimmers.  I created drag and resistance extra weight and more work.

A half an inch, just one half an inch would have made all the difference in the world.  Focusing on myself and my swim, relaxing and letting the water carry me to the wall…getting my head in the right place.

Truth is I lost the race before the starting gun even sounded, before my but was even in the water. I psyched myself out and got into the water already defeated.

Head position.  Where else in life do we see this?

Everywhere! Look around at all that all the people you know; which one are sinking, who are working too hard, who are drowning. Now look for the swimmers.  You know the ones that seem to glide in and out of life.  Money, love even leadership all seem to come with ease.

Swimmers focus on one thing …swimming, forward movement, action their heads are on their swim, not the person in the lane next to them.  They know with every stroke, they build more muscle, every kick makes them faster. Their heads are in the right place; they know if the keep their head in the right place the water will carry them…life will carry them.

It seems so simple, the act of getting your head in the right place and for some it really is.  It has never been that easy for me.

As much as I didn’t want anyone to notice my epic backstroke failure, someone did, my coach.  From breakdowns come breakthroughs.  He took me aside and said the two simple words that would change my life and my swim. Head position.

Sometimes in life you need a coach to point out your blind spot.  To help you see that your head just isn’t in the right place to win.  Sometimes all that is required is that you let go of whatever is stopping you…thoughts feelings… stop looking at the lane next to you and take actions to move you and your swim forward.

When your head’s in the right position you swim, when it isn’t you sink.  Relax, let your head go.  Stop mentally beating yourself and everyone around you up.  Let the water carry you. Let Life carry you.  It’s all in your head position.

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