During a private high school interview, I was asked, “What is your biggest regret and why?” By the time it was my turn, the thirteen-year-old girls who went before me had already used all of my ideas. The first girl responded, “I wish I continued with gymnastics because watching my friends do all these crazy tricks reminds me of how good I could have been.” Another girl said, “I wish I didn’t quit soccer because it was actually really fun.”
I’ve experimented with numerous sports over the years: dance, gymnastics, soccer, softball, cross country, and track, but the ones I love practicing today are tennis, water polo, and swimming. Playing a combination of varsity sports has taught me valuable lessons that can apply to almost any situation life throws at me.
Regardless of what your favorite sport is, I guarantee that remembering these three tips for successful athletes will bring you joy both on and off the (insert: field/pitch/court/pool/track):
Not all pain is bad, but know your limits
When the first season of afternoon activities rolls around, it’s my happiest time of the year. Tennis has always been my favorite part of the day; I can spend hours outside with just a ball machine and my racket.
I have built a toolbox of mental tactics by playing with a wide range of players: the aggressive baseliner, the all-court player, the serve-and-volleyer, and of course, the notorious pusher. From mastering the backhand slice to finishing off my opponent’s weak second serve, there is always something for me to improve on.
During the 2017 tennis season, I injured my wrist through overuse. I would play tennis every day for at least two hours, and after practice would almost always go hit more against a wall while everyone else parted ways. I would ignore my body’s increasingly frequent warning signs until it hurt too much to even play mini-tennis during warm-up. I eventually visited Mr. Anthony Gonzales, Webb’s on-campus sports physician, and was put on the no-play list for the rest of the season.
Lesson learned: I should know my limits. Sitting on the bench for a few weeks is way better than risking long-term damage.
Teamwork makes the dream work
I’m not going to lie, playing water polo during the chilliest time of year is quite a challenge. Of the three sports that I play, water polo is the only one that involves physical contact. Imagine playing soccer in the water – but with people trying to drown you the entire time. Not only must you be a strong swimmer in order to catch up to your opponents, but you also need to develop a strong shooting arm and aggressive defense.
Being part of a team means we rely on each other for assists and to switch defenders when ours are too far ahead of us. It means we all endure the same swim sets to improve our conditioning for games. It means we all end practice shivering while wet and dragging the same broken tarps across the pool. And it means we all have the same unspoken mentality that the more people cooperate, the faster we can get the job done.
Seek progress over perfection
Being able to wear shorts again without my legs freezing off signals that swim season is right around the corner. I think swim is the hardest, yet most rewarding, of my three seasons of high school sports. Racing against the clock to make my bases has taught me grit and determination. No matter how fast I get, I know I can always push myself to become even faster.
Swimming set after set may leave me sore overnight, but in the long run, my efforts will always pay off. Setting new personal best times has redefined my perception of my physical and mental capabilities. I used to constantly compare myself to nationally-ranked swimmers and wonder why I was so slow.
Once I realized this pessimistic attitude wasn’t helping, I began to celebrate the little things, such as shaving off half of a second off my 50 freestyle or placing second in a heated race as a freshman. This newfound positivity went as far as helping me break a school relay record during League Finals.
To answer the admissions officer’s question with one-and-a-half years of high school sports experience under my belt, I would have responded, “Well, I’m only a teenager, but if I could change how I’ve lived my life up to now, I would have spent less of my time dwelling on my individual perfectionism and more time developing as a team player, regardless of whether it’s a sports game or in the classroom.”