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    Tuesday, August 09, 2022

    Teen Talk: The perils of falling out of love with a sport

    Dear Swimming,

    It’s not you, it’s me. At least I think it was. I think we’re just in different places right now and want different things. I feel like we aren’t on the same page anymore and are better off as friends. I love you, I’m just not in love with you anymore. I think we should see other people.

    Best of wishes,

    Cecile

    According to the National Alliance for Youth Sports, 70 percent of people stop playing sports by the time they hit 13. On paper, the benefits of joining a sport seem endless, so why is everyone quitting?

    Sports are tough. You’re constantly pushing yourself, constantly having to compete with others. The very essence of being a part of a sport’s team is pulling through, even when things get tough. They aren’t designed to be easy.

    But it wouldn’t be fair to talk about sports without mentioning the several benefits. Sports, as hard as they can be, are equally if not more uplifting. For some it is the first time they are a part of a true community.

    Life skills such as teamwork and collaboration are heavily taught.

    My sport was swimming. I wouldn’t describe it so much as love at first sight but rather a slow burn type love. This was a type of love that took time and was gradual but once you had fallen there was no mistaking it. It had bewitched my body and soul and had me utterly in love.

    For me, the day was just a large countdown leading down to when I could go to practice. The beginnings of relationships are always easier. The rush and adrenaline of sport was addicting. It was my everything. I used to think the pool was my second home. But, just as most relationships go, the honeymoon phase can’t last forever.

    I had been swimming for three years up to this point. Practices were getting longer, the races more intense. The immense pressure to outdo yourself only increased. My times never felt good enough.

    I became obsessed with chasing the next second faster. The bar kept moving higher and higher and led to constantly feeling discouraged. The expectations I put on myself felt suffocating.

    However, it wasn’t just the pool that plagued my mind. The realities of growing up and the horrors that came with puberty struck me. For the first time, I felt uncomfortable in my body. I hated the way I looked in my swimsuit. My anxiety became unbearable.

    Swimming, once an outlet of the troubles of the world, now became my main contributor.

    The first time I ever experienced a panic attack was before a swim race. The feeling of true terror left me disabled.

    And it didn’t stop there. Soon, I dreaded going to every practice and every meet. The recurring feeling of my lungs being constricted, trapping me in my own suffocation, terrified me. The real battle was before I even got into the water.

    And yet, I stuck with it. I told myself I couldn’t quit. I’d invested so much time and effort into this activity. All of my friends were counting on me. I had put so much of myself and my identity into the sport: Who was I without swimming?

    The comfort of the consistency, the swimming ritual trumped what was probably best for me.

    Even so, staying only seemed to make things worse. I got trapped in the cycle of burnout. My times never felt good enough, discouraging me from going to practice, which then only made my times even worse.

    As I look back now I realize mentally I had already quit long ago. I was just waiting for the guts to actually quit. There will always be a part of me that is a little in love with swimming. But quitting the sport you once loved doesn’t take away from the love you once felt for it.

    In fact, I realized dragging it on took away from what it used to be. Doing a sport should be about more than just doing it for the sake of doing it.

    I want to remember swimming through the eyes of my 10-year-old self, completely and irrevocably in love with it. To do that, I needed to quit and make room for myself to grow.

    Swimming, I think it’s time we see other people now, and that’s OK.

    Cecile Horst of Niantic is a rising junior at East Lyme High School. Contact her at cecile.horst@outlook.com.

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