February 18th, I competed at the USA Indoor Nationals in women’s long jump. I placed 7th overall with a jump of 6.02 meters (personal best being 6.43 meters). In no way, was the actual distance one of physical accomplishment, however huge mental and emotional gains were made. For the first time since my high school years, I felt free, happy, confident, and locked in to what it felt like to actually jump.
I had fun!
When I first started track at 15 years old, I hardly knew what the long jump even was. I didn’t have the mental maturity or skill to put into the event. The only conscious thought I ever had was, “I’m going to run really fast and see how far I can jump”. In those youthful days, this strategy worked every time. My best jumps were always the ones where I felt confident that I would jump well and all I could do was think about locking in to execute each attempt as it came. My naive oblivion was a blessing as it automatically blocked out all the noise such as environmental distractions, forced effort, over analysis, and most of all negative self-talk.
When I started college, that mindset changed. I became obsessed with my technical inability for such a technical event. I wanted it “too much” and gradually went down the spiral known as “analysis paralysis”. I would watch film to where it was no longer helpful and I just wanted to hate everything about my jumps. I wanted to control everything about every single movement when jumping, that it became so unnatural, awkward, and forced. The forced efforts would cause frustration, which ultimately led to low morale and self-loathing over something that you used to bring so much joy. This cycle of frustration, back to analysis paralysis, would feed right into trying too hard and low self-worth over and over again.
You hear it a million times, but I can attest the following is true: You have to enjoy the process, let go, and have fun. There is a time and place for everything with film, practice, analysis, proper diet, cheat meals, etc. But at the end of the day you have to use your knowledge, cues, and ultimately “feel” what it’s like come game day.
I can’t tell you how many people noticed a change in me this weekend, saying I had a “glow” as they saw me smile in on the track. I hadn’t smiled like that in a very long time and it sure felt good to have that feeling in my heart. This meet was one of the best days of my life because I rediscovered the curious, ambitious, and light-hearted girl who just wanted to jump far 10 years ago.
Some athletes thrive under pressure, others do best when they are can unlock aggressive energy, others relax, and some like me need to feel it and be happy. If you’re in a place where you hate what you once love, you have to be disciplined enough to step back and visualize what it was like when you first started the thing you love. Visualize your environment, people, words, and mental state of mind when you are at your best doing what you love.
Sunday afternoon, I remembered what it was like to laugh at meets and I did just that. I smiled with fellow teammates, cheered others on, and took in deep breaths as I enjoyed the energetic and inspiring moments. Days like these are far and few between so I wanted to be engulfed by the magic. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe that you have to work on every piece of the puzzle and dedicate 100% to your passion outside of practice alone. However, none of those pieces are good if you forget to love what you love. You are the only person who can give and take away the unwavering glow of happiness your passion brings.