Why I said no to the UK Team (this year)

My competitive freedive journey went from about 0-100 in 60secs. One day my coach was telling me over lunch how I could take my diving to the next level, if I wanted to. The next I was doing yoga three times a week. Then I’d signed up to my first major competition, and then I placed third, and then I was being encouraged to apply for the UK team and then I somehow got nominated for the team going to the world pool championships in Finland. It was so exciting, almost hysterically so, and by the time I’d stopped to think it I’d gotten myself in a bit over my head.  

It was going too fast. It was out of control and I was not prepared for this.  

My coach spotted it first. In the way that the best coaches do, he called me up and we talked about all the events that had happened that week, got me into conversation about what I was actually hoping to get out of the experience and why I wanted to go. I gave some rather vague touchy-feely answers, before I had to come out to him and admit to realising I didn’t really know what I wanted from it. I wanted to go because I’d been given the chance, and that was really all I could think about. I had applied and, somehow, they had said yes.

He put his finger on the hesitations I was feeling, but was too scared to voice, and struggling to find the words for- that I wasn’t ready yet, it was too soon into my journey, that I am woefully unprepared! I could hear what they were saying even if I didn’t want to acknowlege it, and my fear of what I could see as my only chance of ever making the team.  

I was made up in my mind to go, even if that meant posting embarassing performances on the world stage. I couldn’t see an alternative.

My coach could. I didn’t like it. I canvassed the opinion of my favourite buddy, and my best agitante/team captain. As it turns out, freediving is a team sport, and it takes that team to build the athlete. Together they had a vision for me mapped out that I couldn’t see for fear of throwing away immediate opportunities. And when I couldn’t do it myself, they helped me see alternatives and spent the time talking to me and winning my trust.  

It felt like a big leap of faith to listen to their advice to wait a year until I’m more prepared, it felt like a real head or heart decision, but that was precisely the problem. My role model within the club, a regular diver on the UK team, would have:

1. Listened first time.

2. Would have had enough confidence in herself to be sure she could do it again.

3. Would have enough personal integrity to make that promise to herself to train hard, and keep her word.  

I’m not her. I’m me, and I’m at the beginning of my journey where she has such a wealth of experience. The benefits of that experience are more than just the ability to dive long and clean, and this is what I need to learn: how to be an athlete, how to be a competitor. I can see now these are things I don’t know and, as my coach rightly said, these are things I won’t be able to learn between now and the world championships or even while I’m there. I’ll get a taste- and that taste might just put me off competition before I even get started properly.  

I can see now that it is a big ask to step from club level to international competition in only a few short weeks. I hadn’t really considered that. I prided myself on turning up at the UK Championships with our club ethos of relaxation and enjoyment, and demonstrating it to the best of my ability even in competition. But this is another level entirely. 

This is a competition full of serious athletes who have spent considerable time and money to be there, who have their sights on records and places, who will be ultra focussed and, frankly, do not need to babysit or nurture me. This is one of the biggest competitions in freediving and I am playing an entirely different game. From talking to my coaches, I’m really not sure it’s the kind of competition you enter “for fun”; though I’m sure it can be made fun, I think you do need to be serious about it. And i’m just not there yet. 

But i’m beginning to be. The first step is being able to see your own ability very objectively, without ego. I like to think I’m under no delusions. The second step is having the confidence in your ability and your commitment to set your sights on a goal and then make it happen, and it’s this is I’m beginning to learn. The third, then, is knowing, really understanding, the kind of world you’re entering, how fierce the psychological and emotional side of competition can be, and it’s this aspect I never even considered before. It’s this step that will take time to build up experience at less high profile comps, get to know other divers on the circuit, build up those connections, and prove my worth as a serious competitor- to myself more than anyone. From what I can tell, a true competitor is resilient. It’s that trait I admire most in my freediving role models.

I came across a phrase- “to have question marks in your eyes”. I still have those, and those doubts and those questions are a weakness that may trip me up as I attempt to run before I can walk. I don’t know myself yet as an athlete, and I certainly don’t have that inner confidence that would allow me to be unshakeable as I pursue my goals. My coaches and support team asked me to trust them, and I took that leap and pulled out of the UK team, ready to try again next year.  

I like to think it’s a gesture that can only strengthen our relationship, as it really shows their belief in me, and my commitment to them- and too myself. I’m not going to spend time worrying if it was the right decision, if I’ll be selected next year: I’m just going to work with my team twice as hard to make it happen- and justify our decision.