Column: No pain, no gain for student-athletes

A more effective way of working through pain is tricking yourself into thinking it’s not so bad.

Pain is scary. Human beings instinctively shy away from pain, but for athletes, it’s unavoidable.

Regardless of their sport, all student-athletes at the collegiate level have become familiar with the suffering that comes with training. (Except maybe golf. No disrespect, though, golfers. If I could choose any sport to play well, it would definitely be golf.)

We are often told to embrace the pain, but embracing it implies acknowledging its effect. In my experience, a much more effective way of working through strenuous training is tricking yourself into believing that the pain is not so bad.

At this point in the swimming season, pain is pretty much constant. Each week, we lift three times, run two or three times, and visit Devine Pavilion for a brutal circuit workout once a week. Oh yeah, and we do a little swimming as well.

By Friday, it takes all of my willpower to drag myself to 6 a.m. practice and get into the mind frame necessary to attack the workout. My whole body hurts, and I know it’s not going to feel any better during the impending aerobic pull set.

So how do I make myself ignore the pain? My teammates and coaches are a huge help. One of the coaches, Jack Brown, is a graduate assistant studying sports psychology. He works hard to foster a positive atmosphere at workouts by reminding us of simple ways we can help ourselves and one another get through a grueling set.

Brown teaches the importance of the little things. When we have the urge to complain as we rest on the wall between efforts, he implores us to instead yell out something positive. Likewise, making yourself look enthused rather than beaten down during a set can make a big difference in the entire team’s performance.

While Brown’s tactics have helped me, they are worthless unless my teammates also embody them. Attitude, both positive and negative, is contagious. If I hear someone else complaining before a workout, it is easy to start feeling sorry for myself and back down from the pain. On the other hand, if I see others entering into a practice or set with energy, I can work through the pain, because I know they are going to perform well and I don’t want to be left behind.

When the swim team has its best workouts, the pool is alive with the yells of swimmers and coaches encouraging one another. In the locker room afterwards, everyone is discussing the times they were able to hold on the set. When you can jump into one of those conversations with fast times of your own, it is an incredibly rewarding feeling.

The point of this column is not to portray student-athletes as pampered, receiving free food and special benefits. Nor is it to make athletics sound like drudgery. I love swimming, and throwing down a best time at the end of the season makes all of the pain of training worthwhile.

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