It’s daunting when you start a new sport isn’t it? Or when you rock up to that first gym class and everyone looks at you like you have two heads. I was particularly embarrassed when I tried yoga and kicked the woman behind me in the face. Even then my downward dog managed to look like a deformed camel. Or when I decided to become a ‘snowboarder’ and got so intimidated by everyone around me ‘shredding’ (what does that even mean?!) that I lost what limited control I had and face planted on the baby slope and thought I’d broken my ankle. Or when I attempted body pump only to realise I had a hole in my pants. That wasn’t ideal either.
We’ve all been there, all attempted something new and felt slightly overwhelmed and maybe made a fool of ourselves. And if you haven’t made a fool out of yourself, don’t worry, I’ve made up for it.
I come from quite a sporting family. My dad and uncles were doing cycling events before 10 speed was even a thing. They completed their first long distance triathlon before Ironman was a brand, back when it was acceptable (god knows why) to run around in budgie smugglers. When I was little I did a race that involved running around a field in my dad’s t-shirt. Apparently, once upon a time a t-shirt down to your ankles was perfect, go-faster race attire. For as long as I can remember exercise has been a part of my life. I loved most sports. PE was my fave and a bit of mud during cross country season made my day. Not racket sports though, I didn’t like them. The last time I played badminton I ended up with a shuttlecock in my eye. Or trampolining – during my high school assessment I bounced so high I launched myself off the trampoline and landed in a heap on the floor. I must have had bones like jelly because surprisingly nothing was broken.
I grew up in a world where sport was ‘a thing’ and most sports I did I was pretty at good at (except that one time at trampolining and activities involving flying objects). It never scared me, never made me apprehensive. Nervous before races, yes. Daunting, no.
I went to university as a swimmer. I arrived at my hall of residence to meet my new roomies, all swimmers. They had photographs hanging on the wall from when they’d competed at the Olympic Games, extensive GBR squad pictures and personal bests that would have allowed them to have a cup of tea and biscuit whilst waiting for me to finish the race. I was chasing times to keep me on the swim squad, they were chasing World Records. I was a little fish in a gigantic pond. And for the first time in my life sport became daunting. I was still running around a field in my dads t-shirt whilst my new mates were planning World Championship podiums.
And sport can be daunting can’t it? But then, so can anything, especially when you’re new to it. And sometimes even when you’re not new to it. And that’s what I’ve come to realise, different things are daunting for different people. Joe Bloggs may feel comfortable joining in a run session with Mo Farah but put him in a pilates class and ask him to touch his toes and he may break out in a cold sweat (I don’t know Joe Bloggs by the way, he’s just a made up example).
I used to work on triathlon holiday camps, people would come to Mallorca and stay with us for a week to train for triathlon and have a holiday at the same time. We catered for everyone from complete beginners to professional athletes. Many people, having never done any structured training before, turned up nervous wrecks, worried that they weren’t good enough to be on their own holiday, so overwhelmed by this ‘training camp’ situation with other unknown people. We had one guest who had died three times when he was younger after suffering from a very rare form of leukaemia. He wanted a challenge and had been given the all clear by the doctor. He came alone, he struggled and he suffered up the hills. He was openly nervous, he wasn’t ‘good’ enough and he had never done triathlon before. He achieved so much more than everyone else on his camp. He left with new friends and supporters and a great big smile on his face. He was the first person to book onto our camp the following year. At the start of the week he was apprehensive and unsure but by the end he’d worked hard and realised that even though he wasn’t as fit or experienced as some of the others he’d had an absolute ball pushing his personal limits, he’d learnt new skills and he’d enjoyed embracing this new sport.
We’ve all been there, all attempted something new and felt slightly overwhelmed. Home yoga where the ‘deformed camel’ is acceptable.
I remember the first time I went cycling with the British triathlon squad. I had just switched sports from swimming to triathlon. I turned up in my dad’s football shorts and an oversized cotton t-shirt (there appears to be a t-shirt theme here!) Vicky Holland (2016 Olympic bronze medalist) took one look at me and decided I needed a makeover. She lent me some cycling kit. I joined the group. I didn’t know where my brakes were on a road bike, hell I couldn’t even ride a road bike! When you’re used to a mountain bike road bikes are really low. I swear I was almost lying down. And my bum, oh my poor bum. It hurt. I decided after two minutes I didn’t like cycling, I didn’t fit in and everyone was really good. The situation was all too much and I was back at school with a shuttlecock in my eye. Then we stopped at a junction. Well…everyone else stopped. I didn’t know how to use my brakes so I just flew on past and hoped there were no cars coming and my life would be spared. If I screamed loud enough maybe the cars would hear me and slow down. So that’s what I did. Obviously.
That day was very overwhelming to say the least and I’d like to say nothing embarrassing like that has happened since, but that would be a lie. We could, for example, discuss the time the rest of the (same) squad found me in the middle of the road, unconscious with a plastic bag stuck in my spokes, but that’s for another day.
I look back on those moments now and smile because those sessions, new experiences, new sports were ‘proper scary’ but I’ve obviously improved because now I wouldn’t think twice about going for a bike ride in actual cycling kit or using my actual brakes to stop at a junction. And from those situations I joined a training group that was supportive and friendly. And they gave me sexy hand me downs to replace the football shorts which was a bonus. I learned new skills and improved my own performance and my own goals. I tried something new and enjoyed it. And now it’s not daunting at all. Now I know that sport is for everyone no matter what level you’re at and that’s the beauty of it. You can be that girl running around in your dads t-shirt or that lycra clad cyclist and really, it doesn’t matter.
During this whole lockdown period my mum has started jogging. She has fibromyalgia and isn’t as active as she used to be. She’s been going out for walks every day as her form of exercise and wanted to run but was too embarrassed. “I won’t even be able to run for five minutes,” she said. “Well don’t run for five minutes then. Run for one minute and walk for four or something like that.”
She found the prospect of a run, on her own, daunting. It had been a long time since she’d ran properly and even though nobody was watching her she felt intimidated. Sound familiar?
I received a message last week… “Hev you should be proud of me. I walked 7.5km today AND ran 1km. I didn’t think I would ever be able to run again […..] I started doing a few steps jogging the last 3 days. I did 6 lots of 200 steps jog yesterday and 3×100 steps jog today. I was knackered.” So Caz (that’s my mum) has started jogging again, building up, and gaining confidence as she goes. Before lockdown jogging 6×200 steps would have sent a chill down her spine. Now she can do 1km straight and it’s no longer as daunting. Go Caz!
And that’s the thing with trying something new or returning to something and dusting the cobwebs off, it can be daunting. Whether it’s jogging 200 steps, doing a downward dog, cycling up a mountain or trying to brake at a junction, it doesn’t matter. Different things are intimidating for different people. Walking into that class with new faces, splitting your pants (oh sorry, that’s just me) or being surrounded by those who are ‘better’ than you can be intimidating. I can assure you that everybody, even the best athletes in the world have been in daunting positions at some point, it’s normal. And we all need to remember that.
We’ve all been there, all attempted something different and felt slightly overwhelmed and maybe made a fool of ourselves. That’s how you get better, that’s how you progress and that’s how you adapt to bigger and better situations. Things don’t stay daunting forever so take that first step and give it a go. And remember – if you’re going to do body pump make sure you put on a sturdy pair of pants!*
*Note; when I say ‘pants’ I do not mean knickers. I mean any member of the ‘trouser’ family.