Or, How Getting Kicked in the Ribs by Grown Men in High School Helped Me in Life
Growing up, my dad never let me win at chess.
The casualties of my little white or black soldiers always outnumbered my father’s tremendously.
Sometimes, he could win in less than 10 moves.
And each time, often when I was around the ages of 6-10, I would pout and just say things like, “Why didn’t you go EASY on me!?”
He would say each time, “That’s not how you get better.”
We don’t improve playing people our same ability.
I can’t really remember a time that I ever beat my father at chess, or any game of any kind (well, except for our junior high obsession with Mario Party on Nintendo 64 which he personally dubbed “Bowser Takes My Coins”).
In high school, I was fortunate to play (read: not star, or overly competitively participate, but basically be there in the water) with a waterpolo team that was nationally recognized. We held the 2nd longest winning streak in high school girl’s waterpolo history.
We won. A lot. Over 95 games (over three seasons) in a row; including league championships.
Again, I was no “starting player,” but I was lucky enough to experience it right along with All-American athletes (one of which would represent our country as a part of the U.S. Waterpolo Team internationally in college).
Our coach, one of the greatest men I’ve ever known, once or twice a year, would arrange for us to die a slow death out there in Hades’ personal chlorinated Pool of Pain.
He would arrange for us (ages 15-18) to play nationally ranked male collegiate teams or national club leagues that included retired Olympic athletes (one woman’s team from Oakland specifically still leaves me with the heebie jeebies!).
He would literally tell them to destroy us, to not hold back. It was…terrible.
We were just absolutely trampled.
You might think, you can’t be “trampled” in the pool! Wrong word!
Not true. It happened.
7 minutes each quarter of pure hell.
Feet to the ribs, elbows to the face, was I even above water?
If we even scored one goal, we considered ourselves champions.
But mostly, it was a lot of drowning in pain.
We would lie on the pavement after those games just staring at the sky wondering if we would ever breathe regularly again.
But the lesson was the same as it was in my father’s library.
You don’t benefit from being handed things.
You don’t get better playing people worse or the same as you.
Good things don’t come easy.
The only way to improve is to be a little pummeled.
The only way for your lungs to expand (to continue the swimming metaphor) is to feel the burning of “hypoxics.” Not sure if I spelled that right, but the coach would hold his hand in front of your mouth making sure each ounce of breath was released from your lungs before you plunged in the water not daring to rise above surface until you reached the other side.
One thing I do know, is that if you are ever invited (or forced) to jump into a pool with people far more accomplished, far more seasoned, far more experienced, far “more better,” take that invitation with open hands.
I also highly recommend looking for pools where the water is deep and the opponents are scary.
Maybe those opponents are your doubts and your fears.
Maybe that opponent is a situation you’ve been avoiding, but feel that God is calling you to face.
Maybe those opponents are your toddlers. I definitely have days where I feel like they are definitely trying to drown their mother. On land. Collectively. As a carefully coordinated attack team.
Like my dad told me, I’ll tell you: It’s the only way you’re going to get better.
You will come out the other end stronger than you were when you jumped in.
Even if you feel like you’re dying.