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Calli's Corner: Fear and Focus

This biweekly column features life lessons and fresh perspectives on local sports from The Sports Report’s Calli Newberry.

One of the worst things an athlete can do is be afraid, which is exactly how I spent my entire junior year track season.

I shared my story with the Croswell-Lexington cross country team this summer and as I’ve talked with other local athletes this fall, I’ve realized that my story isn’t all that different from many of theirs.

There’s no doubt athletes want to succeed in their sport. After all, isn’t that why they compete in the first place? But sometimes that desire to do well can be overcome by a fear of failure, and that is one of the most detrimental things to an athlete’s progress.

In my sophomore year of college, my coach had me switch from being a hurdler to an 800-meter runner. I had done well as a freshman in the 400-meter hurdles, but that event is only outdoors, so when I competed in indoor track, I ran the 60-meter hurdles and I was not nearly as successful.

Through my training we realized I wasn’t so much a sprinter, but perhaps built for races that required a bit more endurance instead. And so, the 800 became my new indoor track event.

The first few races went well – really well actually. I was surprised and excited by my progress. But by the end of the indoor season, my times got progressively slower, which did not give me confidence as I began my junior year.

I went from excited about running and racing to exasperated. I spent all fall focused on getting better and doing everything right, not because I wanted to do well, but because I was so afraid of failing again.

And as I told the Cros-Lex runners this summer, you know how when you focus on something on the side of the road while you’re driving, you usually start to drift toward the rumble strips?

Well, that’s true off the road as well. As I began to focus on not running slower, that’s exactly what happened. I finished last in my heat at our conference championship that year and I had little hope that I’d ever get back to where I once was.

When the outdoor season was canceled that spring, I wasn’t exactly disappointed. I was ready for a break. And when I returned to campus in the fall to start my senior year, I remember praying, “God, I don’t care what this season brings. I just want to enjoy it.”

I began focusing on all of the “lasts” and being grateful for the opportunities to be training one last time with a team and going on long runs down the dirt roads with the beautiful fall colors. I was excited to wear my uniform and lace up my spikes one last time, regardless of how my races went.

And let me tell you, my races did not start off well. But I was happy and even when I “failed,” I didn’t focus on what went wrong. Instead, I celebrated the fact that I felt strong during the final 100 meters or that I wasn’t overwhelmingly nervous at the start line.

My times began to improve eventually and during my final indoor conference championship, instead of struggling down the straightaway to finish last, I led the race and battled for an incredibly close second place with a new personal-best time.

I share this story to encourage athletes, especially those in their senior seasons: don’t focus on what can go wrong or dwell on past mistakes. The fear of failure is incredibly common and equally powerful, and I don’t want to see it stop you from reaching your goals or enjoying your sport.


For in-game updates and other news, follow Calli on Twitter @ newberry_calli

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