ATHLETE SAFETY ARTICLE: Self-Worth in a Subjectively Judged Sport

By Alyson Haylor M.A.: Former National Champion, U.S. National Team Member/Captain and All-American All-Collegiate | Aug. 02, 2019, 3:21 p.m. (ET)

My name is Alyson Haylor. I am a former USA National Team Member and Captain, a former year-around coach, an All-American and All-Collegiate and a consultant, speaker and writer. I have been in the sport for 15 years and hold a Master's Degree in Social Justice and Human Rights with a published thesis on the experience of the elite female athlete in subjectively judged sports. I live in Saint Louis, Missouri  where I currently work at a Leadership Institute and am continuing to write, speak and consult on topics including: sport, young female athletes, retirement from elite sport for all genders, sexual assault and abuse, the empowerment of the person through sport, and building sport culture.

Alyson Haylor at Synchronized Swimming Meet

Be Authentic

Often times, throughout my career, during meet warm-up, I would look around and just observe. I noticed this: it was less about what club stood out to me and more about what caught my attention about an individual swimmer. I noticed heart. Whether it was the fierceness of the eyes, the fight of a few spins above the knee, or that second wind on the last lap of a routine, I saw authenticity show up through sport no matter where athletes were from. At 9 years old, from a small club, competing against the biggest clubs in the U.S., my mother (Who was my coach), told me this before I walked out to perform my routine "Al, they aren’t gonna give it to you easily, so you’ll just have to go out there and take it!" It wasn’t necessarily skill that gave me the Gold medal. It was fire, fight and a firm belief in who I was in that moment where I could show up authentically and if nothing else, I would leave that competition with no regrets.

Alyson Haylor doing synchronized swimming at age 9

You’re the Author to Your Own Story

As we climb the ranks, the stakes can get higher, the pressure can be more, the stress can increase, the expectations grow, and this may require sacrifices. My family separated when I was 14 for many reasons, but one reason was so I could have the opportunity to embark on the National Team path. My mother and I moved so I could train, and the rest of my family stayed behind. In the wake of the recession, my family lost their home, cars and belongings. My self-worth and the sport were all I had left. One of my mentors and club and National Team coaches said this to me whenever I started to blur the lines of reaching expectations I had of myself and doing what I loved: It’s just synchro. At the time, this was hard to hear because I was in my own way, but as I have grown, I firmly believe in the power and simplicity of this statement. Sport is a foundation. It is not a platform. It is a medium for you to express who you are. It will never be all of you. Whatever climbing the ranks looks like for you, remember you are also writing your own story, creating yourself and learning what is important to you, both inside and outside of the sport.

Puzzle Pieces

I’m Alyson. No tagline. No description. No accolades like Alyson, the National Champion, Alyson, the Synchronized Swimmer, immediately following my name. Just Alyson. Today, I am a puzzle. Each story told takes up a different corner of the puzzle and illustrates its own micro journey. As the puzzle grows, my athletic identity proceeds to get smaller, although, it does not decrease in value. That value is foundational. A brick doesn’t lose its value when a house is built on top of it. Athletics are part of my foundation. Rooted within me in my formative years, it has matured through the years. It is what I do with this foundation that decides my identity and my direction. Create your own masterpiece, that is you.