The question is, how good to you have to be to "blend in?" While I know most people like to stand out in a crowd, at some competitions the toughest thing is just to blend in.
The word "average" might sound like an insult to someone whose ambition is to be great, but the higher the level of competition you’ve reached, it takes tremendous skill to appear average, to not stand out, but to merely, blend in.
The idea of blending in makes itself more clear during meets like the upcoming NCAA Championships. Take the 50 freestyle, for instance. In my humble opinion, the 50 free is probably the most exciting 19 or 22 seconds in all of swimming (depending on men’s or women’s meet). While lately, there have been a couple swimmers who have stood out with their ability to go below 19 seconds in the men’s meet, what usually happens is that all 8 competitors come to the wall at what appears to be a dead heat. In a way, they’ve all blended in. They’ve all reached a level of skill SO high, that nobody really stands out and, more important, nobody stands out like a "sore thumb."
Imagine that same race with one of us in it. Would we get noticed? How obvious would it be that we weren’t fit enough to keep up…or that our starts weren’t as quick…or that our stroke wasn’t as powerful…or our turns as sharp. Would we be noticed because we took too many breaths…or maybe jammed our finish? We obviously would NOT blend in and would be noticed. I know that’s an extreme example, but there’s a strong possibility that we’ll eventually be in a heat of swimmers of our own age and ability. Obviously we work toward a goal of standing out as a GOOD example. We’d strive to beat our competition — either on our starts, turns, stroke, or race strategy. What I’m really talking about, however, is reaching our potential.
When we’ve reached our own pinnacle, whatever that is, and we’re standing on the blocks of the meet we’ve focused on for either months and months, or years, the goal is NOT to stand out — unless it’s by being very far ahead of everyone. The goal of the ultimate race is more often then not, just to win. To win, we must put ourselves into a position to win. To be in that position, we have to be as good, if not just a bit better, than all those we’ve pitted ourselves against.
While we can all point out swimmers such as Michael Phelps and Brendan Hansen, neither of them post on this site, so I doubt any of us stand out quite like they do. We have to work, focus, and train to make sure that when we DO reach our ultimate competition, we’ve worked so precisely, that we appear to blend in. In this blending, we’ve set ourselves up with the opportunity to win.
Work to blend at your ultimate meet. Train to win at the finish.