March 1, 2011

Motivation in a 9-year-old Package

In August, Big I came to me and made a request. She wanted to quit ju-jutsu so she could concentrate more on swimming. After she failed to achieve county qualifying times for a single event and after missing out on a ribbon at the novice meet too, I was a little surprised. In the past, she tried t-ball and field hockey. Neither of them held her interest and she wanted to quit almost as soon as she started. I figured that swimming would have discouraged her too. As she watched her friends collect trophies and ribbons, I feared that her motivation to continue would wain.

It didn't.

She asked me for private lessons in August and I immediately signed her up. I also signed her up for a 6-week fall training program at a local USA swimming club. She had the opportunity to swim up to five days a week. She usually swam three days a week, plus her private lessons. She started to improve; it was obvious; but without any time trials to really know, we could only mark her improvement visually. Her strokes looked better. Her endurance was definitely improving. It was neat to watch.

Each week of the fall program, Big I would come home from school on Monday and tell me what her week looked like homework-wise. Then, she would plan out which nights she wanted to swim. She made herself a schedule, got her homework done on time or ahead of time and never complained about going to swim for an hour each night.

As the end of the fall program approached, we figured she had improved and we would take her back to the school's age group swimming program. We thought we would let her experience a little success. We knew USA swimming was highly competitive. I didn't want her to get discouraged. But when I asked her coaches if she could stay and practice with the team until age group started, her coaches told us not to go. I mumbled something about letting her experience some success and her coach waved that thought away. "Let her experience success when she's 14, when it really matters. Right now, let us work on her strokes and make her good."

Mr. BBM and I spent our anniversary weekend discussing things. USA swimming is a bigger commitment than age group swimming. The season is longer, the meets are further away, and the monetary commitment is a lot bigger too. We decided to listen to her coach, one of the first ones who has really paid attention to her and given her individualized attention, someone who stops her as soon as she's doing something wrong and fixes it immediately, someone who asks us to come in on off days to work individually with her. We kept her with club swimming.The coach to swimmer ratio was too irresistible to take her anywhere else.

The fall program turned into the winter program and participating in invitational meets is optional. However, after swimming in one of the dual meets, Big I had a blast and did so well that we thought we'd sign her up for one or two.

This weekend, Big I participated in a two-day swim meet, the last of the season. She has been competitively swimming for only 15 months as of this past weekend, and what she's done over the past few months is nothing short of amazing.

She took her 50 free time from a 49.85 in the summer to a 35.94. She took her 50 Breast stroke time from a 1:06:35 to 48:77. She took her 50 butterfly time from a 59:07 to a 41:94. She started swimming 100's too. From the first weekend in February until this past weekend, she knocked four seconds off her 100 IM time to a 1:32:26. She swam a 100 breast stroke in 1:44:27. Her goal was to get into the BB time standards this weekend. She did so in three of her six events. She earned ribbons in four of her six events this weekend. And this is USA swimming. She was lucky if she won a heat ribbon last summer.

Big I has one month left of the winter program. Then, she'll have two weeks off before starting the 6 week spring program that will prepare her for summer. I'm thinking that her summer coaches will probably fall over when they see how much she has improved. From the beginning of February to the end, she shaved a combined 20 seconds off of six events. Just imagine what she'll do by the time she has her first summer swim meet!

Last year, she was disappointed that she didn't qualify for a single event in the county championships. Mr. BBM recently got on the website and checked the times needed to qualify. She already, would qualify in each and every event. In most, she blows the qualifying times away.

What's cooler though, than all the shaved off seconds and the recent influx of ribbons, is that this kid LOVES to be in the water like no other kid I've ever seen. She lives, eats, breathes swimming.

Last month, I took her to a high school swim meet. One of the coaches is Kristy Kowal, 2000 Olympic Silver Medalist in breast stroke. After the meet, Big I met her and asked her to sign her cap. I got a picture of them together too. It was a moment I don't think she will ever forget. She listened to the stories about how Kristy swam exhibition events until she was in high school. She admires the hard work that Kristy obviously put into her swimming and she has decided she's going to do the same.


At night, Big I will frequently write in her journal. A couple months ago, she wrote swimming goals for herself. It's time for her to write a new set, because she has met each and every one of them. After all the frustration of watching her give less than full effort at t-ball, field hockey, karate and ju-jutsu, I think it's safe to say that she has found her sport. I couldn't be more thrilled for her or proud of her accomplishments. I truly believe the sky is the limit for her. She set her mind to it and she's doing it. I don't know very many 9-year olds who are committed to something the way she is to swimming. She's pretty amazing.

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