June 25, 2011
If you told a typical 9-year-old that she would have to wait a year to see hard work pay off, it’s likely she wouldn’t believe you. It’s likely that the end date is too far away for her to see any value in the hard work right now. As an educator, you study a lot about intrinsic motivation versus extrinsic. You read about creating small, measurable goals, and about creating rewards that are given in a timely fashion. They can’t be too far out or else the student may lose focus and motivation. But that isn’t what I saw over the past year.
Big I had a rough summer last year. After swimming her first winter season and then having to move up to the 9 & 10 age group (flip turns, double the length of events, etc.), she spent the summer swimming exhibition and near the bottom of every single invitational results list. Monday’s were the worst. After the weekend’s invitationals, she watched her friends and teammates go home with trophies, medals and ribbons and she always went home empty-handed. It would have been easy for her to get discouraged and quit the sport entirely. But she didn’t.
Thanks to the guidance of some of our friends with several older swimmers in their family, they told us to get her focused on her times. So we did. I started a notebook and kept track of every meet time. If she came in last, we would rejoice that she had knocked two seconds off her time. I didn’t know if it would work, but it did. She got extremely focused on her times and she knocked time off in every single meet. She started a journal with goals she created for herself and she started being able to cross them off when she met them. It was sometimes still hard on Monday mornings, but we just kept reminding her that it was about her own swimming, her own times.
This winter, she continued to improve and she had a great fall/winter season. We did a minimal amount of meets, allowing her to focus more on endurance training and her stroke development. She didn’t say it, but I swear she went to every practice and worked hard so that she could show up at summer swimming and show how much she had improved. It was a big part of her motivation. She turned 10 in the spring and moved to the top of her age group.
On Wednesday night she had her first dual meet. There are a ton of kids on her swim team and we fully expected her to swim exhibition events again. After being on vacation and only attending one practice before the coach put the line-up together, she wasn’t hopeful. Her coach had only seen her swim in one, hour long practice. But when practice was over, she was all smiles. She was swimming two relays and an individual event. . . for points. That was a first.
She was a nervous wreck because she wanted to do so well. . . and she did. Her medley relay, where she swam freestyle, got 1st place by a mile and she extended the lead when she dove in. In her individual 50 butterfly, she came in 3rd and she didn’t miss second (or even first) by that much. In the free relay, she started the team off, swam a great 50, touching either first or just a fingertip behind first. Her relay placed 2nd by just a touch. And she achieved her best times ever.
Last night, we went to her first invitational meet of the season. Her seed times were from last year. This was her very first time swimming in a long-course meet. In the 50 free, she blew her seed time away and took it from last year’s 59 to a 38.02. She earned a third place trophy (her first swimming trophy ever) and also won her heat. In backstroke, she touched the wall second in her heat and blew her seed time away again, earning another 3rd place trophy. In breaststroke, she won her heat and a 4th place medal; but get this, she was disappointed because she knew she hadn’t achieved her best time. “I can do better than that,” she said. Finally, in the 50 fly, she won her heat easily and took another 3rd place trophy. In three of her four strokes, she achieved her best times ever. She started out the winter with “C” times and her goal was to make it to “BB.” Now, with the exception of one event last night, she easily achieved “BB” times and is knocking on the door of several “A” times.
She waited a whole year to take home a trophy, yet her breaststroke time continued to bother her on the ride home last night; and she is hell bent on fixing it at her next meet.
Last year, I rejoiced when she swam a legal race and didn’t get disqualified. I hugged her and squeezed her when she dropped a second off her times and happily pointed out that she hadn’t come in dead last when the results were posted each meet. Sometimes we simply celebrated because she hadn’t been DQ’d. We celebrated the little things and I think it has really paid off. I didn’t hear bragging last night; I saw a big smile after each race, and I heard her congratulate other swimmers on their successes. It is good she started off swimming exhibition; it was beneficial (although sometimes especially painful for me) to see her name at the bottom of those results lists last year. She has an appreciation for her current success and she has definitely learned an important life lesson, that hard work truly does pay off.