Filed under: Growing Pains, Mental Strain for Mama, Sports
In a month and a half, our family will have been in our new location, five hours from what we all knew as home, for a year. After an initial adjustment period, for the most part, life has just continued on. The girls have adjusted to their new schools. We’ve made the house our own. We’ve started to venture out in our new surroundings to find our new favorite places and things to do. We’ve all made some new friends. I was warned by several swimming friends that the swimming transition might be the worst one, that a new club and new coaches would take a year to settle into for the girls. I expected that and prepared the girls for it the best that I could.
I didn’t worry about Sassy as much; her outgoing personality always seems to break the ice. After practicing so hard all year long, Sassy began to get her “BB” times and get hungry for more. When she realized how close she was getting to “A” times, she got even more motivated. This past weekend, she swam her very first “A” time in the 50 back, something she didn’t expect that she would do until she turned 10. Despite being the one in our family most vocal about not wanting to move, she has made the swimming transition look easy. A transition at 8 is easier than a transition at 13.
Because I know this, I worried more about Swim Girl, whose quiet and more introspective personality can be more easily misinterpreted by others. I also worried because her relationship with our previous club’s coach was such a strong one. He understood how she was feeling during a practice or after a race, without her having to say a word. He knew her well enough to know that she is a rule-follower and would never skip part of a set to appear faster than someone else. He knew that yelling at her was not the way to motivate her, and that it sometimes took a while for certain things to really sink in. She didn’t believe in shortcuts, and she proved that with her work ethic over the 4.5 years he coached her. He also knew how far she had come and how hard she had worked to get where she is today. Swimming didn’t come naturally to her when she started; but she had the love for the sport that others didn’t always possess. Despite coming in last and getting disqualified, she wanted to work harder and get better. She didn’t give up. She pushed herself and she achieved. It’s this history that her current coaches don’t know, and that she’s too shy and intimidated to share with them.
At the beginning of the short course season this year, Swim Girl was stagnant with her times. But over time, she began to drop her times across all her strokes. She went from a 2:28 in 200 back to a 2:15; from a 1:02 in 100 free to a 56; from a 5:53 in 500 free to a 5:32; from a 1:17 in 100 breast to a 1:12; from a 2:43 in 200 breast to a 2:35; from a 2:28 in 200 IM to a 2:19. Long course season started off with her swimming an Age Group Champs cut in the 1500 the very first time she swam it. The hiccup with her times didn’t last very long at all. She set a goal for herself, that she wanted to qualify for SCY Age Group Champs and make a Senior Champs cut (despite the times being more challenging to get in this state). She did both. One would think her confidence would be soaring, but it’s not.
It’s been good for her to be at a club with so many great swimmers her age. It has taken some of the pressure off, so that she’s been able to just concentrate on her technique and her times. She’s made some very good friends at our new club. But she has some lofty swimming goals she’s shared with me that she’s too afraid to share with her coach. She has questions she wants to ask about how to fix things that stay inside her head instead. She shuts down and stays quiet when she gets yelled at for going too slow, rather than ratting out those who skipped out on part of a set. So many of these kids have been with these coaches for years. They have the kind of relationships with them that she had back home with hers. She’s starting from scratch; and I can tell that it’s bothering her. They don’t know her history and she’s not quite sure how to establish a good relationship without that. As her parent, I feel like I need to help her; but I’m also wary of becoming “that parent,” and feel that at 14, she needs to take the initiative to speak up and communicate with her coach without my interference. I just hope that I can get her to start speaking up.
These are the things that make me miss the easiness that used to be home. In some ways, I’m glad we have an upcoming trip to go back and visit; but I’m also worried that the trip will just make us miss home that much more.
Filed under: Lessons I've Learned, Sports, Things that get my gi all in a bunch
“When dealing with critics, always remember this: Critics judge things based on what is outside the context of their understanding.” -Shannon L. Alder
Several years ago, during the summer swim season, a swim dad approached me and began asking me questions about my oldest daughter and her swimming. At that point, she had been a year-round swimmer for two years. Her improvement from the two summers prior was nothing short of remarkable. I assumed he was talking to me because he was interested in the USA swimming program where she swam, the one I was President of at the time. However, after a few minutes, the conversation turned into something much different. He began talking about kids who play just one sport, and how I was setting my daughter up for injury and failure. Because he didn’t know me (or take the time to get to know me), he was unaware that my daughter had played T-ball, field hockey and had taken a combination of karate and ju-jitsu classes for five years, not to mention the voice lessons. He didn’t know that after trying all of those things, she came to me and said that swimming was what she really loved and that she wanted to focus on that more intensely. It was especially surprising to me, because at the time, she wasn’t very good at it. I was impressed with her desire to get better and her obvious passion for a sport she loved, despite not having had much success.
I spent that summer, and many after it, listening to parents whose kids did not swim year-round making excuses for why their kids weren’t as fast as my kid. I don’t know why they felt such a compulsion to explain this to me. I certainly wasn’t concerned with what their child was or was not doing; unlike them, I wasn’t interested in making comparisons. The nice thing about swimming is that there are times achieved at each meet, so our daughter was only comparing her performance to her prior performances. And she liked what was happening as she watched her times continue to drop. I made it a point to avoid this dad and others like him. I call them the compare/contrast parents. They are constantly holding up their child and anyone who competes against them. They are constantly looking for all the ways their child is better, and all the ways they can get the edge for their kid. When they find one thing that someone else is better at than their child, then it’s excuse-making time. It’s time to cherry-pick an article or two that supports their viewpoint and puts others down to make themselves feel better. It must be exhausting to live that way, which is why I don’t.
Enter the Facebook article re-posts accompanied by stern warnings for parents of single-sport kids, of course from the parents whose kids play multiple sports. A rudimentary chart began circulating on Facebook regarding Ohio State’s football recruits. The number of players on the team who played multiple sports: 42; the number who were one sport only: 5. I guess this is supposed to send me a message that if I want my daughter to play football for Ohio State, I better sign her up quickly for a bunch of other sports. I see this every couple months, the onslaught of negativity at kids (and their oh-so-naive parents) who focus on one sport earlier than others. I get it; there are only so many sports scholarships out there. All of our kids are competing for them, I guess, if that’s your focus already, when your kids are still in elementary and middle school (eye roll). Here’s the thing about our family: while my daughter loves to swim and has expressed that she would possibly like to swim in college, we did not engage her in year-round swimming at the age of 9 so that we could start her on the road to a swimming scholarship. If she gets one some day, that would be wonderful; and I’m sure we’ll all be very pleased. However, that is not, nor has it ever been, our focus with her. Our focus has been on enabling our daughter to achieve at the level she wants to, in a sport that she loves.
All of these articles and re-posts make the same faulty assumption, that parents who support their child specializing in one sport expect scholarships because of it, and force their child into specialization for this very reason. This is a completely false notion and writers of these articles, and all the parents who post them, should stop making assumptions about parental intent. Many things can change from the time a child is elementary/middle school aged to high school, when coaches are actually starting to look at your swimmer. There are a lot of swimmers who peak at age 12 or younger. Performance levels as a “10 and under wonder” do not translate into indications of future success, which is why we have always tried to stay level-headed about swimming, our daughter’s achieved times, and what that might mean for her future. The truth is, what she’s doing now, or what she did years ago, means next to nothing when it comes to her future swimming. She swims because she loves to swim; she has zero interest in playing other sports right now. And although other parents clearly feel very strongly about our daughter’s choice, her choice is perfectly ok.
Swimming has done wonderful things for our daughters. It has allowed them to get into crazy good shape; their endurance is unreal. They have learned about the importance of commitment, attention to detail/technique; and we strongly feel that it’s made both of our girls into very focused students as well. They’ve learned time management and study skills because they work around their swimming/school schedule. In addition, swimming has had a tremendous influence on our younger daughter’s health. A year ago, doctors thought she may have early onset scoliosis. Because I went through the 6-month checkups myself as a kid, I wanted to do something different for my daughter, to see if we could avoid future treatment. After 6 months of seeking help from a PT friend of ours, and having those exercises reinforced during her dry land training at her swim club, and through her in-water practice, the curve in her spine went from almost 9 degrees to less than 5, a number not even considered scoliosis. The specialist at Shriner’s was shocked into complete silence as he compared the two x-rays, before quizzically wanting to know what we were doing. When we told him about her swimming and dry land training, he was shocked and impressed, and told us to keep on doing what we’re doing. It turns out that swimming may save her from the dreaded 6-month checkups for a crooked spine.
Most of the articles warning against single sport specialization point to burn-out and overuse injuries, which is certainly a major concern if your child is a pitcher or a quarterback, using the one same explosive motion all the time, every day, year after year. Swimming is a very symmetrical sport, and a life-long sport with good reason. Have you ever checked out the lap lanes at your local gym? They’re loaded with people who’ve been swimming for decades. A couple articles have pointed out that swimming is quite different from other sports when it comes to specialization in several ways. One of them, “Sport Specialization at a Young Age: Is Swimming Different?” by Dr. Rod Havriluk, Ph.D. states the following:
“The most obvious difference between swimming and other sports is the performance environment. Most sports are land-based, while swimming is performed in the water. Natural human movements (like running, jumping, and throwing) that are applicable to most land-based sports are ineffective in the water. While diversification offers practice on similar skills under different sport conditions, these skills are counterproductive for swimming. Humans cannot rely on innate movement patterns to achieve an expert skill level in swimming. Swimming skills must be learned and the age at which an athlete specializes must be considered.
Most land-based ball sports require movement skills in many directions using varying amounts of range of motion at each joint. Practice for a secondary sport may even train an athlete in a select skill better than the primary sport. For example, practice anticipating and reacting to an opposing player in basketball may help develop similar skills in football. Swimming, however, requires, repetition of the same effective movement sequence on every stroke cycle. Swimming strokes are generally not even remotely replicated in other sports, and certainly not in the water.”
A year ago, my oldest missed a bunch of practices heading into a big meet due to illness. She did not have a good meet; every stroke seemed “off.” Her coach talked to us about swimmers sometimes “losing their feel of the water” when out for extended periods of time. The more practices she attends, the better her feel for the water has been. Non-swimmers won’t understand this concept, but for any swimmer/coach, they know exactly what it means when discussing whether a swimmer has a feel for the water or not. Endurance also has something to do with the reason many swimmers choose to stick with the sport year-round. After even a two-week break, many swimmers have to fight to get back to the level they were at only weeks ago. Those initial practices at the beginning of the season are always brutal for that very reason. It’s also the reason that many swimmers choose to stay in the water. Another key difference when it comes to swimming versus other land-sports is the flexibility required to be effective at the sport of swimming.
“For example, an effective arm recovery in freestyle and butterfly utilizes the full range of motion at the shoulder joint. A young swimmer who learns to use this range can retain it as he/she grows. However, swimmers will not naturally use their full range of motion without considerable quality practice.
In contrast, swimmers who wait until the teenage years to specialize may already have a reduced range of motion at the shoulder, making it far more difficult to master technique elements like the arm recovery in free and fly” (Havriluk).
And here’s something else to consider: “In addition, young teenagers who have not yet specialized may not be very competitive. Less competitive swimmers often have fewer opportunities as far as training time, contact with more skilled coaches, and access to advanced technology. A delay in specialization can present substantial obstacles to ever achieving expert level skills” (Havriluk). I saw this during the first year my daughter swam competitively, before she got involved in club swimming. A “back of the pack” swimmer, the attention that she got was minimal. With 20 kids per lane, how could you blame the coaches for not correcting every technique problem they saw? They simply didn’t have the means to do so. My daughter attended practice regularly, but constantly reinforcing the same bad habits because you don’t know the best techniques isn’t doing you a whole lot of good. Moving to a specialized program, with a more manageable number of kids per lane and a better coach:swimmer ratio made all the difference for her. Choosing to focus on swimming exclusively gave her more free time at home to just be a kid when she wasn’t swimming, riding her bike, reading good books, etc. It killed me when she wanted to quit karate/ju-jitsu and focus just on swimming, but being over-scheduled with too many activities/sports for the sake of diversification and not allowing kids to get proper rest isn’t beneficial either.
Dr. Havriluk concludes with this final statement: “A program that optimizes the quality (emphasis mine, not his) of instruction can offer the advantages of specialization at an early age without the negative consequences.” It’s a sentiment expressed by more than one expert, the idea of quality instruction making all the difference. In the journal article, “Practice Makes Perfect and Other Curricular Myths in the Sport Specialization Debate,” author Jody Brylinsky provides a wealth of evidence that agrees with this concept. “It is not the specialization or diverse sport-training experience that is critical, but the type of training and instruction provided in any training context” (Brylinsky). This concept makes a lot of sense. I have frequently heard of swimmers destroying their shoulders at a young age. But when you couple these swimmers with a steady stint with a coach who’s had zero recent education, who is still pulling work-outs from his memories of three decades ago and killing kids with “junk yardage,” it’s not all that surprising. Call it an overuse injury if you want, but one could easily argue that many of these types of injuries happen because of by sub-par coaching.
There are plenty of coaches out there whose focus is on winning right now, who coach more from ego than they do from the desire to see athletes succeed long-term. I’ve seen them first-hand and avoid them at all costs.These are the ones you want to avoid, especially if your child has chosen to specialize. “Sport skill instruction and sport training that focus on long-term athlete development provide the cumulative advantage to nurture talent, regardless of the training context in which it is offered (Brylinsky). The goal then, becomes placing your young athlete in capable and educated hands. “While multiple-sport participation is presumed to inherently provide a variation in training, this may not always be the case. Many sports require the same physiological demands and use similar training routines” (Brylinsky). The common theme when it comes to avoiding over-use injuries and burnout seems to be an appropriate period of rest, which can be obtained in a singular sport or in a multi-sport environment. Appropriate rest is very important when it comes to athletes of all types. Educated coaches know this. When choosing a program and/or coach for your child, one question to ask them is about their coaching education and whether or not they continue to learn. Coaches who attend conferences, research and move up the levels in ASCA, who try new things at practice and who says things like, “I read an article about. . . ” are the kinds of coaches you want to expose your young athletes to as much as possible. Our oldest daughter started swimming competitively at the age of 8, late by comparison to many of her friends who had been swimming since the age of 5 or 6. The best choice she made (you read that right. . . SHE made the choice), was to ask us to find a private lesson coach to learn proper technique from so she improve. The goal for her was catching up and being competitive, not surpassing everyone and getting a college scholarship. Remember, she was 9 when she made the decision to begin swimming year-round. While I’ve met many parents who fantasize about the idea of college scholarships when their kids are 9, I haven’t met an adolescent yet who has been signed by a college. We tend to be of the level headed swim parent variety: our kids swim because they like to swim, not for the potential freebies they could get down the road.
Although focus on technique is important, especially with a sport like swimming, Brylinsky also stresses the importance of “deliberate play,” defined as “activities regulated by age-adaptive rules controlled by children to maximize enjoyment.” In these types of activities, “children use experimentation of movements without worrying about performance outcomes, fostering an implicit approach to instruction” which can result in “increased retention of new skills, reduced occurrence of reinvestment in complex skills, a heightened sense of competence, and a greater resistance to stress” (Brylinsky). I can think of many activities I’ve seen my swimmer girls do at practice (and at meets) that would fit into these categories, working on achieving negative splits being just one of them. “However, counting on diverse sport opportunities to naturally provide “deliberate play” or “implicit instruction” would be a mistake. Just changing the sport context does not create these useful instructional techniques;” and “Diverse sport experiences will not necessarily produce these learning environments any more than sport specialization prohibits them” (Brylinsky). Again, this relates directly back to the education and skill of your child’s coach. “It would be a mistake to assume that diverse sports opportunities will provide more problem-solving experiences for athletes than specialized single-sport training. Highly qualified coaches will be able to provide an abundance of meaningful practice drills that maximize active participatory-learning in either context. Unqualified coaches, even in a diverse sport environment, may have limited ability to develop an interactive practice or facilitate athlete-led error detection and correction” (Brylinsky). This is one of the things I have always appreciated about USA Swimming, the many opportunities the organization gives for coaches to learn more, via online education, regional conferences and through mentoring programs.
Specialization vs. multi-sport participation seems to be the new parental debate; but it doesn’t have to be. Parents of kids who play multiple sports need to stop making the following assumptions: kids specialize for scholarships, kids specialize because of coach/parent demands. While these assumptions may be accurate for some athletes who specialize, none of these apply to our family, and many other swim families I know. Sometimes, there’s just a kid who loves a sport, and wants to do just that sport. It’s as simple as that. And while I guess I should appreciate the multi-sport participant’s parents for wanting to look out for me and mine, we’re completely comfortable making our own decisions regarding our family, just as I’m sure they’re comfortable making decisions for theirs. People don’t fit into prescribed little categories; and perhaps everyone should try being less judgmental. “The lessons to be learned, however, lie in what the dialogue tells us about the need to focus on quality training and instruction in either sport setting” (Brylinsky). Does your child have high quality coaches in all four sports they play? It’s something to think about.
And if your focus is on your child achieving elite status in their sport of choice, there’s another factor that seems to set apart those who go on to elite status from those who don’t. “When one considers in addition the prerequisite motivation necessary to engage in deliberate practice every day for years and decades, where most children and adolescents of similar age engage in play and leisure, the real constraints on the acquisition of expert performance become apparent. The commitment to deliberate practice distinguishes the expert performer from the vast majority of children and adults who seem to have remarkable difficulty meeting the much lower demands on practice in schools, adult education and physical exercise programs” (Ericsson, Tesch-Romer). Achieving elite status in a sport can not be boiled down to doing just any one thing. It’s a combination of things that make athletes successful: genetics, commitment, motivation, deliberate practice, stellar coaching, nutrition, proper rest periods, etc. When I think about the successful athletes I know, who have gone on to play their chosen sport in college, one thing stands out about them: they simply love what they do. If playing multiple sports makes your young athlete happy, that’s great. Keep letting them do it. But when a child has made the choice to specialize, perhaps others should learn to respect that too.
“How would your life be different if…You stopped making negative judgmental assumptions about people you encounter? Let today be the day…You look for the good in everyone you meet and respect their journey.” -Steve Mariboli “Life, the Truth, and Being Free”
Brylinsky, Jody. “Practice Makes Perfect and Other Curricular Myths in the Sport Specialization Debate.” Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance. 81:8. (2010) 22-25.
Ericsson, K.A. Krampe, R.T., & Tesch-Romer, C. The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100. (1993) 363-406.
Havriluk, Dr. Rod, Ph.D. (2013) Sport Specialization at a Young Age: Is Swimming Different? ASCA Newsletter, 2013 (6) 16.
As I come up on my 3rd anniversary of being Co-President of a USA Swimming aquatic club, I’ve learned many lessons. Although there have been a lot of great times, some of these lessons have been hard ones to learn. I’ve learned a lot about the nature of people, some good things and some bad things. I’ve learned that every situation has two sides to the story: the accurate story, and the one that will told by people who don’t like you or your decisions. Some of the toughest lessons I’ve learned involve my kids, and how they’ll be treated by others who are only concerned with themselves, and/or disagree with the club’s direction. It’s been a fun ride, for the most part, as this board, the coaches and I have worked to grow our club’s success and create a lasting team culture. Some of the lessons I’ve learned are ones that could help others lead youth sports organizations, so I’d like to share.
1. Not everyone is going to like you. Learn to deal with it.
“I can not give you the surefire formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure, which is: Try to please everybody.” -Herbert B. Swope
For every 10 new friends I’ve made running this swimming club (and I’ve made a lot of wonderful new friends), I’ve probably made an enemy or two. It’s never been intentional. It’s just that, for the most part, many adults do not like to read or follow rules. While the people who dislike me can complain all they want about whatever their issue is of the day, the one thing they can’t do is accuse me, or our board, of being inconsistent. We have worked tirelessly to create policies that protect the club and its swimmers and coaches; and lay the ground rules for our business practices. The other night a Mom approached me and told me that her swimmer just wasn’t into it anymore. She said she’d like a refund. I politely told her, “no.” She was shocked to hear this word. However, she signed the paperwork that says there are no refunds, except for documented medical reasons or a family relocation. She immediately acted angry with me, and went off to complain to another parent. To them, I’m Maleficent. To me, I’m a volunteer parent President who took on the duty of protecting the club’s best interests, including the financial interests. Policies and procedures are really important to have and to follow, which leads me to my next lesson.
2. No matter how many policies and procedures you have, there’s always going to be someone who tries to twist the words or the meanings to make them something they are not. Get an outsider’s opinion and help.
Recently, we had an incident at our club that forced us to take a good, hard look at our policies and procedures for dealing with violations of our Code of Conduct. As a writing student in college, my professors used to tell me to write something and put it away. They said to always look at your writing with fresh eyes. Sometimes, when you’ve been staring at a policy for three years, all looks good. Sometimes those “fresh eyes” need to come from someone else. So, we did what made sense. One of our swim parents is a lawyer and we asked him to sit down with us and take a look at our documents, waivers, etc. He didn’t just take a look. He dug in and revised documents for future registrations. He identified weaknesses that we hadn’t seen before. And he didn’t just tell us about it; he got to work revising. He has become our volunteer legal adviser and he’s taken a lot of the pressure off of the board, just by being available to consult with us. Tap the resources that are available to you within your group of parents. It never hurts to ask, and most of the time, people are happy to help.
3. Delegate and put it back on those who suggest it.
There are some things that can’t be delegated, so take care of those things. But whatever you can delegate to reliable people, do. Last year, the woman who was making all of our holiday party and banquet plans offered to join our board as a Vice President. We jumped at the opportunity to bring her on board. There are so many people who have suggestions for things with the club; but one thing we’ve learned is it bat it back to the person who suggested the change and see what time they’re willing to put in to making things happen. We have some parents whose swimmers wants to stay with the club through high school. Recently, I asked one of these parents to research what other clubs offer for high school swimmers. She was more than happy to do the research and report back, and I was happy to get the help. Then there are those who love to share their ideas and tell you all the things you should be doing, but wouldn’t lift a finger to help get it going. Let their criticism fall on deaf ears (refer back to #1). Focus on the important stuff and don’t take on too many side projects, especially those suggested by people not willing to help. But if someone is willing to take a lead on an idea that would benefit the club, you’ve just found yourself another volunteer. And that is always a good thing.
4. Team Culture is EVERYTHING!
There’s one at every club. . . a parent who is all about their own child and could care less about anyone else. They attend no team functions. They don’t care about what the other swimmers at the club are doing (unless they’re beating their own kid). They feel that practices should revolve around their kid, and that no one else matters. They don’t congratulate other swimmers on a job well done. They never volunteer to do anything, ever. These are the “black holes” that suck energy from your team culture. So what can you do about it? Not much during the peak of your season. However, you can focus on those contributing to the team culture and try to get everyone on board. But if that doesn’t work, and you’re a private club, you can make decisions about future enrollment. Have you ever heard the saying, “There is no ‘I’ in team?” Have you also heard the one that says, “I found the ‘i” in ‘team.’ It’s in the “A” hole”? It’s very true. Promote the team culture all you can. But those who don’t buy in. . . can find another team. Don’t be afraid to drop in numbers initially if the long term pay-off will be a solid team culture and more committed families/athletes down the road. After a small exodus of “black holes” last year, our club came back bigger and stronger than ever before. It’s a calculated risk worth taking.
5. Listen to what people are telling you.
We recently had try-outs for our Spring session at our club. One parent was going on and on about how her swimmer only wanted to do a “clinic,” that attending a meet would be out of the question, that they would not be coming back next year because they were only looking for a quick fix and stroke work heading into the summer. You’re not going to convert people like this into committed ones. It doesn’t happen. Don’t clog up lanes to raise numbers if you don’t have to. A club should benefit an athlete, but the athlete should also benefit the club by being a team player, following the club’s vision/mission, and truly wanting to be a part of the team culture. If they’re not, say goodbye before it starts, and leave that space for someone committed to the team ideals.
6. Don’t get caught looking backwards.
“Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.”
One of the most important things a youth sports board should do, is focus on the future. Provide opportunities to educate your coaches. Look for ways to improve the club, grow the club (if you can’t grow numbers, grow your competitiveness), and make people want to be a part of the forward motion. Change is always hard; but it’s necessary if you want to move forward. After a couple years of general team malaise, our club has taken off. In virtual championship rankings, we went from barely making the top half to being the top third. Our national ranking moved up over 300 spots; within our LSC, we moved up almost 30 spots, and we continue to rise. Our numbers are strong and our kids continue to improve. As a club board, that’s all you can really ask for. But you’re only going to continue to rise if you’re focused on the future.
“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”-Tony Robbins.
Truer words were never spoken.
Are you part of a parent youth sports board? What lessons have you learned?
When I was 11-years old, the most pressing things that I cared about were two-fold: one was learning how to lift the puck in street hockey so I could properly punish my dad for winning all the time (take a moment to soak that in guys), and the second (which I was most passionate about) was growing out my perm as fast as humanly possible. Although I played softball in the summers, and I was decent at it, I certainly wasn’t obsessed with becoming the best ever or anything. I pretty much played because my Dad wanted me to play and I sort of liked the smell of the ball field dirt. Weird, I know.
This is why I am constantly amazed by my girls. Swim Girl is at the bottom of her age group (11/12) and has spent this entire year clawing her way to faster times by practicing all the time. On Friday nights, when many girls are heading out to the school dance, she’s at practice (her own decision) with one of her favorite coaches. While friends are hanging out after school, she’s at physical therapy, working to strengthen her leg muscles and ease the over-use/growing pains that happen when you’re an 11-year old breast-stroker. And when she gets home from practice, she’s reading her swimming magazine and articles that her coach recommends, soaking it all in and hoping that it, combined with her drive and hard work, earn her Junior Olympic qualifying times like last year.
Last year, as a 10-year old, she spent the entire season adding additional JO QT’s to her schedule of events for the big event in March. When the regular season was over, she was qualified in 11 events. This year, when you combine the much tougher time standards for 11-year old’s with the fact that USA Swimming made the QT’s even harder this year, she has had her work cut out for her. Still, she continues to drop time and chip away at those QT’s, being just a second or two away from several with just one month to go.
After Christmas, the girls both started doing to archery. It’s once a week, but it just so happens that it falls on a night at swimming that Swim Girl doesn’t like to miss. The initial excitement of it all had her miss the last three weeks of that night of swimming. However, with a month left to qualify, she made a decision this week. She was heading off to Coach Ian’s practices for the next two weeks. We had a conversation in the car the other day about how proud I am of her for catching up and moving right on past so many of the swimmers that she thought she would never be competitive with. There are a few remaining that push her and she asked me how she could close the gap. We talked about getting enough rest, eating the right kinds of food, working on core fitness and upper body strength with some daily push-ups. And each day, since that conversation, this girl has been giving it her all and doing exactly what it takes to get stronger and knock more time off. To help her, I told her I would do it with her. So far, the only thing I’ve lifted though, is a Hershey bar to my mouth. I’m not quite sure where her drive and motivation come from, but I wish she could bottle it and give a little bit to me.
Then, there’s Sassy, who has missed maybe two swim practices the entire year. Not going is just not an option. She has competed in several meets this year and although 7-year old’s are notoriously unpredictable when it comes to times, she has continued to shock and amaze me with her own abilities. Sassy went from doing just 25’s to swimming the 100 IM (most of the time legally) and in under two minutes. Her initial time was a 2:02 and she dropped it to a 1:53 in her last meet. Sassy wrote goals down for this year and our bulletin board at the pool if filled with her completed goals. 25 fly below 30. Done. 25 fly below 25. Done. In fact, she now swims across the pool in about 21 seconds, which is about the time it would take me to drown while trying to do that stroke. She dropped her 25 back from around a 30 to a 23 and she’s just about to break through the 20 second mark for her 25 freestyle. And she’s 7 years old. Seven.
The best part about her is that she doesn’t take things too seriously. Ask Swim Girl if she’s going to the Olympics one day and you see a light in her eye, a determination to do everything possible to be the most amazing swimmer ever. Ask Sassy about that and she’ll laugh in your face, turn around, braid her one coach’s hair and ask the other to play “Rock Paper Scissors” while whispering that she has a crush on another one of her coaches. The girls certainly approach things differently, but both ways have brought pretty amazing results.
Mid-March, we begin a four week break in swimming until the spring/summer session starts. Swim Girl asked me how long the break was the other day. When I told her four weeks she got very agitated. “I only want to take two weeks off,” she said. “You have to find me someplace to swim.”
I may not have much of a social life these days, but what I do have are a few very self-motivated kids (two to swim; one to climb everything in the whole house and rearrange all my cabinets with only a diaper on). It’s been a lot of fun to witness.
If the quote that is part of my design was changed to say, “Most swim moms just do the commute; this one is the President of both of her daughters’ swim clubs,” then perhaps I would have had something to write about this summer. Instead of bamboo crawling up the sides of my design, it should be lane lines. Instead of a mom in a gi, kicking in the header, it should be a mom wearing layers that can easily be removed while sitting in steamy natatoriums. My car now has a magnet on the back that says “swim taxi.” People who know me well know that it’s true. The little man of the house has developed a really contentious relationship with his carseat this summer, mainly because of constantly picking someone up or dropping someone off at swimming.
The good news is that at the conclusion of the summer swimming (just last weekend), I eliminated one of my President jobs. Being President of the girls’ summer swim team was just too much when trying to run a year-round USA swimming club on top. Add a baby to the mix, a baby who got two teeth, started crawling, pulled himself up and started trying to cruise all the week he turned eight months old, and it’s next to impossible to have a life (or do laundry). I remain the meet manager for the summer invitational, and that is definitely a lot of work. However, eliminating the politics of working with the pool board (Why can’t we sell generic water that has been donated, just because the pool serves Coke products?), and juggling tons of volunteer duties I simply don’t have time or patience for is certainly going to be a relief. . . a big one.
This summer felt like I was running one long swimming marathon. With both girls swimming competitively, things were crazy. What one swim dad said to me a while ago rang true: “Swimming is a lifestyle.” It truly is, and those not involved in it to the extent that we are simply don’t get why we’re not available to hang out on Friday nights (we have to get up at the crack of dawn for warm-ups), why there is always a load of pool towels cycling through our laundry room, and why all we talk about is swimming (what else is there to talk about?).
The girls had a very successful summer. Swim Girl, despite being at the bottom of her age group, managed to make it to finals in all three of her events at the county championship meet. So many of the girls her age are growing like weeds, and adding shoulder muscles to their physique that look man-ish. Swim Girl is still built like a little girl, but she has been holding her own. Her “B” medley relay actually placed 6th at counties, ahead of many other teams’ “A” relays. She ended up being the only 11-year old in the county to place in the top 16 in the 100 IM at counties. She placed 16th in 50 fly and 11th in 50 breast. She had a great summer. Something tells me that next year, as a 12-year old, she’s going to own those events.
Sassy also swam competitively this summer and did amazing. She was legal in all four strokes and has a room full of ribbons, medals and trophies to prove it. One of the younger kids on her swim team, she swam in both relays at counties and placed in the top six in two of her three events at the Silver meet: backstroke and butterfly. Her free relay would have placed at counties if not for one tiny little mistake she made, which was leaving the blocks a bit too early. She was devastated when she found out, but she learned an important lessons about competing in relays: the other person kind of has to touch the wall first.
One would think that my little man would be sick of swim meets. However, the other night when we were showing some video to family of the girls swimming, little man sat in front of the TV and clapped. For him, swim meets are just a part of life. He went to his first one at just three weeks old. Something tells me he’ll be on the team before we know it.