I never really understood trials and finals meets! If I blew it out of the water and got a best time I would quit while I was ahead. It’s like winning the lottery and then expecting to win again. Except that the lottery is all about luck and swimming is about talent and hard work. The great sport of swimming. All about duplicating, recreating, improving and proving. In your face.
There is also the sport of parenting a swimmer. It is more of a sport of trials and tribulations. Parent your child well in the sport of swimming? Do it again. Do it better. Improve upon that. And then prove it. And then start over again.
I wasn’t a swimmer so it is hard for me to get into the head of a swimmer. I can’t imagine a sport like swimming. Soccer, football, rugby, lacrosse, field hockey – different equipment but essentially the same sport. Team sports, on a field. Same goes for softball, baseball and good old fashion kickball. Sometimes I imagine dance, gymnastics and figure skating to be like swimming. Long hours of practice and certainly individual sports. But, these sports are more subjective, based on athletic ability and artistic talent. Subjective and judged. Track and field certainly is the sport most like swimming, it is based on a definitive measure, is an individual sport and time is everything, artistic impression means very little. In the US, kids don’t start competing in this sport until well into middle school and certainly very few train for it at a young age. At the age of 12 most kids have never participated in a track meet where as they may have spent the last 6 years at swim meets.
Swimming certainly has that in your face feel to it. The times don’t lie. When the times are on your side it is the best feeling in the world. When they aren’t, swimming can become a very isolating sport. It stares you in the face. It tears you down, rips you apart and leaves you on the side of the pool. Begging for mercy. At 12.
Parenting the child who is dropping time is easy. Parenting through the rough times? WOW.
As a parent, I had to learn that swimming is a journey. Every child has a different path. I have a 12-year-old who has always been a slightly above average swimmer. She makes qualifying meets and tends to swim at prestigious meets – usually coming in middle of the pack. I have a 10-year-old who is an average, middle of the road swimmer. She does exceptionally well at meets that don’t include all of the fast swimmers. And then there is the 7-year-old who either does really well or really poorly at every meet. No rhyme or reason.
I have chosen to parent all three of my children through this sport in the same manner. None of this came to me right away, as a matter of fact it is still evolving. I am open to change. I am learning and growing. I have learned a few things that have helped ME be a better parent.
Every swimmer has a different path to success. You can’t look at a 7, 10 or 12-year-old and determine what kind of swimmer they will be at 18. It is easy to get caught up in the 12-year-old National Record Holders but when you watch the same kids race for many years on end you start to realize that it is very difficult for those fast swimmers to always drop time. Unless we start racing at the speed of light, there really is a cap on how fast a person can humanly go. In other words, there is nothing wrong with slow and steady progress.
On the other hand, the crazy fast kids can’t give up because they haven’t dropped time in a year. Hard work and talent go hand in hand. It is easy to give up after a year of not dropping time. Bottom line, at 12, it doesn’t matter where you fall in the pack. Keep working and success is guaranteed. Success is individual.
It is so easy to celebrate success. But, it isn’t the only thing. To succeed, we have to fail. Let your 9-year-old swim 500 free if they want to. Let them fail. Don’t tell them they will get disqualified for an illegal start, let them. Let them feel it, let them learn from it. They won’t be scarred for life. It is swimming! All the good swimmers DQ. Don’t shy away from a challenge, and learn from the mistakes. It doesn’t always suck, it might not even suck tonight.
Enjoy and appreciate consistency. The expectation to hit a home run every single time is unrealistic. Would you expect a baseball player to hit it out of the park every single time? Consistency is the key to success. There will be successes and then a period of plateau. It is normal. Allow children a foul ball or strike out from time to time.
Encourage the child to have fun. Yes fun! Movies with friends after the meet is more important than the meet. The life of a swimmer can be isolating. You can’t change that so acknowledge that. Make it fun.
It is important that you pick a coach you like and then like your coach. There is nothing else to say…
The most important thing is to listen to your child. When they say “I love swimming” what they mean is I am riding high. When they say “I hate swimming”, what they mean is, this sport is sucking the life out of me right now and I need to you to tell me it will be ok. Last night my 12-year-old (did I mention girl hormones? No. Please help me) said I hate swimming, along with I suck at life, I am a terrible swimmer and I want to play Lacrosse. I looked her square in the eye and told her that sometimes I hate swimming too. Sometimes I suck at life. I can’t even float. I am too old for Lacrosse but Bingo at my age might be a great sport. We laid in her bed for an hour last night talking. I really do believe that right now she does hate swimming. She is tired, she has been swimming 5 days a week for 8 months in a row and she is swimming a huge meet this weekend. We need a break. I am not going to sugar coat it, she is right. It does suck sometimes. We are ok with that. We are in it together. And we will get through it together.
I am not a perfect parent, I have no qualifications to even give parenting advice. I have made mistakes and I plan to make more. But if my kid can get up on the blocks and swim a perfect race, then come back four hours later and do it again, I owe it to them to do the same. Even more importanly, when they swim the race that doesn’t warrant a return to the blocks later than evening, it is ok to go home.