Watching greatness

My girls swim at an amazing facility. When we first started swimming there we were really impressed with it. But all things that are shiny and new become dull and boring after a while. When you look at something long enough you start to take it for granted. It isn’t until we host a meet that we are reminded how lucky we are. Or when we go to a meet at a pool in dire need of being renovated. Or torn down. I sat in a downpour at a meet recently. It was an indoor pool. Leaky roof. We are spoiled.

This past weekend, Metros were held at our pool. The very one I spend 7 days a week at. Because we were hosting this large meet, our kids did not have Friday or Saturday practice. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have stepped foot in that building. But these were not normal circumstances.

Jack Conger, who swims for our club and made it to Olympic trials, was making a stab at the 500 free record – the oldest record on the books. The record had been set 30 years ago and last year Jack missed it by 1.12 seconds. We were hoping he would get it at preliminaries, I was anxious for him. He missed it by 4 seconds. Pressure was on for Saturday night.

Katie Ledecky swam five heats later in the women’s 500 free. While she swims for a competing club, we absolutely adore our local Olympic hero. While I have been at many meets she has swam in, I have never watched her swim…You see, she used to just be a normal kid who swam really fast. They are a dime a dozen in DC metro. While I never noticed her two years ago, I found myself excited to watch her swim up close and personal. In the very same lane my kids swim in night after night. The middle lane has always been special but I will look at it a little differently from now on, especially when my kids get to race in it. Seeing Katie swim was amazing. She is beautiful in the water. She lapped all of the fast kids.

My girls who are convinced the pool is their home tore off downstairs and had Katie sign everything and anything they could get their hands on.

Katie is the queen of awesome. She swims for a competing club remember? Yet she signed RMSC caps, t-shirts and swim bags. She even posed for a photo with the girls. Actually, she took it! She is a role model both in and out of the water.

Night two? Finals. Jack came back with a vengeance. Lots of records were set. The biggest, Jack broke that 30 year old record. He posted am impressive 4.13.87 on 500 free. I missed it – but I did get to see Sarah score at her second to last Futsal game. It’s all good.

It is a honor to see these kids in our pool. Katie, a sophomore Olympic gold medalist and Jack, a senior with a bright future. My girls were on cloud 9.

I won’t look at our pool the same for a while. The future of greatness might just be practicing in that lane.


The perfect gift for the perfect child

Grace will be 13 soon and we have been looking for the perfect gift to get her.  I think we have finally found it.

I could use some help.  Anyone have a spare $25,000?  You are welcome to join us at our table. While the price tag seems high, the proceeds from this event will support the USA Swimming Foundation’s mission to save lives and build champions-in the pool and in life.

Make sure you cast your vote for the awards.  Our hometown girl Katie Ledecky has 60% of the vote for breakout performance of the year!!!!


You know what, if you want to get us a table we can call this birthday and Christmas.  Much love.

Do not get sucked in

Do not get sucked in

Do not get sucked in

I am repeating this over and over in my head.  I have tried really hard to stay in my “happy place” with my kids and their sports.  I don’t want to let those little voices in my head tell me that I am not doing enough, or doing it right or making the right decisions.

This year at the pool I am seeing a whole new level of parent intensity.  Parents are pushing their children and the coaches for more, more, more.  I swear the Olympics are to blame.  Suddenly every child is a future Olympian.

Our club turned away several hundred swimmers this year.  Lanes are a little crowded, especially in the lower level programs and everyone is trying to move their kids up a level.  Even me.

Sarah is actually straddling two groups and was offered the chance to practice with both groups.  This seemed to both of us to be a win-win.  She would have the opportunity to challenge herself being at the bottom of a more advanced group and to also practice as one of the top swimmers in the other group.  It also opened up MORE not less practice options.  What isn’t there to be happy about in this situation?  Nothing.  And I need to keep telling myself this.  Yet I find myself worrying about how to get her into the advanced group full time.  I watch practice and count kids in lanes.  This isn’t me.

Conversation on deck used to be about Nordstrom sales, PTA meetings and 50 Shades of Grey.  Now it has shifted to private coaching, changing swim sites and driving to Baltimore with Phelps swim coach.  Oh my…

Seriously, the notion of taking my slightly above average 10 year old to Baltimore 5 days a week (about an hour drive each way) is just crazy.  Private coaching?  And for a year I have been saying we have the BEST coaches in Montgomery County.  Who is going to coach them that is better?  Video taping my kid?  I find it more entertaining to video their races and set them to LMFAO tunes.  Is everyone losing their mind?  Am I?

I thought I could tune all of this out but what did I find myself doing this morning?  Looking up the top 15 clubs in the country and trying to find a place near one of these clubs we could move.  Because my kid deserves the best and surely the parents there aren’t crazy right?  I just went off the deep end.

Turns out our club is number 16.  And I love it.  I decided to change my perspective.  My kids are just so awesome that they can bring our club into the top 15.  I mean there are three of them…

I saw a friend the other day at the pool with his headphones on.  When he got up to leave I realized they weren’t even plugged in to his phone and he was listening to the most awesome sound of all – silence.  I am channeling my inner Phelps and grabbing some Beats headphones and losing myself in the music.  It isn’t worth it.  I tell myself “do not get sucked in” now I need to make myself do just that.

USA Swimming always says it best

I stumpled upon this article by accident this evening but it really says so much.  This is something really important for all of to remember  – this year in particular, being an Olympic year and all.

Kids need to keep their eye on the prize.  The key to success is not in how good you are at 8 but how hard you work.  A great life lesson



The National Times and Recognition Committee presented the Top 10 single age recognition program at the September 2007 Age Group Development Business Meeting. During this meeting, which involved LSC Age Group Chairs and committee members, the Age Development Committee recommended that the 10 & U age group be dropped as part of the recognized age groups in this program. There was widespread approval and minimal discussion of this proposal. The National Times and Recognition Committee then presented the Top 10 single age recognition program with the amendment of eliminating the 10 & U age group at the USAS Convention. Again, there was little opposition and discussion.

By and large, the decision to recognize 10, and not 16swimmers per event, and the decision to use single-year age groups as opposed to dual-year groups, have caused minimum controversy.


However, there has been discussion regarding USA Swimming’s decision to no longer recognize 10 & Under performances in its current event ranking system. This brief paper contains the rationale of the Age Group Development Committee for this decision.

The rationale is based on three pillars:

Recognize the long-term development of the athlete;

Support USA Swimming and ASCA Foundation of Coaching development process of age group swimming;

Utilize current programs that balance recognition and development, both national initiatives as well as local traditions;


Pillar I: Foundation of Long-Term Development of the Athlete



The focus of the National Age Group Development Committee is to find and promote opportunities for age group swimmers to build a healthy foundation for making swimming a life-long sport. The Committee feels that a key part of building that base as an age group athlete is accomplished by a long-term developmental progression. Programs that enhance this focus are supported by the Age Group Development Committee.


The Committee is continually reviewing the scientific literature on athlete development, to ensure that our proposals and programs are in line with the best available information. A current leader in the theory of long-term training and athlete growth and development is Istvan Balyi. In an article he wrote with Ann Hamilton, “Long-Term Athlete Development: Trainability in Childhood and Adolescence,” Balyi argues,


“Scientific research has concluded that it takes eight-to-12 years of training for a talented player/athlete to reach elite levels… Unfortunately, parents and coaches in many sports still approach training with an attitude best characterized as “peaking by Friday,” where a short-term approach is taken to training and performance with an over-emphasis on immediate results. We now know that a long-term commitment to practice and training is required to produce elite players/athletes in all sports.”


“A specific and well-planned practice, training, competition and recovery regime will ensure optimum development throughout an athlete’s career. Ultimately, sustained success comes from training and performing well over the long-term rather than winning in the short term. There is no short-cut to success in athletic preparation. Overemphasizing competition in the early phases of training will always cause shortcomings in athletic abilities later in an athlete’s career.”

Concurring with this opinion, the Age Group Development Committee believes that recognizing the 10 & Under swimmer nationally puts undue emphasis on short-term accomplishments and it conveys a sense of these young swimmers’ having reached the highest levels of the sport, instead of a rung in a long developmental ladder. In lieu of national recognition of the fastest times in individual events, USA Swimming provides other opportunities that encourages and motivates young swimmers, and that align with its goal of building the healthy base.

Pillar II: Support of the USA Swimming and ASCA Foundation of Coaching development process of age group swimming



USA Swimming has a long-established age group development philosophy regarding the proper emphases in the training of our youngest swimmers:


Working all four strokes and individual medley
Working to improve technique in all four strokes
Developing a proto-aerobic base as the foundation for later training and success in racing for all distances.


This developmental progression is outlined in detail in several USA Swimming publications, most notably the Foundations of Coaching collaboration between USA Swimming and ASCA. There is a progression of programs for both coach and athlete development based upon that philosophy.

The Age Group Development Committee believes that formally recognizing 10 & Under achievement in specific events does not align with its philosophy of long-term development grounded in working all strokes and building a strong base. Instead, it is more appropriate to reinforce with age group swimmers, coaches, and parents the idea that there are more important considerations than simply being fast – for young swimmers, “how you get fast matters most” for their long-term development in swimming.


Pillar III-A: Utilize current programs that balance recognition and development:

National Initiative

USA Swimming’s Individual Medley Xtreme Challenge (or “IMX”) is a national program that encourages all around athlete development. This program requires that 12 & Unders swim five events: 1. 200 Freestyle 2. 100 Backstroke 3. 100 Breaststroke 4. 100 Butterfly 5. 200 IM


Each time a swimmer swims an event the time is converted to a point score. Upon completing the five events each season (short course yards or long course meters) the swimmer will automatically receive an IMX score on his/her My USA Swimming page. Throughout the season, this score is updated with each best time in these events.


It is important to note that the IMX program “works with” common biological pitfalls/challenges, helping both early- and late-maturing swimmers. Age group coaches face the obvious and common problems resulting from swimmers’ uneven and unequal biological maturation every day at practice. They face the challenge of keeping the small and slow-growing swimmer in the sport when most extrinsic motivators (i.e., awards, victories, publicity) are absent. Simultaneously, they face the challenge of getting the big and strong early maturers to train according to their long-term best interests and ignore short-lived motivators (awards, victories, publicity) that encourage them simply to “do what works,” – that is, rely on size and strength rather than train well and develop good technique. It is often challenging to keep the first group in the sport while they await their growth spurts, and it is difficult to keep the second group in the sport as they are “caught” by their later maturing peers during the high school years.


The IMX program gives early maturers the motivation to be well-rounded and not focus on an event or events where their biological advantage may allow them to overcome poor habits. And by rewarding across a spectrum and especially for longer events that respond more to stroke technique work and aerobic training, the IMX program helps retain late maturers.


In review, IMX performance focuses on success and improvement across a broad array of strokes, in particular events more technically and aerobically oriented – and not single-event performance for 10 & Under swimmers. By utilizing IMX as a training, goal setting, and recognition tool, swimmers are rewarded for behaviors consistent with USA Swimming’s development philosophy. The Age Group Development committee feels that emphasizing participation in and formally recognizing high achievement in the IMX program accomplishes these goals more effectively for the 10 and under age group than did the previous National Top 16 program.


Pillar III-B: Utilize current programs that balance recognition and development –

Local Traditions for Swimmer Recognition


It is important to note what will stay the same. We are obviously not doing away with single-event racing. Age Group athletes will still race the 50 fly or the 50 back at meets, and they will still be given times and awards based on their times for individual events. Swimmers will still be excited and motivated by improving their best times in the 50 free and 100 IM. Finally, every team will continue their recognition traditions through team banquets, most improved trophies, best technique honors, spirit awards, etc.


The Motivational Times Standards list will still help swimmers find motivation to get faster. In fact, the technology advances have made it easy for any swimmer to obtain his/her national ranking for his/her age group for any event and distance. That capability is available to everyone to monitor an athlete’s progress at any point in time for either short course or long course events. With the advances made in the SWIMS database software, there does not have to be a single point in time for that tool to be used in measuring performance goals set by the athlete and coach. It constantly gives the athlete and coach the opportunity to modify those goals as the age group swimmer continues to improve.

Further, it is important to make clear the committee’s intentions. We do not mean to diminish 10 and under athlete’s accomplishments – but we do want to steer that accomplishment into one stream rather than another, and to ensure that the foundations of that accomplishment are strong, secure, and long-lasting.

Nor do we mean to discourage fast swimming – but we do want that speed to be broadly-based and founded on good technique.

Nor do we mean to discourage competition – but we do want that competition to include the full range of strokes and events.


In summary, the landscape of age group teams and competitive swimming remains much the same. The Age Group Development Committee believes that the best motivation and encouragement for 10 & Under swimmers come not from formal national rankings but rather from sources closer to home – their teams, their coaches, and their families. These powerful sources remain.


The Age Group Development Committee supports the Time and Recognition Committee’s decision to eliminate the 10 & Under category in the National Recognition program. Every reward system is based on values and philosophy; in our recognition program, we want to measure, and we want to reward, those things we consider most important. We want to reinforce those behaviors we consider most beneficial to the swimmers involved. This means we want to encourage well-rounded swimming development across the four strokes, technical development, and aerobic base development among our youngest competitive swimmers. We believe that emphasizing existing USA Swimming and local programs for 10 & Unders best serves the long-term growth of these age group swimmers.

The Underwater Window

Looking for a great end of summer read? Sad that Olympic Swimming is over? Look no further.


A novel by Dan Stephenson

From the author:

In Chapter 6 of THE UNDERWATER WINDOW, we meet some of Doyle Wilson’s teammates, including the denizens of Team Jaguar’s “animal lane.” Almost every team has an “animal lane,” reserved for the swimmers who will try any insane set the coach throws out. I swam in a few animal lanes. I can still get pictures in my mind’s eye of swimming specific sets 35 years ago. The guys who shared animal lanes with me are still close friends decades later. It’s no coincidence.

—Dan Stephenson, author of THE UNDERWATER WINDOW.

Swimming at the top level is like a job. Here’s how it dominates a swimmer’s life:

Swim practice takes two and a half hours—three and a half if you count getting there and back, showers, getting dressed and undressed. Most days you do that twice, occasionally three times. Then there’s weight training. Some people run or bike or do other dryland cross-training. Swimming is six days a week, and some lunatic coaches add a practice on the seventh day. Add it up, and the time commitment is 40-50 hours a week. Maybe 60 for the truly committed.

In most jobs, you get a paid vacation. Swimming is year-round. When the short-course season ends, the long-course season begins. If you’re training for the Olympics, there’s no chance to take a real vacation. What are you going to do, anyway? You can’t do anything dangerous, like snowboarding. I went snowboarding once when I was in high school, just for a day. I only skipped one practice. I didn’t think my coach would find out, but he did, and he practically popped an artery.

The amount of heavy partying you can do is limited. There’s little time, you’re tired, and there’s a workout almost every morning. Every workout counts, and if you show up hung over, or start puking in the gutter, everyone knows. For elite swimmers, there are random drug tests which can take place at the pool or even at home. You don’t have time to watch much TV or blog and tweet on the internet, so you’re “out of it” in social conversations.

You definitely take this job home with you. You take the smell of chlorine everywhere. Your eyes get bloodshot, which makes you look like you’ve been smoking dope. Chlorine makes your skin itch and burn for hours after you exit the pool. Most swimmers, at one time or another, get a painful ear infection called “Swimmer’s Ear.” You get water stuck in your ears all the time, and then your hearing ebbs.

Many jobs are sedentary and physically unchallenging. In swimming, at every practice, twice a day, you inflict as much pain on yourself as you can stand. The whole idea is to make it hurt. You elevate your heart rate and blood pressure. You starve yourself of oxygen. You tax every muscle in your body. Every serious swimmer experiences some level of shoulder pain. Breaststrokers get groin injuries from kicking like frogs.

Some jobs are boring and repetitive. Swimming is drudgery. You stare at a black line on the bottom of the pool and count strokes. Thirty-two strokes per 50 meters. Ten thousand strokes a day. Three and a half million strokes a year. Swimming is relentless. It dominates your thought life in and out of the pool. It affects how you eat, sleep and dream.

Swimming is one of the most popular participation sports in America.

Excerpted from THE UNDERWATER WINDOW © 2012 by Dan Stephenson. Excerpted with permission from the author. All Rights Reserved.


Assets for Dan Stephenson’s THE UNDERWATER WINDOW

Paperback Edition, Watermark, June 2012

E-book Edition, Untreed Reads Publishing, May 2012

Dan Stephenson’s website


THE UNDERWATER WINDOW Description, Cover and Buy Links

About Dan Stephenson – Bio and Photo

A Q&A with Dan Stephenson



“Swimming World TV” Skype interview with Dan or on YouTube at:

The running commentary of my children

“Michael Phelps needs to quit swimming and find a wife, he is too old to be swimming he needs to get a job”

“Is diving safe?”

“They wouldn’t get wedgies in beach volleyball if their bottoms weren’t so small”

“Is swimming EVER going to come on?”

“We would be British if the pilgrims didn’t run away from home”.

“if I go to the Olympics do you think they will spell my name right on the cap?”

“Jumping far into sand is a sport? They should jump past it so they don’t get dirty”.

“Tennis is the best sport, they wear pretty dresses ”

“Is that a real girl?”

“Are you going to watch any of these shows they are previewing?”

“You need to have perfect aim when you run that fast.”

“Why don’t they have a world record line in running? It seems like a waste of money to only use it in swimming,”

“if I go to the Olympics can I get an Olympic tatoo?”