Redemption swims. Times two.

Both Sarah and Sophie are looking for redemption next weekend.  We had to go to the coaches not once BUT twice asking for special favors.

Because Sarah turns 13 in a few weeks her coaches had told her no more 50’s (other than free) – she needs to focus on the longer races.  At the last meet she swam her final 50 breast.  She did awesome and got a fantastic time in it.  She missed the AAAA cut by a few tenths.  She actually did much better than she expected and instead of being content she decided she wanted to go for that cut.  She decided to negotiate with her coach, she told him she would swim 200 fly and 400 IM at the meet in November IF he would allow her to swim the 50 breast.  She presented a logical explanation, that she really wanted to try for the quad A and that she realized that it wouldn’t change anything if she got it but that she really wanted to take a shot at it.  Because she was willing to swim two races that would be very challenging for her in exchange for the opportunity, he allowed her to sign up for it.  She must have presented her case well, he also took her out of 200 fly because 50 breast was immediately following the fly and he wanted her to be physically and mentally ready to go!  In, other words, he set her up to succeed.

Sophie was not signed up for 100 fly, her signature event, at the next meet.  She swam it a few weeks ago at the NAG’s meet and was pretty pumped about the race.  Her goal was to drop 3 seconds in the race.  Instead she dropped her goggles on the dive, and swam her seed time.  She was embarrassed and upset.  She also was not signed up for this race at the November meet because she swims it so often.  I offered Starbucks to cheer her up but while at Starbucks she begged me to email her coach asking him if she could drop something and be added to 100 fly.  I told her no but she was relentless so I finally agreed to ask the coach.  He agreed to let her, said it was fine – she could improve her seed for the December champs meet.

I was “that mom” twice this month.  I’m really not apologetic either.  Swimming is and individual sport that is completely goal driven.  Sarah is going into this meet knowing this is her last shot and if she gets her goal it will get her nothing in life or swimming other than the accomplishment itself.  If she misses she walks away knowing she gave it her all.  Sophie was pissed at herself for losing her goggles and wants a chance to execute a perfect race.  I can’t help them accomplish either of these goals, at this point it is all on them.  Neither are nervous or worried about this weekends meet.  They are prepared to do their best and whatever happens – happens.

The meet is at a slow pool.  I really don’t like it when kids show up for non-championship meets in kneeskins.  My girls do where the speedo fastskins for meets but it has become the norm around here to where a kneeskin for regular non-qualifying meets.  I liken it to where a prom dress to school.  Every day.  It just isn’t necessary.  My kids approach every meet as it is important as the next but I also believe in dressing the part.  Sarah asked to wear her kneeskin for the 50 breast.  I told her it was fine so long as she changed after the race.  Go ahead judge me.  I can take it.  It won’t be the first time.  And I can promise you it won’t be the last.

The Grand Canyon

We visited The Grand Canyon a few years ago.  It was absolutely magnificent.  We arrived at night, there was a full moon over the canyon and it was breathtaking.  The kids were young at the time.  They looked at the canyon, looked at me and said “does our hotel have a pool?”  Just another moment where I thought to myself “I can’t wait until you girls have kids!:”

At the time I couldn’t connect The Grand Canyon to a pool,  My perspective has shifted.

We often hear about plateaus in swimming.  Parents of younger children find it impossible to believe that it can happen to their own child.  Some nod their head, pretending that they understand.  Some will politely disagree.  Others are downright arrogant in their denial.  But in the end, for the vast majority of swimmers it is just that – denial – because it is going to happen.

The first several years of swimming it is just like being at The Grand Canyon.  It’s absolutely beautiful at the top  – it is also beauty in the pool.  No one wants to get too close to the edge so kids look down from afar – in the pool time drops are huge and all but guaranteed .  As they get older they become curious about what is down there.  They start to get closer and closer to the edge, daring themselves to look down – same thing happens in the pool, time drops continue but the increments get smaller.  And then you reach a certain age and it is like running to the edge and jumping  to the bottom of the canyon.  Only to look up and have a voice say “I will see you at the top”.  And in a hushed tone “good luck”.

I, like all other parents thought Grace would drop time forever.  I thought people were crazy when they insisted this wasn’t the case.  I’ll go so far as to say I thought kids who added time at 14 and 15 just weren’t working that hard.  Or their heads weren’t in the game.  It had to be something they were doing.  And we were doing every thing right.  So it wouldn’t happen to us.

I just looked back on many of my posts from a year ago this time.  Grace’s toes were literally curled around the edge of the canyon.  She came out of the Holiday Champs meets with great times, dangerously close to sectionals cuts.  I was certain it would happen the next meet.  Or the one right after that.  And when it didn’t happen I chalked it up to the training program.  It would have to wait until Spring Champs, when she was tapered.  It’s easy to guess what happened.  She didn’t drop time then either.  Maybe the taper didn’t work.  Perhaps the $400 suit I bought her was too big.  Or cursed.  Maybe she didn’t practice enough.  And so she moved up a group.  It didn’t matter, I told myself.  She is a better long course swimmer than short.  This summer would be her time to shine.  Yeah, no…not then either.  We were running out of excuses.  She wasn’t happy with the group she was with and we changed teams.

At this point pessimism was on my side.  I knew she wouldn’t get those sectional cuts at the first meet.  She had too much change over the last year and it was going to take some time.  She also had some technical issues that need ironed out.  Again, more excuses with no magic solution.

The truth of the matter, she hasn’t dropped time but for a few races here and there in over a year.  And while it totally sucks it is also the norm.  It gets easier over time.

As a parent, I spent a lot of time at the bottom of the canyon.  I cried, I made excuses, drank wine, cried more, consulted with friends, coaches and friends who are coaches.  I read, researched and cried some more.  And in the end, I still don’t have any answers.  I don’t know how this happens, how to make it better, how to prevent it and most importantly how to make it go away.  It’s really hard.  No joke, it just sucks.

Grace had a rough year.  She cried.  Wanted to quit.  Got pissed.  Hated me for making her do it.  Changed teams.  And then she became happy again.

The single most important thing that keeps her going is that she is happy.  She likes being a swimmer.  I think the kids talk a lot more than the parents about these plateaus because she is okay with it.  She would love to drop time in a few key races.  I pray to the swim gods nightly about it.  But she doesn’t dwell on it.  She works hard in practice, loves her coach and has great friends – she has climbed about half way back up the canyon at this point.  I am getting better too.  I watch her swim now with a sense of calm that I haven’t had in a long time.  I left the last meet smiling and happy.  And so did Grace.  I’m slowly becoming optimistic.

I’m asked from time to time for advice on how to deal with it.  I really wish I had an answer because I have to go through this two more times.  I can’t pend the next years stressed like I spent the last year.  I can tell you what worked.  Talking to Grace when she wanted to talk.  Not talking to her when she didn’t.  Giving her the freedom to quit if she wanted to, all the while hoping she wouldn’t.  I quit harping on results in races or goal times.  And I became a professional timer so as to avoid the annoying chatter of well meaning parents.  My other two kids are doing really well and I did insist that Grace act happy for them.  This became a non-negotiable.  Changing teams made Grace happy.  Ask me in 6 months if it made her a better swimmer.

The one bit of advice I would give to parents with younger kids?  Don’t believe your child is special and immune from these plateaus.  There are a few swimmers Sarah’s age (13) who have their toes curled around the edge of the canyon but their parents (and the swimmers) are certain they are going to the Olympics.  They very well may but only if they can survive the coming years.  I have seen some pretty arrogant swimmers fall hard.  They are usually the ones who don’t get up.

Only time will tell what will happen to any of my girls in the sport of swimming.  I would kill for a crystal ball but for now all I have to go on are my special prayers to the swim gods.  Parents, make sure your kids are happy.  It is the single thing that has gotten us through thus far.  I also decided to breathe.  This is one of those times we are reminded “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.

If you have seen an actual plateau, they are beautiful.  Just like The Grand Canyon.  It’s hard to find the beauty in swimming.  But it’s there.  We just have to look a little harder for it.

Grace has a meet this weekend.  And I’m just going to breathe.

(Sophie at three decided to throw a tantrum at the Grand Canyon- like all good three year olds do).

sophie gc

The Plateau

I really love readers comments, I have talked about this before but it is really hard to have an authentic conversation on the pool deck.  Parents tend to act like everything is sunshine and roses all the time.   It isn’t.  I’m a pretty open book, in real life and online.  The more I open up, the more I find people around me do too.  One reader dug up and old post of mine:

 Trials and Finals

Her comment prompted me to go back and reread the original post along with several others I wrote around that same time.  I had a rush of thoughts and emotions.  I like to reply right away but I also felt that this deserved a little more attention than a line or two.  Her comments are below and my thoughts are flowing.  I’ll follow this up shortly.

I stumbled upon your blog while looking for guidance on what to do when your child (who has been struggling with swimming confidence issues) hits a plateau this season. It’s been a huge challenge coming from being one of the top swimmers to not improving times (in some events it’s been over a year) even after 4 meets so far this season. She cries after she sees her times and I don’t know what to do other than tell her to just keep trying. This has been even more disheartening knowing that she practices hard every night. She now has this mental challenge that she can’t do it when she gets to the meet. We have been working with the coaches to help her through this, but what a struggle this has been. I’ve asked if she wants a new sport? A break from swimming period? New team? She replies no to everything. If anyone has advice on what to do to get my 13 year old through this I would greatly appreciate it.
I love this blog- everything you write is absolutely the truth and the life us swim moms (and dads) endure.

Short list of things I need

1. More money. How can a sport that has little to no equipment cost so much? In addition to cash I’ll take hotel points, gas money and chipotle gift cards.

2. Three knee skins. Preferably the $400 ones. They all need one. I can’t type need in the right voice but you understand the need I’m talking about. And they ain’t lying. Everyone has one. Even 9 year olds that aren’t legal in freestyle. Sophie has decided she wants one and Grace and Sarah need new ones.

3: A crystal ball. I can’t ever turn my brain off. I constantly find myself concerned that I’m not doing the right thing. Or enough. Or too much. A crystal ball would sure help. That or a glass of wine.

4. An oil change. I’m a little past that number on the sticker. As a matter of fact we all know they lie and we can squeeze an extra 2k miles out of it. That being said – I need an oil change. Can we add two hours to the day tomorrow? That’s the only thing stopping me. The gas tank is also on empty. Always.

5. A nap. I could probably squeeze that in during the oil change. I won’t be too greedy. I need a shower too so I suspect no one would sit too close. The snoring shouldn’t be too annoying.

6. A proper meal. (Enough said).

7. Super glue. I seriously can’t deal with the heartbreak every time Sophie gets to a big meet, dives in and loses her goggles. I thought she was a rock star swimming her seed in 100 fly without goggles. I had to belly up to the bar at Starbucks to stop her waterworks. Double capping hurts her head. Watching her do this hurts my brain. She said she’ll do it if I buy her a knee skin. The two tone $400 model.

Did I mention money? Sponsorship? Jar of change?

It’s a family affair

This weekend is the annual National Age Group Team Challenge (NAGS) meet hosted by RMSC. This meet gathers the top 3 swimmers in events by AGE (not age group) for the top swim clubs in the area. They compete for the title of top team. This meet has been held the weekend of Grace’s birthday and as such has become her favorite meet as it is her last meet at any given age. Kids compete up to the age of 14. Unfortunately this year the calendar was not in her favor. She aged up a few days before the start of the meet. Aged up and aged out. Last year was her final year (13). Fourteen would never happen. She was slightly disappointed. Because it’s a fun meet to visit friends from all over. Friends from summer league, age group champs and zones.

Sophie made the meet in 100 fly as a 9 year old. This year she made 100 fly 200 IM and two relays. Sarah did not make the meet in years past and missed 100 breast by .1. She was fortunate though and made a relay. In other words she will get a bag tag and a t-shirt. Sad but true fact, that matters!

Because the relays are all in one session, Sarah and Sophie will both be swimming this afternoon. Sophie’s individual events are tomorrow.

Chris and I enjoy timing together at meets. We signed up to time relays. Grace signed up to collect timer sheets. This gives her on deck access, she can visit friends and be part of the action.

Since this is a scored meet team vs team I’ll be pulling for RMSC. My two swimmers both swim for RMSC. Grace likely will be cheering for her NCAP teammates. And her sisters. Maybe even some of her old teammates. I would love to say “may the best team win”. But the best team has become a relative term to me. Depends on which one of my relatives you are talking about.

I’m wearing pink. No alliances. Swim fast Sarah and Sophie. (And watch out for Grace she will totally “borrow” your t-shirts!)

One of the more notable differences

Having my girls split on two different swim teams, I keep waiting for that ah-ha moment – that one thing that I can say is totally different and unique.

I think I found it. It’s a tradition at RMSC that on your birthday parents bring donuts for the entire group to help celebrate. NCAP doesn’t do that. They bring cupcakes.

Today Grace celebrates her 15th birthday. This has been a year of transition for her – she started high school and changed swim teams at the same time. She is handling the changes well. I’m having a harder time.

I suddenly know what people mean when they tell you to enjoy every moment. Their childhood really does go in the blink of an eye. She is already talking about colleges and I find myself really upset by how quickly my oldest baby is growing up. She is a remarkable young lady and We are extremely proud of her. She is really happy and enjoys life to the fullest. I shouldn’t worry, she is going to do just fine in life.

I’m going to stop looking for that ah-ha moment. In the end, it’s just kids swimming anywhere you go. What is important is that they are happy. The moments, they go too quickly.

Next meet she will swim as a 15-18. I’m learning quickly that it’s a rough age group. Time drops stall for a while. I’m thinking of starting a support group. And when Sarah and Sophie get a little older perhaps an I told ya so group. No one believes it until it happens.

I’m holding out hope that if they are happy, the rest will come. I love you Gracieboo.

Official-ly Delusional

Love this!

No, Strike That

I have three kids who swim competitively year round. My own swimming career can best be summed up as “hanging out at the neighborhood pool with my best friends Acne and Helmet Hair”. I can’t do all of the strokes. All of my children, even the 3 year old, can beat me across the length of the pool. I intend to do something about that at some point, but that point is not today.

I spend a lot of time at the various pools in our town,  both indoor and outdoor, usually in a deck chair surfing Reddit while someone else coaches my kids.  I know I’m lucky– my Facebook feed is full of my friends juggling 2-3 kids and 3-5 sports–  all I can say is “there but for the Grace of God go I.” We had a brief flirtation with soccer, but fortunately that’s behind us and I can get…

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The swim race to everywhere…

I love social media.  I have always been active on facebook.  It’s a great way to keep up with friends and family, near and far.  It’s a great way to share photos and little snippets in to each others lives.  It has also become a great source for sharing opinion pieces.  I’m a very opinionated person myself, I’ll be the first to admit it.  But I’m also cautious with sharing it.  Especially through the use of “articles”.

Facebook has become a constant stream of sharing “articles”.  Because of this I think we have lost sight as to the difference between fact and opinion.  A recent article blowing up my media feed is about kids and sports from the Changing the Game website.  It’s a great website, as parents of children athletes we should constantly be questioning the choices we make for our kids.  Getting a lot of press is a recent post The Race to Nowhere in Youth Sports.

This piece is about kids who specialize in a sport – parents, coaches and kids are all forcing kids to specialize at an early age.  And according to this, we are ruining our children.  The article uses words like fear, this system sucks, guilt, cheating, wise up, take a stand…and guilt, guilt, guilt..

I’ll be honest with you.  I have no guilt.  My kids swim.  Every now and then they dabble in an intermural sport at the school but they swim.  Year round.  Competitive swimmers take a total of about 4 weeks a year off.  It’s a year round sport.  There are others, gymnastics, dance, figure skating and golf to name a few.  While this article doesn’t address sports that are considered year round specifically, it certainly doesn’t give them any recognition either.

My first reaction to this article was to defend the choices made by parents and children who do specialize in one sport at an early age.  Who focus on the sport as a year round endeavor.  I made a mental list of the positive aspects or this, the life lessons learned.  Or to be learned.  By the time I sat down to write about it though it didn’t seem important.  I’m tired of being judged.  And that is what all of these articles are starting to feel like to me.  Judgment.  I not only think but I OVERTHINK every single thing I do for my kids.  And you know what?  They are perfectly fine.

The greatest thing about swimming is that it isn’t a Race to Nowhere.  It’s just a race.

I know that all the things left unsaid in this post resonate with my fellow swim families.  We all seem to have the same quiet opinion.




It’s nice to be home

Pulling up to the pool for Grace’s first meet with her new team, I was overcome with a wave of emotion. I felt a little out of place, I don’t know many of the parents in her group. I do know a handful of parents from other sites but many of them weren’t at this particular meet. NCAP pulls kids from all over Maryland and Virginia, I’m not sure I will ever know too many people. RMSC is a large team but all of the kids come from Montgomery County. Having three kids in the program for many years I know (or at the very least have seen) every one at the meets. These are the same people we swim against in the summer, go to school with, see at the gym or grocery store. I’m a very social person by nature and I was definitely outside my comfort zone. I opted to time during the first session to pass the time. I wasn’t sure how Grace would react to her first meet with the new team.

She was fine. I dropped her off at the door and got a quick wave goodbye.

I parked and drank my coffee. The meet was at a pool we swam at many years ago. Grace and Sarah were just getting started in swimming and swam for a very small club. I always park in the same place at this pool. It’s a lot that is on a slight hill just above a door that grants direct pool access. Being a meet day, the door was propped wide open. Just beyond the door was the area where her old team sat.

Grace always referred to her little group as the children under the stairwell. There were never more than 15 or so kids from this club at a meet session. They certainly didn’t get choice seating. I suspect a rat or two made its way through base camp. The team was so small that they rarely had enough kids to field a 4 man relay. After a year, Grace made the decision she needed something more social. That was what led us to RMSC. It’s also what led her away this year.

I couldn’t help but remember our humble beginnings with swim. I especially had no idea what we were doing. One thing that Grace always knew – she wanted bags tags, tie dyed championship t-shirts, zones jackets, to make finals and to swim in an A relay. And to have friends. She did all of that and more.

As I walked into the meet I remembered why Grace swims. Because she loves it. It wasn’t her best meet. It also wasn’t her worst. But she had fun. And she smiled. Her swim bag zippers are covered in bag tags. She has accomplished a lot and grown into a woman in all her years of swimming. But at this meet I saw her as my ten year old baby who swam at that pool all those years ago.

The funny thing is, I always hated that pool. And I found myself walking in with a smile. Maybe it is because I don’t know anyone. It was kind of fun to sit alone. In silence. And in thought. It felt like home. For Grace.