October 30, 2010

Lessons from the Pool Deck

Maria is starting her third season of competitive swimming and we spend a lot of time on the pool deck as a family - she spends even more there on her own.  Sitting at her meet last week I could not help but reflect on some of the unique things swimming has brought to our family and specifically to Maria.

I could not be prouder.  Swimming takes a lot of guts, determination, discipline and hard work.  Like any sport it requires commitment and a ton of practice.  Hours and hours spent staring at the line on the bottom of a pool, swimming lap after lap to improve your technique.  Then standing up on those starting blocks in front of sometimes hundreds of people at meets, putting yourself and your best out there for all to see. It takes courage.

I did not know much about competitive swimming before the Olympics Michael Phelps won 8 gold medals but something led me to watch that part of the Olympics faithfully with the kids and we watched every race he won together, even waiting up late with the kids.  Something turned on inside of Maria who was 9 years old - she said to me "You can swim in competition not just for fun?" and I saw her start a dream.  She was persistent and kept at us until we found a program she could compete in.  We knew nothing of swimming as a sport beyond swim lessons and swimming laps or for fun.  She joined a small team at our local health club that met twice a week and after a few weeks she realized she wanted more so we joined a local swim club and she was content to be swimming 5 days a week and competing on weekends.

Joining the swim club made us realize many of these athletes had moved right from swim lessons and started team swimming at 6 or 7 years old and she seemed far behind the curve and like hockey in Minnesota you wonder if they will ever be able to catch up.  This made me wonder if swimming was long for my daughter who is fairly competitive.  Swimming though is a uniquely individual and team sport (much like track) where they are continually improving against themselves and trying to better their own scores.   Swimming is set up with tiers so they can compete against kids in the same place they are and as they improve move up and compete against kids who are still in the same swim time range as them.  This set up helped keep her motivated and reward her individual successes and allow her to contribute to her team points as well.  She feels small and big victories both for herself and for her squad.

This swimming structure has also helped her set individual goals for herself and work hard to achieve them.  These goals and motivation have brought out amazing discipline and character in our daughter.  I watch her make many different life choices about her nutrition, exercise, sleep patterns and free time. and see her find a healthy balance between school, swimming, friends and general life.  She has developed short term and long term goals for herself and for swimming and is working on a plan to get there.

It is inspiring to me to watch my child go through this process and handle it the way she does.  It is encouraging to see there is definite balance and still being a kid and swimming is not taking over but keeping a healthy place in her life.  It is fun to watch my kids cheer loudly for their sister when she is in the water, even though they know she often can't hear them - it does not stop them.  It shows a commitment from all of us as a family to her when in the Minnesota winter we get up early, brave the cold and drive to spend our day on a pool deck to watch her swim for just a few minutes.  It shows her character when at the last meet she turned to each of us, parents and siblings, and said "Thank you, thanks for doing all of this for me" She was showing her appreciation and understanding that each member of the family is giving up something for her to be where she is doing what she loves.

I know any sport can lead to these sorts of results.  Any child's commitment to a sport often leads to these results and I know I am having a brag on my kid moment :)  That is all part of being a parent, a good healthy part.  Sports, if kept in check, lead to so much benefit in a child's life.  My husband worked for an employer who prefers to hire people who balance a college sport with their studies, believing this shows a lot about the individual's character and discipline and work ethic.  I would not have chosen swimming as a sport, mostly out of ignorance, but I love it for my child and it is clearly a great fit for her.  I hope she continue to swim for many years and that my other kids consider it as an option for themselves.  To all the other swim parents out there - see you on the pool decks or camping in the gym.  To my dear Maria.  I am so very proud of you, swim on.

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