What You Can Learn From An Eleven Year Old Swimmer

Coach
Coach (Photo credit: williamnyk)

My eleven year old daughter is a swimmer. She gives herself this label unapologetically. She doesn’t say, “oh, I swim.” No. She says, “I’m a swimmer.” It doesn’t matter how fast she goes, how many personal best times she hits, or how many first place positions she receives. She is  a swimmer. We don’t have to ask if she’s going to practice. She is. We don’t have to check before entering her into a swim meet. She’s swimming. We don’t have to wonder if she’ll like the funny swim tee we found. She will. She’s a swimmer.

At her meet this weekend she didn’t do so hot. She added times to every single swim; not just a little, but a significant amount of time. She tried to brush it off like it didn’t bother her. Of course it did. Her Dad and I are her biggest cheerleaders. We are at every single swim meet whispering under our breaths, “Come on, baby, come on, baby!” at her every stroke, every turn. We meet with her after every single swim and discuss how she did – good or bad. Her Dad is passionate. In fact, we don’t see eye to eye on the best way to motivate and keep her motivated. He grew up in a competitive household and I didn’t. Naturally we approach things differently. His passion sometimes manifests itself with flailing arms and a loud voice when he’s discussing her swim. He got so frustrated at the meet this weekend that he just stopped. He couldn’t say anything to her. And she cried. She asked me to talk to him. “Mom, he doesn’t even care. He didn’t even discuss my swim, he just asked if I had enough snacks.” I asked her in return, “I thought you got upset when Daddy talked to you like that. I didn’t think you’d want him going over each swim with you. You always get argumentative and insist you did your best.” Her response? “No, I want Daddy to talk about it with me. That’s how I get better. That’s how I know what to work on.” Daddy 1 – Mommy 0.

Her Dad emailed the Coach on Monday following the meet, asking what she needed to work on since she had posted some less than stellar times. (Side note – she cut some SERIOUS time on her previous two meets. I’m talking kick-ass, hell yeah that’s my baby! time.) The Coach responded with, “she’s doing fine”. Fine? But, she added time! The Coach went on to explain that if she focuses on technique, improved times always follows. The important thing is that she enjoys it and perfects her technique. She needs to focus on the “how” and the improvement will follow. And the most important thing of all is that she continues to enjoy her sport because she will not improve at a sport she resents.

I learn a lot from my kids. I’d be missing out on a major opportunity if I didn’t. Here are the lessons to be learned from this:

  • Own it. You are an athlete. If you run, you’re a runner. If you swim, you’re a swimmer. Own it. You don’t need an Olympic medal to be proud of what you do. It doesn’t matter if everyone around you is better. You just have to show up and claim it. Mindset is half the battle.
  • Find what works for you regardless of outside pressure. I thought her Dad’s style was too rough. I didn’t grow up playing sports. Not that I’m of the “oh, everybody’s a winner” mentality. Far from it. I think I’m somewhere in the middle. But, his style worked for her. She craved the feedback and apparently the way it was delivered even if it made me cringe. It pushed her. It made her want to be better. It helped her focus and she loved it. My hugs and high fives were only part of what she needed after each swim. She also needed a kick in the ass. She craved it and when she didn’t get it, she was upset. This is the feedback that worked for her and she knew that enough to insist on it. INSIST on using what works for you even if no one else can understand why.
  • Doing things the right way consistently is more important that being the best. You cannot improve if you don’t focus on doing things the right way. If she focused on having good times every single time she swam, she’d give up. Who wouldn’t? Does she get excited when she posts a good time? Hell YES! She worked for that shit. She practiced and practiced. She took the time to improve every stroke. She paid attention to the details. So WHAT if you can’t run as fast as your friend? So what if everyone around you has already run a half marathon, lost 100 pounds, or (seems to) eat perfect all the time. Do YOU, baby! Focus on the tedious, the technique, the little stuff. Show up. Every damn day. The successes will come. They always do when you put in the work.
  • P.S. If you tell my daughter I’ve learned anything from her OR tell my husband that he was right, I’ll have to delete this post and any supporting evidence. So, let’s just keep this between us, kay?
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