Guest post by Mary Clark, mom to swimmers Elizabeth & Sara
What My Kids Have Learned From Competitive Swimming
Over twelve years of children swimming has created an underlying aroma of chlorine in every house we have lived in. It’s by far the biggest clue that you have swimmers in your family. The greenish-tinged tips of your offspring’s hair are another strong indicator.
We first put our children into swimming when we lived overseas in a more tropical climate. Since they spent most of the year in the pool anyway, we thought they might as well pursue it as a sport. With easy access to pools, warm water and warm air – it was too good to pass up.
Our first instructor was a lovely lady from New Zealand who taught swimming in the luxurious setting of the Shangri la hotel pool. Sitting amongst the palm trees sipping a cappuccino, unashamedly working on our tans; it was as far removed from car pooling on dark winter nights that you could imagine.
Sandra was great fun and very encouraging as our fledgling swimmers took to the water with all the grace and aquatic agility of mini water buffaloes. Never phased by their struggling efforts to stay afloat, arms wind milling frantically in some freaky parody of freestyle, she always kept her sense of humour, smiling good naturedly as one child after another repeatedly drenched her from endless belly flops. We often wondered why on a scorching hot day she was covered head to toe in a wet suit!!! A fantastic teacher, nobody was happier than she was when your child was able to master the semblance of a stroke or blow tiny bubbles underwater.
As our oldest child really started to develop a liking for the sport and actually display a modicum of ability (the bellyflops were less and the lifeguards weren’t on full alert whenever she was in the pool) we enrolled her with a swim squad. Swimming three times a week she started to learn more technique and was swimming longer distances. Best of all she was having fun. A good little group developed and the kids were eager and enthusiastic. Their enthusiasm was well matched by the parents (or at least the mothers) who would never miss the Saturday morning session which was taken by an extremely good looking Australian coach!
Moving to Markham ten years ago, our daughters have been swimming ever since. The older one now swims for a Varsity team and the younger one is at age group level in our local club. What they both have in common is a genuine love of the sport. The day they stop loving it is the day they will probably stop doing it. Yes, we have had tears along the way – both from joy and disappointment – but that’s as much part of growing up as being young athletes. And, yes, that meant the hard lesson of learning that a DQ did not mean they were getting ice cream from Dairy Queen!
Our goal as parents has never been to raise mini-Olympians. How far they can, or want to take it, is up to them. We have, of course, shared their pride and delight in ribbons and medals and breakthrough times, but hope they understand that the real gain has been the values, sportsmanship, opportunities and friendships the sport has brought them. Those last a life time – a race is just a few seconds. Swimming is tough with grueling practices eight or nine times a week plus dryland at higher levels, often at un-Godly hours. It demands self-sacrifice and dedication. How many other kids do you see on the road at 4.30am on their way to a two hour practice in freezing water to swim several kilometers? Being competitive is tough, being strong is tough, taking part is tough but it has given them incredible fitness, amazing opportunities, and fantastic camaraderie. They have confidently travelled to different cities, different time zones and different countries and have learned that swimmers the world over face the same challenges and enjoy the same gains. It has taught them the value of commitment and discipline, good time management, and sustained effort. No mean feat in the instant just-a-thumb-press-away world we live in.
And as parents shouldn’t we be fostering anyway the idea that anything worthwhile rarely comes easily and quickly? In fact, anything that appears effortless usually belies the tremendous amount of work that went into achieving it. Helping our children learn to set goals and work towards them is teaching them great life skills. And success is not a one-size-fits-all commodity. Each child is different and small steps can represent a big achievement. The flip side of success, of course, is disappointment. Learning how to handle that is another important step in preparation for the real world and another valuable lesson our children have learned from the pool deck. As parents we need to have more faith in our children’s abilities and resilience and less credence in the school of political correctness that deems “everyone a winner”. Where’s the meaning and motivation in that?!
If your child loves the water – make a big splash and encourage them to swim! Invest in a pair of goggles and join your local club – even if it doesn’t have palm trees! You won’t regret it. It’s a fantastic sport and one that will last a life-time.