True Grit and Early Sports Specialization: Are They Related?


It takes grit to become an elite-level athlete. Not every athlete has it. And it can’t be developed without internal motivation.

Both of my kids began swimming at a young age. My daughter began swimming with a year-round team at age five, while my son began swimming at age eight. (He’s three years older).

They did do other activities for a few years before they decided to specialize. And that is the key: they decided. My son was running between t-ball, tennis, karate and swimming and felt like he wasn’t making progress in any of them. He got the swimming bug and wanted to compete. So, we dropped the other sports.

My daughter was being shuttled between the ballet studio and the pool. She honestly thought that ballet was some weird form of punishment — especially putting on pink tights and a black leotard in the 110-degree heat — while her brother got to dive into the pool!



I listened to a podcast by Ritter Sports Performance on early sports specialization and the main thing I took away was that an athlete has to be internally motivated. They can’t be putting in the hours and training to please their parents or their coach.  If they have the passion and are hardwired to compete at their sport, then they will reach the elite level regardless when they start.

In swimming, two examples are Rowdy Gaines and Ed Moses, who both started late in high school. They did a lot of other sports before they found the pool. Once they started swimming they excelled and loved it.

So, why do we insist on sports specialization a young age? It’s because some sports like swimming take a lot of time to develop technique. Parents naturally want their kids to have a head start.

Then there’s the 10,000 rule from Outliers: The Story of Success that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be good at something.  But, an interesting theory is that it’s not the quantity, but the quality of practice. You can’t be looking at the clock waiting for practice to be over. You have to be in the moment giving it your all.

There are certain guidelines that kids should do a lot of different activities before they specialize, but that by the time they turn 12 or 13 years old they need to focus on one sport.

I say, follow your kids’ lead. They will know what sport ignites their passion. By allowing them to follow their passion, they can develop the grit it takes to be successful.

What sports are your children in and at what age did they specialize?



When Your First Race is the Boston Marathon!



Brett (right) with her siblings and mom and dad. (From left) Romy, Allie, Christy, mother Cathy, dad Andy, Andrew, Maggie and Buff. 

Brett Simpson, age 24, is running in her first race, the Boston Marathon, on behalf of her father and raising funds for kidney disease research. What a race to start with, right? A graduate of Princeton University and a four-year collegiate athlete, Brett was on the rowing team which won the Ivy League Championship in 2016 and she earned a top academic award from the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association (CRCA). Although she hasn’t entered a race before, she said she’s been running as cross-training for rowing.

A college teammate who lives in Boston gave her the idea about the Boston Marathon. This teammate asked Brett to run and pace her for part of the New York Marathon since Brett lives in New York City. Her teammate from Boston, said, “I don’t know anyone else in NYC.” Brett said her friends from crew are “teammates for life and she’d drop anything in a moment to support them.” Later, her teammate suggested Brett should try the Boston Marathon. Brett explained that although this is a race with qualifying times if you represent a charity it’s possible to enter the race. Of course, since it’s her first race ever, she doesn’t have a time! After she looked through the listed charities the kidney disease research “jumped out at her.” She’s raising money for the Center for Kidney Disease Research at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, which is the Harvard Medical School Teaching Hospital.

I was surprised to learn that you can’t just sign up to represent BIDMC and raise money for them. Brett had to submit an essay and eventually was selected as someone who the hospital would want to represent them. Most of the team members are in Boston and there are two in NYC and in California. Brett said although she hasn’t met her “teammates” in person, they are a “virtual team with a coach that sends the workouts.”

Many collegiate athletes feel a loss after graduation when they no longer have their team to motivate them and be a part of their daily lives. Brett feels inspired by her father who is into athletics and would call her and ask about her running and workouts. Since he experienced kidney failure in July 2016, Brett’s inspiration to workout has come from her dad. She has to run for him.



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Sisters (from left) Maggie, Christy, Buff, Brett, Romy and Allie (seated).

In July 2016, Brett was far away from her dad, mom, and six siblings. She was with her Ivy League championship rowing team in the United Kingdom competing in the oldest rowing race in the world, the Henley Royal Regatta. She likened it to a big social as well as athletic event, similar to our Kentucky Derby. She said it was a unique and great experience, but she was worried about her dad. He’s been in and out of the hospital and on dialysis since.

In addition to academics and athletics, Brett is an accomplished bass player and was a member of the San Francisco Youth Symphony. In college, she couldn’t row and play in the orchestra, so she decided to pursue athletics. With five sisters and one brother who are gifted athletes and musicians, I asked her how they became such accomplished athletes. She said, “Well, we’re a tall crew and then there’s what my dad always told us.”

“My father always said personal fulfillment starts in the body. Discipline and joy come from challenging yourself physically first and then seeking out other challenges in life.”

Brett’s goal is to raise $7,500 for the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center by running the Boston Marathon April 16, 2018. She is looking for any size donations and would greatly appreciate all support. As far as running, her personal goal is to run in a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon in her first race ever.

Here’s a link to her donation page with her story: donate here.

Read more about Brett on the Roster from the Princeton Tigers Rowing page.


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Brett Simpson



When Should Children Specialize In Sports? Part II


This is one of my earlier posts about sports specialization. I still agree with most of this, but I see one factor about earlier sports specialization that isn’t so great–repetitive use injuries. However, I don’t know if a swimmer’s shoulder would still be injured if they started at ages 9 to 11, versus age 5. That’s a tough question to answer.


“Do you ever get tired of trying and coming up short of your goal? You’re just not getting where you want to be and you’ve tried and tried again? For many people the capacity to push through obstacles to get where they want to go demonstrates a strength of character trait groomed and implanted in their early childhood. Changing one’s character later in life happens, but it’s usually difficult.” ***

Two common complaints against specializing in a sport at an early age are: it causes burnout, and there’s no clear advantage to it. (Last week I wrote about isolation and specialization.) 

I disagree with both based on my experience as a swim parent. What I find odd is how many athletes are going to burn out if they are achieving success? If they’re winning races and moving on to the next level, they will feel a sense of accomplishment.

I have a friend who was captain of his golf team at Harvard. He has a zero handicap. I asked him if he ever got bored playing golf.

He said, “I never get tired of hitting great shots.”

There appears to be a clear advantage of specialization in a single sport — at least sports like golf or swimming, where there are specific skills and techniques. If a child is jumping from sport to sport, rather than focusing one sport, that child probably won’t progress much — unless they are truly gifted athletes.


When swimmers hit a plateau and don’t improve for more than a year — which is like multiple years to a person 11 or 12  years old — but they stick with it and eventually break through and improve — the life lessons learned are incredible! Talk about a reward!

Take my daughter who is turning 18 this week. She began swimming at age five. She had lots of improvement until about age 11 when she couldn’t break the one minute mark for the 100 free for more than a year and a half. I’ll never forget her frustration, but she also showed determination. She didn’t quit. She didn’t try another sport for a season here or there. She worked very hard and rarely missed swim practice.  At a Junior Olympic swim meet — she went 57 seconds in the 100 free.

Her coach asked her, “What happened to 59 and 58?”

She said with a smile, “They are highly over-rated!”

The lesson she learned was that with hard work, success will come eventually. In the meantime, perseverance was nothing to sneeze at. She’s still swimming, by the way, and earned a college scholarship.


Regardless when a child starts a sport, they have to love it! They can’t be putting in the hours to please their parents or their coach. Also, when they are very young, it has to be fun. If they aren’t having fun, it’s tough to keep them in the sport.

Building character and strength in our children can be a part of their specialized sports experience!

***The quote is from SWIMSWAM: Jason Lezak & Seeds of Third Effort (worth reading!) by Chuck Warner, coach and author of And Then They Won Gold: Stepping Stones To Swimming Excellence: This article is about Jason Lezak’s difficulties in college swimming and how it prepared him for the most amazing Olympic relay. Ever. 

More valuable info for parents about swimming can be found at USA SWIMMING.


When do you think children should specialize in a single sport? What advantages and disadvantages do you see?


Helicopter Parents’ New Role: College Concierges


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Before college, we hung out at the beach without worry.

In two articles I read today in the Washington Post and MarketWatch brought up helicopter parents continuing their hovering into their kids’ college years and a recently published study was cited:

“The study published this month in the journal Sociology of Education by three social scientists — Laura Hamilton of the University of California at Merced, Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia and Kelly Nielsen of the University of California at San Diego — followed a group of female students (and their parents) from 41 families. The students lived on the same dorm floor at an unnamed prominent Midwest public university (some of Hamilton’s research on this same group of women was featured in her 2013 book with Elizabeth A. Armstrong called ‘Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality’).”

I read about this study in the Washington Post in an article called “Rich parents are serving as ’college concierges’ for their kids — and it’s fueling inequality,” by Jillian Berman. I found the anecdote at the beginning of her article especially interesting because the scenario was achingly familiar. My husband encouraged my daughter to attend an internship informational meeting her sophomore year held by Goldman Sachs. Unlike the kids who attended the meeting in the story, she was booted out, because they wouldn’t allow anyone except juniors and seniors.


“A few years ago, I attended an internship recruitment presentation by Goldman Sachs at the University of Pennsylvania. It was early in the fall semester, but the Wall Street investment bank was already focused on hiring interns for the following summer.

“After the 45-minute presentation ended, I found a small group of students huddled in the back of the ballroom munching on free food. I discovered they were sophomores who weren’t even eligible for the internship but had come to gather intelligence and get a head start for next year. When I asked them who had suggested they come, they all had the same answer: their parents.

“It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. It has been well-documented that the generation of schoolchildren who went to college in the last decade were raised by “helicopter parents” (who helped their children do everything) and “snowplow parents” (who removed all barriers in front of their children). The question was what would happen when they left their childhood home and went to college.

“A new study attempts to answer that question. It shows that hovering parents don’t stop once their kids go off to college, and that’s particularly true for affluent and upper middle-class parents. Such parents continue to help their children in college, the study found, because they “know the potential to make a misstep — and the costs of doing so — may be higher than before.”

Here’s some more info about the study in “Helicopter parents don’t stay at home when the kids go to college — they keep hovering” by Jeffrey J. Selingo from the article on MarketWatch:

“The research isn’t definitive, but it’s backed up by previous studies on the issue. It’s based on interviews with only 41 families of young women who lived on the same floor in a dorm at a major public university in the Midwest. But it helps paint a picture of the different resources available to students as they navigate college life. The study also indicates that the variation in resources affects students’ life post-college.

“Of the affluent families studied, 87% of parents served as what the researchers described as a “college concierge” for their daughters — talking with them regularly, guiding them to certain majors tutors and academic-focused clubs, providing them contacts for internships and jobs, and even helping to manage their admission into sororities.

“In contrast, just 33% of the less-affluent families were heavily involved in their daughters’ college careers, but it made little difference because they didn’t have the resources and connections to necessarily guide their daughters’ successfully. For example, one middle-class family pushed their daughter towards a law school with a shoddy reputation.

“Affluent parents often use their resources to ensure their children have a qualitatively better educational experience at every level,” said Laura Hamilton, a sociology professor at the University of California-Merced and one of the authors of the study. “Parents’ class backgrounds remain really salient for children’s success all the way through their experiences.”

These articles are common sense. Parents who are college graduates know the ins-and-outs having been there themselves. Kids who are the first generation in their family to go to college, of course, won’t get that help from their parents who are unfamiliar with the territory. I know that colleges, nor high schools, go out of their way to help students find tutoring or the right classes. It’s a shame that they don’t, but it’s a reality. It’s a reminder that regardless of socioeconomic status, kids need to be proactive and find out info and follow through for themselves.

Also, it may be a benefit to have parents who ‘concierge’ the way to a better college experience and outcome, but only if kids listen or follow advice! I told my son to see tutors all the time he was in a tough theoretical math major and we offered to pay. He says now he wished he would have listened to us about that–plus on what major he should graduate with. Now that he’s in the workforce and has the 20/20 hindsight, he realizes that mom and dad might have known something after all.

Another thought I have on this study is that yes, we are not all equal. The researchers are looking to universities to promote social equality and outcomes. It benefits a lot in the larger scope of things to have a college degree, but within that world, there are any number of majors, degrees and eventual career paths. Our kids are not all equal. No kidding. We cannot expect our children to have the same outcomes in college due not only to socioeconomic factors and parent involvement, but also interests, aptitude, skills, work ethic, and brain power.

My own two kids, who obviously come from the same two parents and socioeconomic means had two very different experiences in college. One listened to our advice, one did not. One had the comforts and privileges of being a D1 scholarship athlete, one did not. One is more academically inclined, while the other physical. Their experiences were both great, but also completely different.


My college age kids.

What are your thoughts about these two articles and parents of the affluent ‘concierging‘ their kids through a better college experience?


My Son Wrote About His Crazy Mom for a School Project


“I had no idea your life was so difficult and that your mom was so ‘crazy.’ Your senior project made me cry.”

I found these words scrawled in a handmade card to my 18-year-old, valedictorian son, wedged next to the front seat of my car.

I couldn’t breathe. Then I howled. My beautiful first born. The little pee wee with the stocking cap and button nose who stared at me with huge eyes the day he was born. The toddler with white blond curls who called me “Sweetheart.”


This stranger living in my house made his senior project about me? The horrors of living with me? After everything I had done for him? Years filled with volunteering as a room-mom, midnight trips to the ER for his asthma, driving to the Getty for field trips, opening our house for movies nights and spaghetti feeds. Me?

A friend with older kids warned me that the senior year “can be kind of tough.”

No kidding! I never dreamed how hard. I found myself at odds with this person, who used to be my best friend. I alternated between yelling, cajoling and pleading with him to finish college applications, meet countless deadlines and study for exams. No wonder he called me crazy.

The stress of applying for college proved to be filled with potholes, no, make that sinkholes — the kind that swallows entire houses and families. What to declare as a major, where to live, what to write for a personal statement are enough to stress out the calmest kid.

So what else makes applying to college so awful?  Try these numbers on for size:

• More than 3,000,000 high school seniors apply to college in the US — never mind the ones throughout the world trying to get into our top schools!

• The number of students who apply to seven or more colleges has grown from 9% in 1992 to 29% in 2011. 

• Yale’s applications doubled from 2002 to this year, topping 30,000.  Yale accepted roughly 2,000 in 2013.

• Harvard has nearly 35,000 applicants, 2029 admitted in 2013.

• The number of applicants for University of California Santa Barbara in 2013 was 62,413, They had 4,550 in the freshman class last year.

• UCLA is one of the most applied to schools in the country, with nearly 100,000 applicants, and they admit 15,000.

Between December and graduation, my son received eight out of nine college rejections –further making him love me, hate me, turn to me in need, and then reject me again. I could do nothing to help his torment. In the end, he accepted admission to his one school.


Hang in there moms of juniors and seniors. When it seems like there is nothing you can do to help, take a deep breath.  Be there for support and offer advice if they ask for it. Love them, even if they are undeniably rude. Forgive yourself if you lose your temper.

I believe our kids take out their fears and frustrations on those they love most.

I am happy to report that two years later, the stranger living in my son’s skin has disappeared. I have a son who calls me the moment he finishes a final that he knows he’s crushed. He calls to ask how to cook chicken stir fry.  And he calls to say he loves me.

Photos: (top) My son during graduation. (second) a beautiful baby, (above) my son when he was at the age when he thought my name was “Sweetheart,” and (below) a view of my son’s university. Not too shabby, after all.



No Parents Allowed!


This week, while I am recovering from surgery, I am reposting some of my earliest blog posts. Enjoy! I’ll try to make it back to work next week.

I was sitting outside a roped off area with a sign posted “No Parents Allowed” at a three-day swim meet in LA with close to 1,400 swimmers.

“But, I HAVE to get my son this bottle of water,” a mom begged the volunteer parent wearing a neon orange vest, who was in charge of guarding the entrance to the “swimmer’s only” area.

“ARE YOU PROMISING TO GET MY SALLY TO HER EVENT ON TIME? I’M HOLDING YOU ACCOUNTABLE!” another mother yelled with her finger wagging in the face of the orange-vested volunteer. The mom was shaking in frustration and anger.

I sat calmly by — watching, observing, and remembering  —  that was me. Not the yeller, but the one pleading. My daughter is 18 and going off to college next fall. She’s been a swimmer since age five.

Helicopter after helicopter mom argued and pleaded with the volunteers, who are swim parents themselves, on how they’d just be a second to find their child, bring them water, lunch, or make sure they made it to their event.

I wanted to tell them “RELAX!” If their swimmers had made it this far, to the season’s championship meet, they’re going to be okay. Calm down, let them hang out with their friends and teammates. They’ll be fine and will survive. After all, I had just made it through watching my daughter swim the mile. I didn’t get up once and scream, “GO!” which I have done at every flip turn for the past 15 years. If I can calm down and let go — you other moms can too!

And — if they don’t drink enough water, or miss their event — they might actually learn from it.


Here are 10 great things to remember as a parent of children in any sport. It’s from USA Swimming.


I. Thou shall not impose thy ambitions on thy child.

II. Thou shall be supportive no matter what.

III. Thou shall not coach thy child.

IV. Thou shall only have positive things to say at a competition.

V. Thou shall acknowledge thy child’s fears.

VI. Thou shall not criticize the officials.

VII. Thou shall honor thy child’s coach.

VIII. Thou shall be loyal and supportive of thy team.

IX. Thy child shall have goals besides winning.

X. Thou shall not expect thy child to become an Olympian.


More handy tips can be found at USA Swimming’s page for parents.

FYI, the top photo of my daughter’s relay team was taken by a 12-year-old teammate, who obviously can make it to her events, stay hydrated, swim fast, and take great pics! The second photo is my daughter 12 years ago. The last photo was taken from the “parents only” section of the East LA College pool.

Video of my daughter’s 400 free relay from TAKEITLIVETV from Feb. 17.


The High Costs of College

imgres-1My son (yes, the one who tried to give away the cat on Facebook) is in his third year of college. We began his college savings soon after he was born — and our daughter’s too. I asked the grandparents if instead of buying toys and clothing for Christmas and birthdays, could they send a check for their college accounts? One grandparent thought that was a horrific idea and how tacky of me to ask! The others said, “Great! What a good idea!”

When you have small children, you may notice how overboard the gifts get in proportion to the little guys, and how quickly the toys are overlooked, broken, and the clothing outgrown. A contribution to the college account is a present forever. Your child can help select investments as they grow older, track their account’s growth, and participate in the education of preparing for college.

You know your own relatives best and if this idea is an option for you. Of course, we were the major contributors to the college savings, but it’s nice to have help while saving for hundreds of thousands of dollars for an education!


Do you know how much college costs these days? My son is in a public university in California and it’s about $30,000 per year. If he went to a private university, it would be closer to $60,000. I’ve read that a few schools in our state are closer to $75,000 per year. What will it be years from now, when your kids are in school?

Do you know the difference between college savings plans? 529s, UGMA/UMTAs and Coverdells? Which is best for you? As the wife of a financial advisor for 25 years — if you have questions — I advise you to ask a financial advisor for help. They help families prepare for milestones like college planning and retirement.

Here are links to helpful resources.

Comparing College Savings Plans

How Much is a College Education Worth? 

Inflation and College Costs 

College costs through the years