What’s the Big Difference Between College and Age Group Champs?

img_6591

Teammates and coaches cheering my daughter on during the mile.

I enjoyed talking with one of my children’s former coaches this morning about championship meets. My question was what can parents do — or not do — to help their kids at the big meets. Coach Tim Hill, now of the SHARKS Swim Club in the Houston area, asked me what it was like at the PAC 12 championship meets sitting in the stands, compared to the big meets during our club years. He’s clever that way to get me to think about it myself rather than telling me the answers.

The big difference was rooting as a team with the other parents at the college championships. The scoreboard has our teams listed in order of points and you can’t avoid it. We were competitive not with the top teams on the scoreboard, but the ones right above and below us. The parents of each college dress up in school colors, have props like light-up necklaces and pompoms and create team cheers. We’d have a pre-finals function with drinks and snacks in the hotel lobby. When our kids walked through the lobby to get on their buses or vans, we’d perform our team cheer and make a tunnel for them to go through. It was fun and filled with laughter embarrassing the heck out of our kids.

We cheered for each other’s kids, felt disappointment when someone didn’t have a good swim together as a team. Up in the stands, we watched our kids cheer for each other, on their feet on deck or at the blocks, rooting and caring sincerely how their teammates swam. Yes, we wanted our kids to get best times and make it to A finals, but there was less focus on that than being part of a team.

Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 11.19.43 AM

With my fellow swim moms at the PAC 12 Championships.

At USA Swimming meets, the focus was on individual swims and the team score wasn’t as important or often didn’t exist. We definitely cheered for each other’s kids, but it wasn’t as intensely a team experience as the college meets. The focus was on our own children. We wanted them to get personal bests, improve and get that cut.

At age group meets, Tim explained that parents have a lot of expectations because they’ve got “blood and money” invested. “It’s your baby and your money.” Often meets are away and you’re paying for hotels, plus the suits and entry fees. It adds up, not to mention the family’s time commitment, and if our children aren’t improving, we want to know why.

Tim also explained that swimming is a lot like real life and there are a lot of variables. The stock market doesn’t go straight up, for example. We aren’t 100% every day in our jobs or relationships — and our children aren’t going to get best times at every meet. Our children may be tired from homework, not feeling well or not on their game. He discovered that Tuesday afternoon duel meets for high school, kids may swim better than at USA meets on a weekend. They’re fresher for one thing. By the weekend, the kids may be tired after a week of school, practices and homework. Also, it’s a race with winners and losers. There’s immediate feedback. They may go to a USA meet and be seeded 80th and wonder if they even want to swim because they know they don’t have a shot at finals.

Parents need to be supportive and not start questioning in the stands if the taper was right, if another kid is getting more attention from the coach or why their child isn’t improving. If we are questioning the coach in front of our kids, they will start to lose confidence. So much of swimming is feeling confident, Tim said.  If we focus too much on performance and don’t realize it’s a process with ups and downs, we may put too much pressure on our kids. When the meet is over and we still have questions about “why” then go directly to the source. Ask the coach questions at the right time.

Tim mentioned that there’s a lot more opportunity for kids to improve during daily practice than at a monthly meet. When asked by a swimmer if Tim thought he could break 50 seconds in the 100 free, Tim asked him, “What have you been doing in practice to get there?”

12768251_10209127311323711_1087820356060339429_o

Cheering for teammates.

What differences do you see between college and age group meets?

 

 

Humility: Is It Overlooked in Athletics?

kat group

My daughter with teammates.

Yesterday I wrote an article about the amazing role models our children have in the world of swimming for SwimSwam.com. I was pointing out three greats as examples: Michael Phelps, Kaitlin Sandeno and Ryan Lochte. Yes, Ryan Lochte.

For non swimming fans, Lochte did something amazing this past week. His suspension ended a few days ago and he won a gold medal at the US Nationals in Stanford on Sunday. He turned 35 years old the day before. He was racing kids who were 17 and 19 years old! And he won decidedly. Talk about a role model. He didn’t give up despite really screwing up and blowing it at Rio and beyond. Instead he got his life back on track and trained. He got married, has two beautiful babies and entered rehab. He showed a sense of humility and gratitude after winning the gold medal that quite frankly was missing in his youth. Here’s the video of him winning the 200 IM.

As far as Michael Phelps, I was honored to hear him speak a few years ago. He told a story of his bouts with depression and substance abuse and said at one time he no longer wanted to live. He’s refocused his life and is making a difference in the charities he volunteers for as well as being a father and husband.

I am reading “Golden Glow: How Katilin Sandeno Achieved Gold in the Pool and in Life” and she is truly inspirational as well. She was a 17-year-old phenom who earned a spot on the Olympic Team in 2000 and 2004. Through her stellar career, she faced many hardships including undiagnosed asthma, a fractured back, shoulder issues and weight gain in college. Through it all she was humble, inspiring and a joy to be around. I highly recommend the book for parents and kids! For many years, she’s dedicated time as spokesperson for the Jessie Rees Foundation, named in honor of Jessie who died from inoperable brain tumors. Sandeno visits hospitals and connects with kids fighting cancer and brings them “Joy Jars.”

What incredible role models these three are, and they all show humility. Of course there are many more in the world of swimming, too.

I found an article called “Humility in Sports–Why Does It Matter?” by Malcom Shaw, a soccer player. He has some good stuff in his article. I feel like humility doesn’t get as much attention as other traits of successful athletes like talent or hard work. Yet, it’s just as important. Here’s an excerpt:

Humility is one of the most respectable and admirable traits that an athlete can possess. The prime essence of a humble athlete is the act of selflessness and modesty which transcends to the world. Oftentimes in the realm of sports we witness many accounts of prideful behavior, whether it be on or off the playing field. Being a competitive athlete myself, I’ve watched and observed professional athletes of the highest caliber. As much as I would gravitate to their individual skills and talents, I would even more so be observant of their character and demeanor.

When athletes talk about humility and comprehensively act on it (Principle 2), they set a precedent for fostering good character.

Below are a few ways humility is exemplified and embodied in an athlete. 

Modesty

A modest athlete is one who handles character gracefully on and off the field. An individual who doesn’t excessively floss their achievements goes far in character cultivation. When they are in the spotlight, they carry themselves in a way that draws limited attention (even when there is). Modesty in a successful athlete is a trait noticed and respected by many.

Leads by example

Leading by example can come in many forms. Whether on or off the field, leadership is noticed everywhere. Being the hardest and most consistent worker, or being the only one to help clean up equipment after practice are all ways leadership is exemplified . Leadership in the world of sports is not prideful, but it looks to inspire and better others.

Lifts those around them

Athletes who embody humility take responsibility for their actions, especially when things don’t go well. In a team sport setting, there are usually situations where blame shifting occurs. Examples of blame shifting can be things such as, “We lost because of you” or “Your mistake costed us the game.” In situations like these it takes someone with humility to diffuse the problem by sharing some of the responsibility. 

27907758_939158119573690_7080556231720303254_o

Team cheer on the college swim team.

What are your thoughts about humility in today’s society?

How do varsity swimmers in Covina make a difference?

52698780_2116112325347011_7059181691922808832_n.jpg

Northview High School Swimmers at morning practice.

I was so inspired when I heard about a program at a Southern California high school in Covina where the varsity swim team reaches out to the elementary schools to teach swimming. With drowning the number two cause of accidental death in the United States, these kids are literally saving lives.

The school, Northview High School, is not a wealthy one. In fact, 74 percent of the students are “economically disadvantaged” and 92 percent are non-white. They’ve been fundraising for parkas for their swim team and quite frankly, they aren’t able to raise $100 per parka for the 60 swimmers on the team. Yet, they should be commended for being part of a program that teaches kids in nine elementary schools to swim at no cost to the parents.

Swim Parkas are worn before and after the swimmers are in the water to keep them warm. They are a standard part of any swimmers gear.

53111238_243746916578616_8370506572568199168_n

Varsity swimmer teaching elementary kids to swim.

According to Co-Head Coach Christine Maki, the student athletes teach swimming three days a week, plus maintain high GPAs to stay on the high school swim team.

“Each school gets approximately 12 free swimming lessons per student in a four-week period. Parents are notified when their school is up for lessons and they can register at the Northview pool.” Maki said. “When they bring their little swimmers on the start date, the children are matched up with a varsity swimmer that will teach them for those 12 lessons.”

52740102_2161634647484191_8625565670752387072_n

Northview Viking student athlete with elementary student.

“We are looking to purchase high quality and long-lasting parkas,” Maki said. “Each parka’s price ranges between $100 and $125. Please help me to help the team receive a legacy team uniform for this year’s team and future team members. We need to raise between $6,000 to $7,500 to purchase these parkas, this year.”

They have a “Reaching Our Goal” crowdsourcing campaign to raise funds for parkas for their 60 swimmers. If you’d like to contribute, please follow their link here.

52708558_633686130418275_5104371642620968960_n

Coach Mike Gatreau coaching weight training with the varsity team.

The Northview Vikings Swim Team is coached by Mike Gatreau, who developed the learn to swim program for the Covina-Valley Unified School District. Gatreau is also head coach of the Covina Aquatics Association. Maki is an age group coach for CAA and is head coach of the Competitive Tri-Swim Masters. Assistant Coach for Northview Vikings is Brianna Merritt. Northview Vikings swim in the D3, Valley Vista League.

 

Two Teens KickStart “Wotter”–A Girls’ Swim Parka

 

image1 (1)

  Becca and Niki, swim entrepreneurs

If you’re not a swimmer or a swim parent, you may not know about the swim parka. It’s a big, warm comfy thing that swimmers wear when it’s cold outside. In the swimming world, swimmers wear parkas to meets and practice so that when they jump out of the pool they can be covered up from head to ankle.

I spoke with two high school girls, Niki and Becca who entered a school entrepreneurial competition and won $250 with their girl’s empowerment parka. The idea behind the parka is that it’s more fashionable than the current unisex parka, it’s lightweight and has special details that girls will like. Here’s a photo:WotterSwimParka

 

The girls were smart, articulate and have a KickStarter campaign to get their project off the ground. They attend a private school in North Carolina called the Cary Academy and swim for the school’s team. I was very impressed with both girls and how far they’ve taken this project. To date, they have raised close to $12,000 and have endorsements from three Olympic swimmers, Kara Lynn Joyce, Annamay Pierse and JR DeSouza.

The name of their company is Wotter, based on the sleek and fast otter, plus water. Nicki’s mom is CEO of their company and they thanked her for all her hard work. Her background is in marketing, and she’s been instrumental in getting a prototype developed and getting the word out through newspapers, blogs and TV.

On their KickStarter page, you’ll find their motto: “Designed BY girl swimmers FOR girl swimmers Wotter Girl’s Swim Parka is a cloak of confidence and comfort for the female swim athlete.”

“We set out to create Wotter to empower girls like us (and you!) to stay in swimming AND to raise awareness that more female swim coaches are needed to create strong role models for young girls. Hopefully, we will also inspire more girl entrepreneurs to make their ideas a reality – creating this company and going through the KickStarter process has been an AMAZING experience for both of us!”

I hope they succeed, but I do have a couple questions after talking to several D1 scholarship swimmers about the girl empowerment parka. First, swim parkas are a small niche market and no one I talked with had a problem with the existing parkas. Then, by targeting only women, the parka market is sliced in half.

10400458_1163243325061_5149557_n

My daughter and friends in their team parkas.

 

According to Becca and Niki, their parka has the following features:

“We added things that the current models don’t have:

  • Oversized hood for ponies and top knots
  • Big zipper pulls easier for smaller, wet hands to grab
  • Less bulk, easier to wear
  • A wrap and snap feature to make it easy to put into a swimbag
  • Feminine lines and styling
  • Lots of other considerations, like secret pockets for iphones and headphones, big, deep pockets to warm your hands, venting and breathable fabrics…”Parka

Niki and Becca mentioned Jolyn to me and how that swimsuit company took off and became literally an overnight success. The difference I see with Jolyn, is that it solved a problem, namely it’s a So Cal company and it addressed the need to have a suit that stayed on in ocean waves. Traditional bikinis have bottoms or tops that can come off, and the crotch fills up with sand. Jolyn came up with a product that was attractive, comfortable and secure. Also, in Southern California, most pools are outside and swimmers practice in one piece suits. They are embarrassed about their suit tans and “white tummies” when they put on a bikini and head to the beach. Jolyn suits are worn at practice so swimmers can tan at practice.

Here’s the Jolyn motto:

WHO WE ARE

At Jolyn we specialize in making good lookin’ athletic gear for the things we like to do. We like the water, we like being active, and we like having fun! Each and every product we create is brought to life with those ideas at their core. Oh and one more big one… We make stuff for the women who inspire us.

Whether you’re an Olympian or an Olympic caliber sunbather, our stuff is the stuff for you.

The Wotter parka is attractive and I especially like that it is lighter weight and can fit into a swim bag. I don’t know what coaches will think about the parka, though. Most parkas are purchased in team colors with the team’s name displayed. It’s a one-time, more than $100 purchase, which lasts literally forever. We still have the swim parkas my kids wore when they were in elementary school and now I wear them to practice. My kids never outgrew them and now my daughter wears her college-provided parka. Will parents buy an optional parka for their girls, because they’re cute? I think they will if their daughters want them enough and they become popular. I also see adult women wanting the parkas because of the style. They wouldn’t be restricted with team colors or a coach telling them what to wear. Niki and Becca said the parka is the first product they’re introducing and they hope to add more athletic wear targeted to girls.

Swim ParkaGood luck to Nicki and Becca! It will be fun to track their progress and see how far Wotter goes.

What’s your opinion of swim parkas designed by girls for girls?

“I Don’t Have a Life!” and other Swimmer Problems

My daughter racing, a few years ago.

My daughter racing, a few years ago.

One of the reasons why swimming gets so difficult as kids get older, is they want to have a life. A life outside the pool, that is.

There were so many conflicts for both of my kids with swimming when they were in high school. I longed for the earlier years when there were fewer demands on their schedules.

Having a heavy AP class load and getting up before 5 a.m. for practice wasn’t easy. My son eventually lost interest in swimming, because he had a tough time balancing six AP classes and competitive swimming. Then he joined a band, and music became his passion. One of my favorite songs he wrote is here: “I Love Desert Nights” by the Saucy Stenographers.

My kids with a swim friend.

My kids with a swim friend.

My daughter stuck with swimming. The ongoing conflicts her junior and senior year seemed unfair. She had to choose between CIF finals (California Interscholastic Federation) which was our closest thing to a state championship—or Senior Night at Disneyland.

She had to choose between NCL Senior Recognition Night or the Speedo Grand Challenge.

NCL Senior Recognition night.

NCL Senior Recognition night.

There were weekly challenges of Friday nights — the night before a big Saturday a.m. practice. “Do I stay home and get to bed early, or can I go out with friends?” was a question she had to answer for herself.

Her junior year there was a conflict between swimming and swimming!

A high school open invitational meet and a Speedo meet were on the same weekend. She was trying to get her first junior national cut and be recruited for college. The high school meet was fun with about 20 high schools coming to her home pool. Her high school team wanted her at the home meet. She knew college coaches were going to be at the Speedo meet and that she needed to work on her long course racing to get the cuts she was pursuing.

My kids and their teammates at a meet in Irvine years ago.

My kids and their teammates at a meet in Irvine years ago.

She chose the long course Speedo meet. Boy, did we get an earful! Either choice she made, somebody was going to be upset. It was truly a “no win” situation. Some of the high school parents told me she should either be “on the team” or “off the team,” and it was unfair to let her high school team down.

I explained that it was her choice and a hard one. IF it came down to choosing between high school swimming or club swimming exclusively, she’d choose club. By allowing her to do both, she could help the high school team in their League championships and at CIF, plus enjoy the joy and fun that high school swimming brings to the sport. It was a choice that she suffered through, but the high school meet she viewed as a  “fun” meet with no consequences. It wasn’t going to affect the team’s standing in any way.

We were fortunate to have club and high school coaches who worked well together. They both had the swimmer’s best interest at heart. I know some swimmers who have to make the choice between swimming club or high school, due to a coach that doesn’t allow both.

When life was easy.

When life was easy.

There’s no right answer, the way I see it. It’s all about learning to make choices and living with your decisions. A good life lesson in itself. Although both of my kids said repeatedly, “I don’t have a life!” Actually they did have a life. They had the life they chose.

What hard choices have your kids made trying to balance school, fun and sports?