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 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


car 1

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.


Why visit the original Starbucks?


My son on our day trip to Pike Place Market.

While we were in Washington for my daughter’s last PAC 12 meet, we took a day trip to Pike Place Market. If you are visiting Seattle you have to visit the market. It was a favorite place for my mom to take us when I was a young kid and I have memories of shopping there for seafood and fresh vegetables throughout my college years.  One of the main attractions are the fishmongers at Pike Place Fish Market, who throw whole salmons through the air. Click on the link to watch the action. Another highlight is the doughnut shop that sells tiny freshly made donuts–which were so hot the steam came off them as we enjoyed a half dozen cinnamon sugared ones.

When I was young, I hated the Public Market. It scared me. The downtown area known as “Skid Row” surrounded the market and I was terrified of winos and drunks falling in the streets. The area was originally called Skid Row, not because it was an urban blighted area with people on the “skids” but because it referred to the path along which timber workers skidded logs.

When I was around 10 or 11 years old, my parents liked a restaurant called Henry’s Off Broadway. It was the special occasion restaurant reserved for birthdays and anniversaries. Henry’s closed in 1991 to be raised in favor of an apartment building. The reason why I’m bringing up Henry’s it was the first time my parents drank Starbuck’s coffee. They loved the strong coffee served in white china cups and saucers and asked what type of coffee it was. The waiter told them Starbucks and told them about the small coffee shop in the Pike Place Market with a variety of roasted beans.


My son and husband enjoying their Starbucks from the original store.


They made there way down there, with me in tow, and soon my parents gave up large cans of Folger’s and Yuban and were grinding Starbuck’s beans with a small electric grinder—which I still have by the way.

When we took my son to Pike Place Market, he wanted to go into the original Starbucks. What was so funny, was there was a line to get inside complete with a cordoned off area. The wait often exceeds an hour, we were told. The coffee shop hadn’t changed since I was 11 years old, except for the tourists. Wall to wall people taking selfies and waiting to purchase $100 aprons with the Starbucks logo surprised me!



Taking a selfie in the original Starbucks.

Have you visited Pike Place Market and what is your favorite things about it?



Why is My Daughter So Annoyed With Me?

My kids not wanting me to take their pic.

My kids not wanting me to take their pic.

I wrote this in 2015 and it gets read more than any of my other posts. Our kids do find us annoying at times, just for being moms and dads and doing our best as parents.

I understand how she feels. After all, I was once 19 years old. I remember it very clearly.

Everything my mom did, I found unbelievably annoying.

I’ll never forget sitting with her in the car, getting ready to shop at Bellevue Square. She had parked the car. She was fumbling through her purse, making sure she had what she needed. She reapplied her lipstick. Dug through her purse for her wallet to look through credit cards. Searched several times to check where she placed the keys.

Mom and me in the early 90s.

Mom and me in the early 90s.

Would we never leave the car? Would I be stuck all day? I must have said something to her quite snippy, or flat out mean. A few tears rolled down her cheeks. Which made me more upset with her.

Isn’t it a sad feeling, transitioning from a mom who could do no wrong—from changing diapers to cooking their favorite spaghetti to taping treasured colorings on the fridge that were made just for you—to being the person of their abject disdain?

It’s a tough new role. Let me tell you.

But, having gone through these feelings myself, I understand. I’m visiting my mom this week in her assisted living center. I talked about it with her, what I’m going through now, and what I felt like when I was 19. Fortunately, she doesn’t remember me ever being a snarky 19-year-old.

For some reason, I’ve gained more patience throughout my life and that has been a blessing. I’ve also learned forgiveness.

Something else, I’ve learned through the years of parenting: this too shall pass.

It’s called independence and freedom. We want our children to grow and become separate human beings that can stand on their own. Sometimes they need to separate from us. A good time to do that is during their senior year of high school, or their freshman year of college. It’s a good thing. I keep telling myself that.

However, we also want to be treated with respect, and once again—someday—to be cherished.

A beach day with my daughter.

A beach day with my daughter.

I wrote more about separating from our kids and the experiences we go through when they leave for college here.