The Excitement of Trials

Four boy swimmers hanging on the lane line.
My son with swim friends during Piranha practice.

The excitement comes from all the personal stories. As a swim mom for more than 15 years, I get swimming. I understand all the sacrifice, hard work and life choices these swimmers and families have gone through.

I’m caught up watching the US Olympic Trials for swimming — Wave 2. Because of COVID they broke Trials into Wave 1 and Wave 2 to have less swimmers in the stadium as well as spectators. Wave 2 — the faster wave — is going on now.

In addition to the famous Olympic swimmers in the meet trying to punch their ticket to Tokyo, I still know a few of the swimmers personally. That makes it incredible to watch.

Here’s one of the personal stories that has touched me. We’re watching a Cal swimmer who grew up in Southern California named Trenton Julian. He had a 200 fly swim last night that was the gutsiest swim I’d ever witnessed. The 200 fly is grueling and swimmers pace and control themselves so they can make it all the way through and finish strong. Trenton let it rip. He went all out as hard as he could the entire time. He had a huge lead until his body started to slow down during the final lap. He got touched out by a few tenths of a second and he ended up third overall — which was were he was seeded at the start. Tonight is finals for the 200 fly. The top eight swimmers will compete for the top two spots and a ticket to Tokyo.

What gets my heart about his story is his family. His dad Jeff Julian is a well-liked and respected coach in Southern California of the Rose Bowl Aquatics. I interviewed him for a story HERE. Jeff is best friend’s with my daughter’s club coach — who later became my Masters coach. We’ve known Jeff Julian as an acquaintance on the pool deck for years. Trenton’s mother is Olympic medalist, Kristine Quance-Julian.

Jeff, who was also a 200 flyer himself, has been battling stage four cancer and has a WordPress blog of his story HERE. He’s currently cancer free but it’s been a road of ups and downs. I can only imagine how it’s affected Trenton during his college and high school years. I’ll tell you what. It’s given him grit and courage. He’s faced a lot harder things than a race at Olympic Trials. He swims like he’s not afraid of anything. Just like his father.

Best of luck to Trenton tonight! Along with our other friends swimming for their spot on the Olympic team — or just going after their lifelong dreams and enjoying the big stage.

My daughter racing when she was in her teens.
My daughter at a swim meet.

Here’s a recap of this morning’s swims. This is a link to the livestream for Olympic Trials. Prelims are every morning, with semis and finals at night through the end of the week. Finals are broadcast on NBC.

I’m curious, how much to you follow the Olympics? What’s your favorite sport to watch? Do you know the swimmers? Or athletes?

Is it genetics or performance pressure ?

swimmer with JO medal
My daughter with a Junior Olympic medal as a young teen.

Yesterday I wrote about Amy Osaka and her withdrawal from the French Open due to her taking care of her mental health. You can read that post here.

Immediately after I posted that story, I ran across a SwimSwam article about a swimmer retiring because of her mental health. I remember this swimmer because she was at the big meets in Southern California as one of the youngest, if not the youngest swimmer entered — and she was from Virginia! She was very fast, too. She held the national age group record for 11-12 years olds in the mile.

“Isabella Rongione announced the end of her competitive swimming career, opening up about her personal struggles and the need to put her mental health first.”

PAC-12 STANDOUT ISABELLA RONGIONE RETIRES, OPENS UP ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH
by Jared Anderson SWIMSWAM

Rongione shared the news in an Instagram post this week. Her last swim came in December of 2018, the month before Rongione says he was admitted to treatment following a suicide attempt.

“My mental health had to be the priority over the past couple years and I never was able to fully commit to getting back into the pool,” Rongione writes.

“To all those athletes dealing with mental health issues — make sure to take the time you need in order to heal yourself properly.”

There are many famous athletes who suffer from depression including Michael Phelps, Amy Osaka, Allison Schmitt (Olympic swimmer) and Serena Williams. You can read about 10 of these athletes here. I wonder if it’s genetics or the pressure with being an athlete at such a young age?

My daughter who was a swimmer at a high level (college scholarship athlete and high school All American) suffered from anxiety and then depression while swimming in college. She swam competitively from age five through 22 — when her shoulder gave up on her.

Looking back, we were such enthusiastic parents cheerleading her swim career along the way. It was exciting and took over a lot of our family’s life. Did we create an unsustainable path for her? What happens when the swim career, the center of her world and identity ends? Or in the case of someone like Amy Osaka or Isabella Rongione, is the pressure to perform too much?

Here’s a study published online from Cambridge University by Lynette Hughes and Gerard Leavey called Setting the bar: athletes and vulnerability to mental illness.

Risk factors for athletes

“Although moderate or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity is important in the prevention of and recovery from mental and physical health problems, when performed more intensely at ‘professional/elite’ levels, physical activity can compromise health. 1,5 Beyond the national prestige, fame and glory of Olympic success lies the darker side of overexposure to elite sport such as overtraining, injury, burnout, increased risk for sudden cardiac death and other non-cardiovascular conditions such as respiratory symptoms, iron deficiency, increased incidence of allergies, immunological suppression and infection, gastrointestinal symptoms, diabetes mellitus and eating disorders. 6

“Athletes may also be vulnerable to mental illness for several reasons. First, the social world of many organised elite sports is one that requires investments of time and energy, often resulting in a loss of personal autonomy and disempowerment for athletes. 7 The elite-sport environment can result in ‘identity-foreclosure’ leaving athletes few other avenues through which to shape and reflect personality. 7 High athletic identity has been linked to psychological distress when this function of identity is removed, and to overtraining and athlete burnout. 7 The latter conditions strongly correlate with affective disorders such as major depressive disorder.”

I also read that 30% of NCAA athletes report having depression. It could have only gotten worse this past year.

young swimmer getting medals from coach.
My daughter, age 5, receiving medals, ribbons and applause from her coach after a swim meet.

What are your thoughts about athletes and depression? Do you think it’s genetics? Performance pressure? Or both?

10 and unders relay team with medals at JOs
My daughter’s relay team after winning third place at Junior Olympics in Southern California.

What animal begins with N?

Cactua pool in Scottsdale
Cactus pool in North Scottsdale

Last week I finally jumped back into the pool. It’s been a year of mostly not swimming due to COVID closures. I swam in the backyard pool on a bungee cord velcroed around my waist at my old house. Then when the city pool finally reopened, I rarely made it to practice because of the busyness of moving. Once in Arizona, it took me months to get settled and the weather was too cold! We had snow, rain, wind, and I just didn’t want to go.

Today, I managed to make the 30-minute drive, got my own lane and swim laps. No, I’m not swimming Masters yet. I want to get stronger. Plus the Sun Devil’s Masters that practice in this pool look so fast and fit that it’s intimidating.

My third day back in the pool felt so much better than the first two attempts. I swam my normal Palm Springs warm up of 4 -3- 3 (400 yards freestyle, 300 yards kick, 300 yards pull). That’s all I intended to do but I felt good so I swam some more.

My fellow swim mom, school mom, Masters swimmer and dear friend Linda said she keeps track of her laps by the alphabet. I’ve tried that and it works. So, today I played the animal alphabet game. Each 50 yards was an animal. I started with ape, bear, cat and dog. You get the idea. However, when I got to “N” I was stumped. Does anyone know an animal that begins with the letter N? Another tricky one was Q. I decided Queen Bee was good enough — not quite an animal but it’s a living being. The last 50 yards was X….

Entrance to Cactus Pool and Recreation center.
The entrance to my new home pool.

Can you help me with N, Q and X animals?

Back to the pool again

swimming pool in Palm Springs
Our beautiful Palm Springs city pool where our team practices.

I did it! I finally drove to the pool today for lap swimming. I haven’t been swimming since I moved four months ago. I used to live a mile from the pool and it was a big part of our lives. From swim mom to swimmer, I built friendships and healthy habits around the pool. It’s now a 30-minute drive and it’s much easier to find an excuse not to go than when I lived close by. Plus, I had friends who were there and we’d text and call to encourage each other to go.

Today, I drove by myself to a pool where nobody talked to me except the lady who took my $3. It was so hard to swim! My shoulders were tight. I got winded so easily. I noticed most of the swimmers were women who had their hair up and wore visors or hats.They used kickboards or walked. I felt like a superstar for actually swimming with my face in the water and managing an occasional flip turn!

Looking back at the pandemic, and then my move, it’s been a year of mostly not swimming. I hope I can get back into my swimming shape again soon. I can’t believe how hard it is!

Pool in north Scottsdale
My new pool.

Here’s what I wrote last fall:

Today I am returning to the pool. I’m nervous yet excited. I haven’t been swimming at the city pool for months — since February would be my best guess. The pool quickly shut down when shelter-in-place began in March. It reopened while we were out of town in August.

Although I keep saying that swimming outdoors should be perfectly safe, I’ve been a little bit afraid to swim anywhere but in my backyard. I tried swimming at home with a bungee cord, which is hard because it’s boring! Plus it’s swimming against resistance.

I see one of my Piranha Masters friends at the park during my morning walks. He’s been swimming three times a week and asked me to join him this week. It’s been my goal to return to swimming, so I’m diving back in. I’ve also invited Linda, my Masters buddy and fellow swim mom, to join us.

I think getting back in the swim of things is going to make a big improvement to my overall health — physically and mentally.

It’s time to get ready. I wonder if my swimsuit still fits?

bungee swimming in pool
My daughter using the bungee in our backyard.

What have you had a hard time doing because of the global pandemic?

Parenting tip: When to keep your mouth shut

freestyle stroke in pool
My daughter swimming on her own during vacation.

I read a great article, “The first rule of sports (and all) parenting: Don’t speak,” in the Washington Post by Nancy Star:

Your child doesn’t have to play in the Super Bowl for you to know the feeling. Their team was supposed to win and then they didn’t. What do you do? Being the mother of two girls who played soccer and ran track, I thought I knew the answer: Talk it through. Tell them you love them. Say it’s just a game. Remind them there’s always a next time. Isn’t that what good parenting is all about? Keeping channels of communication open even in tough moments?

Turns out the answer is no. I learned this when I had a “don’t speak” moment.

I understand this all too well. After my kids would have a disappointing swim, I’d try to reassure them. I wanted to take away their hurt and make them feel better. Most often after I’d say, “That wasn’t so bad,” or “You have another swim ahead.” I’d be met with negativity and a statement like “I sucked!”

I’d get a barrage of negativity that would take me by surprise. I never figured out that by trying to protect them from their upset feelings, I wasn’t making it better for my kids, but was making them feel worse. They weren’t ready to talk about a bad swim with me and “hash and rehash,” as my daughter would say. I read in a David Benzel sports parenting book, “From Chump to Champ,” that we should wait for our kids to talk to us. We need to be there and listen. But, if we start the conversation first, even with the best intentions, they’ll probably pull away and stay quiet. They want to please us so much and may take any little thing we say personally, as though they’ve let us down. It’s best to be quiet and listen. They may surprise us and open up more than ever if we let them take the lead.

Here’s more from the Washington Post article with the mom watching her daughter’s varsity soccer team lose their final meet. She received advice from a dad, Peter, who had more experience with soccer parenting and she followed it.

“Their lead slipped to a tie toward the end of the second half. In the last minute of play there was a stumble, scrambling and a goal for the other team.

Parents supplied transportation for home games, so we waited while our daughters gave sullen high-fives to the winners and then huddled with their coach, listening as he shared his disappointment. When he was done they separated and, backpacks slung over shoulders, trudged across the field toward where we stood.

Watching their grim faces approach I wished a meteorologist were present to confirm my suspicion that 22 high school girls who’ve just lost a chance at a state title can change the atmosphere, collectively sucking the light out of the sky. Their fury was frightening.

But Peter had been through this before. “Don’t speak,” he said. As I started to turn my head he added, “Don’t look. Just walk. Go to your car. She’ll find you.”

I tried not to move my lips as I objected. “All I want to say is I’m sorry.”

“Don’t,” he advised. “Don’t speak. Not until she talks to you.”

Because he had been through this before, I listened and walked to my car alone. I felt her before I saw her, walking silently beside me. Reassuring phrases immediately formed in my brain but, channeling Peter, I said nothing.

A moment later I noticed her teammates walking with their parents, mothers mostly, who offered words of consolation. “Are you okay?” and “You played well,” and “There’s always next time.” To me the words sounded gentle and kind.

The girls did not agree. “No,” they snapped, and “I sucked,” and “There won’t be a next time.”

By the time we reached the car, every daughter except mine was crying and the moms were, understandably, annoyed and lashing back. “Why are you yelling at me?” and “Being upset is no excuse for being rude.”

We were silent on the ride home, silent as I turned on to our street. It was when I pulled into the driveway that my daughter finally spoke. “That was such a bad game.”

I nodded.”

How do you handle your children’s athletic or academic disappointment?

PAC 12 swimmers cheering on teammates
My daughter on the blocks cheering with teammates.

What’s the main role of parents?

swim coach with young swimmer

My daughter with her coach, who also was a mentor.

In my SwimSwam parenting articles I often stress that parents and coaches have different roles. There’s a saying that I learned from USA Swimming back when I wrote a monthly newsletter for our swim team: Swimmers swim, parents parent and coaches coach.

As a long-time swim parent, my role seemed to be filled with endless loads of washing towels and feeding super hungry kids.

Yesterday I listened to a webinar that took this topic head on. It was by David Benzel of Growing Champions for Life called How to discuss performance issues with your child — and remain friends. Benzel said that the word coach was first used in the days of the stagecoach. You know, that vehicle that helped people get from point A to point B. A teacher referred to himself as a “coach” back then and today we all use the word to describe the person who helps our athletes on their journey.

Another point he made was that parents main role is to be a mentor in life lessons, while a coach helps on the field of pool with improving their skills. All mentors are coaches, Benzel said, but not all coaches are mentors.

coach with young swimmers

Coach Dwight was an amazing mentor to our young swimmers.

Here are the words Benzel used to describe coaches: instructional, inspirational, analytical, authoritarian, organized and encouraging.

The mentor or parent is supportive, exemplary, compassionate, authoritative, empathetic and loving.

If you get your roles mixed up and tell your kids how to improve or what they did wrong they can get really confused and upset. They don’t know if you’re coaching or criticizing. If you’re inspiring or disciplining. So often our kids fear they are disappointing us. Coaching them will make them defensive and feel like they’re never good enough in our eyes.

Isn’t that amazing? We are only trying to help our kids be better and want them to succeed.

In order to help our kids Benzel said we need to tell them “I love to watch you play.” And then be silent. Don’t say anything more until you’re asked. He said if we as parents ask thought provoking questions like “why do you enjoy swimming?” or “What are you doing when you feel the best?” — then we aren’t being judgmental but may open up a conversation.

Here are the life lessons Benzel listed that we can help our kids learn in our role as a parent and mentor:

self-esteem, self-confidence, self-discipline, self-control, empathy, generosity, sacrifice, patience, personal responsibility, grit, optimism, handling emotions, humility, gratefulness, fairness and loyalty. 

Boy, that’s quite a list. Yes, I hope my kids learned these things through their years in the pool. I hope I helped them along the way. Because as Benzel said, If not you — WHO? If not now –WHEN?

college daughter and coach at the side of the pool

My daughter with her college coach at a big meet in Santa Clara. Another coach who was also a mentor.

If your kids are in sports, what do you see as your most critical role?

If I could go back in time, I’d do this instead…

kidpsp

My young Piranhas.

If I could go back in time, say 15 or 20 so years, I’d do things differently as a parent and a swim mom. I’ve loved every minute of being a swim parent and truly believe that signing my kids up for our local club, the Piranha Swim Team, was the single best thing we’ve done for them. Sticking with the team through ups and downs was a plus, too. Not only did my kids become crazily physically fit and skilled swimmers, they learned to never give up through tough times—whether it was an illness, a plateau or learning what a new coach expects.

So what would I do differently? Here’s my list:

One
Not focus on performance.

Sometimes, I get way too caught up in big meets and best times. I wish I could kick back, relax and enjoy the little moments more.

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Medals at a meet.

Two
Not get involved in parent drama.

Like most sports today, where you find a bunch of enthusiastic and involved parents, there’s bound to be some drama. If I could do it over, I’d never take sides or get involved. At times, I didn’t have a choice because of being on the board. But, the drama and problems we lived through don’t amount to beans, anymore.

Three
Realize everybody is different.

Not every swimmer has the same drive or goals. Not every family is going to focus their lives around the pool. It’s okay for some kids to skip practice and have other interests besides school and swimming. I’d be less judgmental if I got a do over!

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Signing day.

Four
Not compare my kids to others.

When my kids were young and new to swimming, it was common for us to compare their progress to other swimmers. That led to upset feelings all around. Looking back on it, things that seemed so big at the moment, were only a fleeting moment in time.

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My son learning to dive with the swim team.

Five
Enjoy every moment of the process.

The years go by so quickly. The friends made with other parents, coaches and officials are ones to treasure. Enjoy it all.

What would you do differently as a swim parent?

swimblog3

Back when my daughter liked her green fuzzy robe better than the team parka.