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?



Emotions Running Amok During the Final Swim


My two kids having fun at the PAC 12 Champs.

This past week, I experienced so many emotions, from numb to raw. It was the end of an era for us as our daughter experienced another milestone. I reflected on how much swimming has been a part of our lives. Since she was five and our son eight years old, swimming has been a common thread.

One of the biggest emotions I felt was pride. It’s amazing that through some tough times and disappointments, she stuck with it. Through illness and injury, she doesn’t feel she ever reached her full potential in terms of speed and success. In all honesty, she didn’t swim as fast as she potentially could have. But as far as success, she gained it in leadership, grit, friendships, and hard work. She learned that life doesn’t happen in a straight line upwards from one success to success, or joyous occasion to the next. There are tough times in between to make the good ones count.

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Swim moms at the PAC 12 Champs.

Our son was with us and he also felt so much pride in his little sister. He said watching the meet made him realize how much swimming meant to him and how much he’d like to be a part of a team once again. He decided to focus on music and academics and gave up on swimming before college. We were blown away by the races which included the greatest athletes in the world. We watched in awe as American and PAC 12 records dropped right and left at my daughter’s last meet. My son kept saying, “This is amazing that my little sister swims in the PAC 12.” He hadn’t been to a conference championship meet before to watch Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel or Abbey Weitzeil, to name a few of the amazing athletes competing. Having him stay with us in a hotel room for a few days brought back memories of the many meets we traveled to as a family. I’m proud of him and the kind and considerate person he’s become and felt comforted having him by my side.



Getting ready for the final swim.

I steeled myself against getting too teary-eyed—that’s where the numbness feeling crept in. The only time I had to wipe my wet cheeks was during the last 50 of her 1,650. The final race. I was touched beyond belief at the extent the other team parents went to honor the seniors and the parents—especially the moms. One created the most original, personalized necklaces just for us senior moms which lit up with red hearts pulsing with our daughter’s names and photos included. The rawness came in when I’d have moments of being overwhelmed by trying to keep it all bottled in.

A truly special week, which I’ll never forget. Thank you swimming–for giving our family so many memories together as well as giving us amazing friends.

IMG_0279What recent milestones have you experienced with your family?


Eight Thoughts About the First PAC-12 Championship Meet

It was February 28, 2015, when I wrote this. It was after the first so exciting college conference meet. In no time at all, it’s time for the last one. I can’t figure out where the time went. My daughter asked me today, “Why don’t you write on how to prepare for the last meet?” I don’t think you can prepare for it was my answer. You just have to experience it.

27750385_10216008558030578_2414009673401613488_n1.  I couldn’t believe the conference meet was here already. What happened to my daughter’s first year of college swimming?

2.  I was surprised by how easy it was to find a seat. Coming from age group meets that are crawling with kids and parents and you have to squeeze to get a seat, it was a pleasant change. However, it did get more packed as the days passed and always at finals.

The crowd at the PAC 12s.

The stands at the PAC 12s.

3.  I still get nervous before Kat swims. Maybe it’s even worse than before. Especially at prelims. I thought I’d get over that queasy feeling, hand-shaking, palm-sweating attack. But, no I did not.

4.  I wanted to spend a little time with Kat. But, she’s on the deck with her team, and we’re up in the stands with the parents.

That's me up in the stands looking down on my daughter.

That’s me up in the stands looking down on my daughter.

5.  I have met some great swim parents on our new team. Don’t get me wrong, there are great families on our club team that I’m lifelong friends with. I’m thrilled to meet parents on the college team that are friendly and fun, too. I guess that’s what swimming parents are like.

6.  It’s fun to cheer at the PAC-12 conference, hold up signs, and wave pom poms. Kat would have killed me if I behaved that way at an age group meet!

7.  Now that it’s the last day of PAC-12s, I’m shocked at how fast the days went by. Do I really have to wait an entire year to experience this again?

8.  Looking down from the bleachers at my daughter, I’m amazed at how much she’s matured this year. She’s happy and comfortable with her new family, her college team. She has grown independent from us and she’s doing really, really well. I’m happy and proud, but I’m wiping a few tears from eyes, 2 (1)

How do you handle milestones with your kids? From kindergarten graduation to the first prom, high school graduation and then college, the time keeps flying by.


Stirring the pot without trying


An article I wrote yesterday, which I viewed as non-controversial, got some people stirred up. I wonder if people actually read my words, or if my writing was so far off that I failed to get my intended message to readers.

In any case, I guess it’s good to get comments, although several took me by surprise. I tried to express that we as parents are all different. In my early years as a swim parent and board member, I had expected everyone to be as enthusiastic as I was about being a swim parent and our team. Obviously, there are all sorts of parents and flavors and degrees of interest kids and families have. A few comments I heard from other swim parents years ago took me by surprise. I hadn’t realized how these friends viewed swimming much differently than me.

Throughout the years, we’ve had several head coaches. Some relied heavily on parents involvement and others liked to handle things without parents chipping in. Neither approach is right or wrong. And as parents, we had to figure out what level of our involvement was desired. As the kids got older, we helped out less and less. Yes, we fulfilled our obligations but being a board member or running swim meets no longer was required or desired. We weren’t on deck for every practice anymore but went for long walks during the kids’ practices. Talking to my son, he said he liked it when we were involved. That made me feel appreciated and good about the years we volunteered.

In any case, it was a pleasure and joy to be a swim parent, through the ups and downs. I don’t regret any days of it. I developed so many great friendships that will continue long after our swim parenting days are over.


My daughter, best swim buddy and early coach.

If you’re interested, here’s a link to the article that stirred up so many comments: The Swim Parents I Couldn’t Understand. I’d like to get your feedback on it. too.


The last meet is coming


PAC 12 2015

There I’ve said it. My daughter’s last meet is days away. It’s her senior year and her final meet will be the PAC 12 conference meet in Federal Way, WA. I’m kind of jumbled up on how I feel about it. I love being a swim mom and I find myself looking back on little moments with nostalgia and sadness. I will miss going to her meets.

My husband and I were browsing through the App called Meet Mobile this morning looking at different conference results from local schools where our children’s friends are swimming like UCSB and UCSD. I realized that I know a couple of the seniors’ names, but other than that there aren’t a whole lot of swimmers I recognize.

The past few years haven’t been all rosy. After a great freshman year, she got a high ankle sprain chasing after Trax, the public transportation train in Salt Lake City. That meant she couldn’t push off the walls for weeks during long course season and didn’t get her Olympic Trial cut. I think that was a devastating blow to her at the time, although it doesn’t seem like such a big deal now.

Then at last year’s PAC 12s, she got the flu. A really bad flu where the coaches didn’t let her swim or even out of her room until the final day of the meet. It was decidedly weird sitting in the stands for PAC 12s and not having a participant in the meet. Her last and only event she gave it everything she had. I was so nervous I thought I’d faint. I wasn’t sure if she was going to survive that mile-long race, but she did. Her coach said it was a “heroic swim” and he was so proud of her. It was close to a best time.

This year she’s been fighting through a bad shoulder injury. I worry if it was because she started swimming so young, so intensely or for so many years? What should I have done differently as a swim parent? Make her stop? Let her take time off?

She will take time off this year. But what I’m hoping for is next year, after my surgery and I’ve healed, that she will swim with me at a Masters meet–so I can be a swimmer and a swim mom all in one day.



My daughter’s coaches and teammates cheering for her during the 1650 at last year’s PAC 12s.

Any bets on if I’ll cry at my daughter’s final college meet?




When Should Kids Specialize in Sports?


Here’s an article I wrote several years ago about sports specialization. I still get asked at what age should kids do one sport exclusively. There’s no right or wrong answer, although research suggests that there’s no advantage to early sports specialization.

There’s been a few conversations on the pool deck about when and if kids should swim exclusively. It’s a fact that our country’s sports have changed dramatically since we were kids. Sports were mostly free and school-based. Plus, kids didn’t do just one sport, but many.

Today, there’s a trend around the world for kids to specialize at an early age in one sport. If you “google” sports specialization, you’ll find tons of articles with research telling you why this is such an awful thing.

The drawbacks, according to research, come down to several things:
social isolation, burn-out and repetitive use injuries. Also, the research cited states there’s no clear advantage to starting in a single sport, year-round at an early age.


As the parent of two swimmers, I’ve sat on the pool deck for close to 15 years. My son started swimming at age 7, my daughter at 5. They began with a number of other activities, but loved swimming more. Their specialization was self-directed, not parent-coerced. They soon grew weary of rushing from practice to practice, or as I remember it, “If this is Tuesday it must be Karate.”

I have an opinion on sports specialization that relies on mom-based research — observing, listening and talking to hundreds of kids, parents, and dozens of coaches for years — however, it’s limited to the sport of swimming.

First, I have to disagree with this statement: “Being on a select team often requires a year-round or near year-round commitment and extensive travel. If you allow your child to participate she can end up socially isolated from her family, peers, and the larger community.[3]” from momsteam.

Isolation? Not hardly.

The swim team for my kids was social. Friendships blossomed with kids they’d otherwise never meet. Vacations through the years meant jumping in as a visitor with local teams and meeting more kids. At first my children were wary and out of their comfort zone, but their self-confidence and world grew exponentially.

Swim meets meant playing cards, “Catchphrase” and charades for hours under the tent with teammates — and racing for a minute or two. My daughter didn’t have time to hang out at the mall, but she did travel to Puerto Vallarta with kids from throughout So Cal to meet up with kids from the Pacific Northwest, Northern California, Mexico and Canada.

The coaches from the Puerto Vallarta trip witnessed an eye-opening swim meet for our swimmers. Our kids experienced another culture, interacted with local kids, and learned to appreciate small things they took for granted in Southern California.


I’d love to hear what you have to say about this topic, too! When did your kids begin organized sports? Did they participate in more than one? At what age did they specialize?



What My Kids Learned While Staying Wet

Palm Springs Pool

This was one of my first blog posts. This is also one of the pieces that I wrote about how positive swimming has been for me, my husband and kids. I hope you enjoy it!

One of the most important things they learned is perseverance. That stick-with-it never give up attitude that is ingrained in their brains after years of trying for swim goals and just missing them. Then trying and trying again and again until they make them. The very nature of swimming 50 weeks a year, six days a week, makes kids tough.

I’ll never forget my daughter’s frustration of missing her junior national cut by fractions of a second for two years. She didn’t give up. She worked hard. She would still miss.


“Are you kidding me!” She said looking at the scoreboard to see her missing the coveted junior national cut by mere tenths of a second after dropping three full seconds on an 800-meter freestyle race.

The next race, she said, “I’m so done with this!”  She dove in with more determination than ever, and yes, she made her cut, dropping seconds on her 200-meter free and coming in second place to one of the fastest girls in the country.

So, what does all this have to do with life?  Take her hardest class, AP Stats.  She knows that she can do it. She just has to put in the work and time. That may mean getting up and into the classroom at 6 a.m. for extra help, rather than staying warm tucked into her bed. But, she does it — all on her own — without me suggesting it. Her teacher told me, “I know that she will do whatever it takes to be successful, so I am not worried about where her grade is today.”


My son also swam. He worked so hard for every goal, trying to qualify for meets through ten years of year-round swimming. I’ll never forget his determination as an 8th grader. I was a chaperone for his Washington DC trip with his class. He knew he’d be missing too much swimming, so he would run up and down through the Mall, up and down the steps to the Lincoln Memorial, while everyone else strolled. At night in the hotel, he ran the gray cement staircases, up and down the five flights.

When he returned to the pool, he did it! He made his first Junior Olympic time.

Now he’s in college and he knows how to persevere. He wanted to work at the campus radio station. He put in his application as a freshman and was declined. As a junior he has been assigned a time slot on the FM station, moving up from his prior show on the AM.

You can listen to his show on kcsb here Fridays at 4 a.m. PST.

He wanted to be in the College of Creative Studies, “a graduate school for undergraduates.” He applied and was devastated when he was declined. I told him to move on, it was okay, get a ‘normal’ degree. But, he didn’t give up. The next year he applied again and was accepted. Learn more about the UCSB CCS program here. Just click.

I’ve had friends ask why my kids spend so much time in the pool, aren’t they missing out?

I beg to differ.  Spending most of their lives in the water has served them well. Being mostly wet has given them skills for life.

Find a local swim club here on the USA Swimming website.



Photo credits: The Palm Springs, CA Pool — one of the most beautiful views while swimming ever. My daughter diving wearing the yellow cap. Yellow-capped swimmers sometime at some club meet. And a great meme for a distance swimmer.