Could I have a Do-Over, Please?

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My young Piranhas.

If I could go back in time, say 15 or 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.

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

 

What would you do differently as a parent?

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In the blink of an eye!

robertbabyIt’s my son’s 26th birthday. I look back on how quickly a quarter century plus one year has slipped by, literally in the blink of an eye. This year, I’ll be visiting my son in the Bay area in a couple days. I’m also speaking to a team in Nor Cal about all things swim parenting! My son is going with me to my talk, as my chauffeur and support team. It’s kind of a role change where I’ll be counting on him to help me.

I’ll never forget when I first held him in my arms. It was an amazing feeling looking at the little knit-capped baby with the upturned nose and bright blue eyes. I knew him. It was like we were already connected and I knew him through my dreams or from another day and age. I remember overhearing the doctor and nurses saying that we were “bonding very well.” No kidding!

The trip home from the hospital, which is all of four or five blocks, was one of the scariest rides of all time. It started with a nurse wheeling me out to the car, where my husband stood by to help us in. We struggled with the car seat, not having ever worked one before. Then the nurse told me she was usually stationed in cardiology and unfamiliar with the new women’s and infant center that had opened a few days before I was there. She held my swaddled son and tripped over the curb, while I watched helplessly from the wheelchair as the little being flew into the air. Fortunately, my husband was a football player and leaped and caught Robert firmly.

After that, we drove home going five miles per hour. It was the scariest realization that we were responsible for another human life. What on earth were we thinking? Who was giving us this responsibility? What did we know about raising a human being? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

He was and is a loving and kind person. I used to take him to “Mommy and Me” classes at the City’s Pavilion and at the Francis Stevens Park close to our house. I relearned “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “I’m a Little Teapot” during those days. We’d socialize with other moms and toddlers, who became lifelong friends. At the end of each class, my son would walk up to the teacher and plant a kiss on her cheek. He was a total love bug.

Happy birthday, son!robertdoor 1

What are your first memories of parenthood?

 

Does Hard Work Trump Talent?

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My son and swim team friends.

I was questioning whether swimmers with good work ethics and some talent can ever be as great as swimmers with extraordinary talent. I “Googled” hard work vs. talent and I discovered “Hard Work Beats Talent (but Only If Talent Doesn’t Work Hard)”–by Piers Steel Ph.D. –The Procrastination Equation on Psychology Today from Oct. 8, 2011.

Complete with a chart the author discusses intelligence, rather than physical talent, but they are both inherited traits, so I believe they’re interchangeable. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Hard work vs Talent: Who Wins?
In a world where we are ridiculously overcommitted to making sure everyone is equal in every way, a new study just published in Psychological Science contains some sobering news you might not like. In their paper “Limits on the Predictive Power of Domain-Specific Experience and Knowledge in Skilled Performance,” David Hambrick and Elizabeth Meinz kill the myth that talent doesn’t matter. We would love to believe, of course, that all we need to do to be the best is to try hard enough. You can be anything you want as long as you really want it: rocket scientist, pop icon, sport hero. There is no shortage of popular pundits promoting this myth. As Hambrick and Meinz point out:

Malcolm Gladwell (2008) commented that “The relationship between success and IQ works only up to a point. Once someone has reached an IQ of somewhere around 120, having additional IQ points doesn’t seem to translate into any measurable real world advantage” (pp. 78-79). In his own bestselling book, The Social Animal, David Brooks (2011) expressed the same idea: “A person with a 150 IQ is in theory much smarter than a person with a 120 1Q, but those additional 30 points produce little measurable benefit when it comes to lifetime success” (p. 165). Malcolm Gladwell and David Brooks are simply wrong. At least in science, a high level of intellectual ability puts a person at a measurable advantage-and the higher the better.

The people peddling this notion that talent is irrelevant often cite a 1993 paper by Ericsson, Krampe, and Tech-Romer regarding deliberate practice in which the researchers argue that success is usually built upon purposeful, thoughtful and intense efforts to improve performance over about 10,000 hours. This is true; hard work does pay off. The Beatles got to be so good because they had to perform their music four hours a day (eight days a week) during their two year stint in Hamburg. Bobby Fischer became a grandmaster at chess after years of honing his skills at the Brooklyn Chess Club.  But that wasn’t the question. What we want to know is whether hard work makes talent irrelevant. Will every group that jams together for 10,000 hours become the Fab Four and every chess obsessed child become a world champion?

Hambrick and Meinz showed the basic relationship between hard work and talent in this chart. The vertical axis measures your level of performance. Higher up means spectacular. The horizontal axis charts your innate talent, in this case cognitive ability, what the rest of the world refers to as “intelligence.” Further to the right means super smart. The two lines refer to different levels of deliberate practice. The red line refers to those who have put in the hours while the blue refers to those who haven’t made the effort.

There are two things to take away from this. The first is that being smart is a useful thing to inherit, right up there with a large trust fund. The more smarts you have, the higher your performance. And despite what Gladwell and Brooks say, intelligence’s benefits don’t disappear; the more innate talent of any sort you have, the better off you are going be.

If you take a careful look, however, you will notice that those of us with more modest abilities do have a chance. Even if you weren’t born with genius in your genes, you can outperform the smartest of individuals as long as you work hard and the latter doesn’t. Also, the differences between the smart and the not-so-smart shrink quite a bit if they both work hard. That means that talent still counts, but hard work puts you right up there.Screen Shot 2018-06-25 at 11.13.09 AM

So, to answer my question about whether hard-working swimmers will ever match super talented swimmers–it all depends. Being a swim mom in the LSC Southern California Swimming means we were surrounded with talent. Every team has standouts and at meets, my kids had to compete with drop-dead amazing Olympic swimmers like Vlad Morozov, Abbey Weitzeil and NCAA champ and American Record Holder Ella Eastin. Those three swimmers I mentioned were blessed with talent–plus they work hard, too. That’s not a common combination.

I observed that many of the most talented kids didn’t learn to work hard. It was easy for them to compete and win. So growing up, they didn’t experience failure and how to turn that into motivation. In the end, I saw many of these talented kids quit swimming when they either had to work hard to improve or were no longer the fastest on their team or at meets. I believe a missing key ingredient that determines success in any field is passion. Passion is what drives a person to keep trying, working hard and enjoying the process and small improvements along the way.

I have to say that in my Masters’ group I notice that hard work pays off, too. I’ve been out for more than five months with an injury. Now that I’m back, I’m surprised at how much my friends have improved in my absence. They are the ones who are showing up every day and putting in hard work. They are swimming faster, are stronger and swimming more. It’s motivating to me to keep going and gain back some of what I’ve lost.

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An age group meet at our Palm Springs pool.

What are your thoughts about talent versus hard work?

 

When Should Children Specialize In Sports? Part II

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

2 Top Tips for Swim Parents

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My daughter has almost completed her age-group swim experience that began at age 5. She has a few weeks left with the team she’s been with for 13 years — and then she leaves for college.

If swim parents of USA Swimming age groupers were to ask me for advice I have two top tips.

ontheblocksNUMBER ONE.

Never lie to your coach. Reinforce to your child to never lie to their coach.

NUMBER TWO.
Respect the planning that goes into a year-long swim calendar and schedule your vacations accordingly.

diveThe lying sounds ridiculous and obvious, right? Your child never lies. You never lie. But, you’d be surprised. Even if you truly fall in the category of the family that never lies, others do lie. What happens if your child is asked by another swimmer to not tell why they missed practice? Or, what if your child knows that a teammate is at Disneyland and not sick in bed and the coach asks her point blank? It all comes out in the end — so avoid this embarrassment — and never, ever lie. When a coach finds out the truth, which inevitably will happen, your swimmer will lose credibility. How does he or she get that trust back?

blurryswimThe second tip is also a matter of respect. If your swimmer is a serious year-round swimmer, there will be a certain point in their career when you just can’t take off whenever you want. Time-wise, it’s usually around the age of 12 or 13 for girls. Perhaps a little older for boys. I bet you didn’t know that the coach has training cycles and plans out an entire year’s practice in advance — sometimes plans 2 to 3 years out or longer? I bet you didn’t realize that when you go visit Aunt Sally for a week at Christmas you may be missing a huge workout week that is setting up your swimmer for success for the rest of the season? Respect your coaches and their training cycles. They actually put in vacation weeks during their year’s plan. It’s so much better for your swimmer to have your family’s calendar and the team’s on the same track.

katdiveMy two cents worth. What advice do you have for successful swim parenting? If you have a tip, please post it below!swimblog5