Team loyalty versus splintering teams

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I wrote this article several years ago and I still wonder about this today. In our LSC, Southern California Swimming, we’ve always had new teams splintering off from older teams. It’s a phenomenon that I see as unhelpful because it takes so much support to keep a team afloat. Also, there seems to be little team loyalty and parents are always jumping from one team to another. I say parents, because I’m not convinced that kids are driving the issue.

In the 16 years I’ve been involved in swimming, several new teams have cropped up. I wonder, did a child say, “Dad, I’m really unhappy with my coach, I don’t believe I’m getting the training I deserve, so why don’t you start a new team?”

No. I highly doubt it.

When a group of parents fracture off and start a new team, many unexpected things happen. First, they learn that it’s not as easy as they thought—most of the teams I’ve seen crumble in under five years (not all, but most). Second, friendships and relationships are divided, loyalties are developed—you’re either on one side or the other—and there’s a lot of unhappiness all around.

If a situation is bad, or you see fault with it, why not address it? If you have an issue with a coach, why not talk about it with the coach? If you’re unable to do that, or don’t feel comfortable, then why not talk to the board, or at least send an email?

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Is there something you can do to help the situation? Can you volunteer your expertise or time to make your team better? That’s what I’d do and what I’ve practiced through the years. New teams usually start, because of a private agenda or ego issue with an adult—and it’s not always with the best interest of the kids in mind.

When new teams begin, the resources of the community are spread too thin. Without a large population of families, communities cannot support a number of teams. There are only so many families willing to make the commitment to swimming. A well-known club, college and Olympic coach told me that you need a million families to have a national championship level team. You need a large pool of families for kids to come in and out of the program as they move onto college.

Plus, coaches are highly trained and there aren’t a lot of them around who have gotten kids to national levels. If you want the best for your kids, then it would seem you’d want a chance for your child to improve, learn new skills, build friendships and have the opportunity to swim in college and beyond. It makes sense that you’d want your child on a team with a proven track record of getting kids to those levels.

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My son learning to dive with the swim team.

Speaking of friendships, how does it help your child to be put on a new team away from the kids he or she has bonded with on a daily basis? Do you want to ensnare your child in the drama that’s sure to come when the kids come face to face at a meet? Do you want to be the parents dragging in their own food in coolers to a meet hosted by your former team—because you refuse to support their snack bar?

When I talked about this years ago with my son, he felt that teams splitting up and new teams starting were a good thing. His viewpoint was that competition is always good and will make the existing team even better and more committed to excellence. I agree with that concept, but sometimes the process is painful.

I think it all comes down to one thing, the swim team should be for the kids. How does creating turmoil and drama help your child? Maybe you can take a look at where you are and realize, hey, it’s not that bad! Or better yet, jump in and make it better.

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My daughter with her first swim instructor.

What are your thoughts about creating new teams? Do you think it’s a good thing, or not?

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Can parents make their kids swim faster?

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My daughter swimming in college.

“Dad! It Doesn’t Help!” is a sports parenting book to “Become the Ultimate Sports Parent” by Mark A. Maguire. Although the book is based in Australia with a dad figuring out how to be a better sports parent for his son with USA Major League Baseball dreams, I could relate as a swim mom.

Maguire explains in his book: “The title came about after my son used this phrase when I asked him how he feels when I holler out at his baseball games. His response stunned me. His response and my first blog must have stunned a lot of sports parents and coaches, because it was read and shared during 2017 (through the COACH UP website in the USA) over a million times.”

So what did his son say that stunned him? Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter:

During the baseball season a few years ago I asked my eleven-year-old son what do all the kids in the dugout think when their parents urge them on with instructions and encouragement as they are playing the game?

He said bluntly: “they don’t like it.”

I further pressed him. What about when I call out some last second reminders just before you bat, you know, the things we’ve talked about during the week and to help you remember what to do.

Again, he didn’t mince his words and said, “Dad, it doesn’t help.”

He went on to say: “When I’m in the batter’s box I follow the instructions from my coach. I put myself in the zone to block out every other noise. It doesn’t help me, or any other kid when our parents are yelling things out.”

Okay. That one struck home. As a swim mom who used to search frantically for my kids before each one of their races to impart some last minute instructions, I am frankly a bit embarrassed. I honestly thought that whatever wisdom I was going to tell them right before they got on the blocks was helpful. Not only helpful but would be the determining factor on whether or not they won their heat, got their coveted cut to the big meet, and would earn a college scholarship. Well, I’m exaggerating a bit with the outcomes, but I thought they wouldn’t do as well without my input.

In truth, I was probably a distraction. An annoyance. A royal pain in the behind. My stress level was running high, I was climbing over parents, pushing through crowds to grab my kids and do our little last minute good luck ritual. Ugh. Yes, that was me. Eventually I calmed down. Or at least I wasn’t so obvious about my nerves—and let the coaches coach while I sat in the stands or at the end of their lanes and cheered.

I asked my daughter what she thought when we yelled and screamed for her. We’d yell at the top of our lungs “Kick!” “Keep your head down!” or my husband’s favorite “Go now!” — like she wasn’t doing all those things without us screaming. It’s funny today looking back at it. I wonder if she heard us when she was under water. She said, “Yes, dad is really loud. But it didn’t help.”

I do think cheering has some small affect on our kids’ sports. It shows our enthusiasm for the sport. Cheering helps us release tension. And it shows we care.

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Teammates cheering at PAC-12 Women’s Championships.

What things have you done as a sports parent that you’d never dream of doing today?

Why our kids need to play sports

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My kids at the last PAC 12 Championship Meet.

I’ve written extensively that one of the best things we did for our kids was sign them up with the Piranha Swim Team, our local USA Swimming club team. There are too many benefits to list, but here are a few: physical fitness, self confidence, friendships, teamwork, good sportsmanship, and time management.

I found a parenting column written by syndicated columnist Armin Brott in the Courier from Waterloo, Iowa where he’s asked “You’ve talked a lot about kids and sports. Why are sports so important?”

His answers touch on several different areas including how healthy sports are for kids. I agree that the health aspects are great. My kids have always been physically fit and never battled with being a couch potato or being overweight. My son who left swimming after high school works out like a mad man. He wakes up at 4:30 a.m. to row in the Bay area’s Estuary with a rowing club and he works out at a gym. My daughter swam through college and likes to try other activities like spin classes, kick boxing and yoga. Their high level of fitness began when they were young kids and it’s an integral part of their life to feel good physically.

Here’s what Brott said in his article:

One in three children is now overweight or obese — triple the rate it was for us — and school shootings and other violence committed by children, which was largely unheard of in our day, is startlingly common.

The question of what we can do to, quite literally, save our children (or at least improve their lives) is a popular one. Despite all the debate, one of the most effective solutions to so many of the problems that affect young people these days rarely comes up: sports.

Kids who get involved in sports during middle and especially high school are better off in a variety of important ways. Compared to non-athletes, sports-involved kids are less likely to be obese, smoke tobacco or take drugs, and have better cardiovascular fitness, coordination and balance. Student athletes also get better grades and are more likely to graduate high school and go on to college; they handle stress better, have better self-esteem and are less likely to report feeling lonely or anxious or to become teen parents.

Sports also teaches kids valuable skills in communication, cooperation, teamwork, goal setting, problem solving, learning to lose, resilience, respect for authority, controlling their emotions, patience, self-sacrifice and more, says Graham Clark, a retired high-school football coach in Kingsport, Tenn.

Another topic the author touches on in his column is Title IX. Although the purpose of Title IX is admirable–allowing more opportunities for women in sports at the college level–like most things a bunch of politicians come up with — there are unintended consequences. The unintended consequences are less opportunities for men. Because of the large rosters of football teams, and Title IX require a proportional number of female and male athletes, lots of smaller men’s teams get the axe. In the PAC 12, the conference my daughter swam in, there are nine women’s swim teams while only six for men. In Division 1 Swimming, there are 136 teams for men while there are 196 women’s team. As for scholarships, men have 1,346.4 and women 2,716.

Here’s what the column says about Title IX:

We also need to develop policies and procedures to ensure that children and young adults have access to sports at every level. Right now, colleges around the country, and a small but growing number of high schools, are using Title IX — which is ostensibly designed to promote equality — to cut sports programs, especially those for men and boys. They’re using the concept of “proportionality,” which states that percentages of male and female student athletes must be the same as the percentages of male and female students in the institution as a whole.

Nationwide, the on-campus female-to-male ratio is 57:43. However, since those percentages are roughly reversed for student athletes, institutions are resorting to cutting men’s teams to produce “equity.”

“With all the known positive benefits that boys gain from participating in sports, it makes absolutely no sense to cut male athletes from high school teams just to comply with Title IX’s gender quota,” says Eric Pearson, chairman, American Sports Council.

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

What other benefits do kids get from playing sports?

I want to be a “Scilly” swimmer too!

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The swimmers gather with their groups. Photo courtesy of Linda Burns.

I feel like I am standing still in cement while I watch my swimming friends fly off without me. I barely make it to the pool more than twice a week lately–and I’ve had to start completely over this year due to knee surgery.

Meanwhile, my Piranha Swim Team Masters’ friends are getting faster, stronger and swimming longer workouts. Not only that, they are taking on challenging open water swims like the Tiki Swim in Oceanside and the Scilly Swim Challenge in the United Kingdom, 35 miles off the coast of Cornwall.

My friends Linda and Karl, who were former Piranha and St. Theresa parents with me, swam the Scilly Swim Challenge for their second straight year. This swim challenge is a 15k swim combined with a 10k walk.

Event organizer Dewi Winkle said, “We are on year five now and 10th Challenge just completed. Nick Lishman and I came up with the idea in 2013 and we thought the islands are so beautiful and the attraction of swimming between them would be well received. We started in 2014 and have now built to three events a year with up to 150 people per event.”

Dewi said their plans include a race around St Mary’s as a relay event and a test event in Croatia in October. Currently, they have a two-day and one-day swim in September and a Spring Swim in May.

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A map of the Isles of Scilly and route courtesy of the Scilly Swim Challenge.

From the Scilly Swim Challenge website

Swim and Walk the Islands over one or two days

6 swims averaging 2.5 km (total 15km) and 6 walks averaging 1.7 km (total 10km) completed as a group with full safety and logistical support.

Whether you choose to complete in one or two days you will experience  the amazing swimming and beautiful scenery Scilly has to offer.

Route

The event will start and finish on St. Mary’s, the main island, visiting St. Martins, Tresco, Bryher, Samson and St. Agnes.

It’s not a race and the emphasis is on everyone getting round safely.

While you’re swimming we will transport a bag for you which will be available at the next island. You will then carry it to the start of the next swim.

Full safety support is included.

There are food stops at the end of each swim.

Wetsuits optional.

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The Kestrel, Linda and Karl’s ride for two days, at Hugh Town. Photo courtesy of Karl Siffleet.

According to Linda, her second year was easier than the first. “Coming out early to get used to the water was helpful,” she said. The water temperature was 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit). In contrast, we swim in a pool with a temperature of around 80 degrees! Yes, she wore a wetsuit the entire time.

Linda and Karl signed up for the one-day swim but arrived several days early and volunteered to help out or “crew” for the two-day swim. The two-day swim allows a more leisurely pace than the one-day challenge. Linda and Karl checked swimmers in and out of the water and helped with the baggage boat. Linda said the support staff is incredible and includes “30 kayakers—they were awesome! Five safety boats (power cats) and a baggage boat.”

Swimmers can swim as much or little as they want. If they need a break they can hang onto a kayak or climb aboard a boat and go to the next island. In between, they are fed snacks and drinks.

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Photo courtesy of Linda Burns.

“There was tea, coffee, other hot drinks. Cakes, soup, salads, rolls, candy bars. Diet Coke, homemade pastry and Cornish pasty,” she said.

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Hot tea after a cold swim! Photo from Linda Burns.

The swimmers pick which one of three groups they want to swim with according to their speed. “We swam in different groups and nobody keeps time. You can swim as much or as little as you want.”  She said the groups are “Red, amber, green. Swimmers self-select which pod to swim with. Red is fastest. Karl swam amber and I swam green. I was much happier swimming in the front of the green than the middle of the amber.”

I’m sure a lot of the appeal on taking on a challenge like this is the camaraderie. The swimmers must feel so much accomplishment and bond together after their swims. I know it motivates Linda and Karl to keep swimming year round and a goal to work towards in their practices.

Like I said, my friends have been getting stronger and faster. Linda said she felt great swimming. “I felt good. I got into a good rhythm for sighting and really enjoyed it—except the several times a wave broke over me as I inhaled and I thought I was going to cough up my lungs.”

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Photo from Linda Burns.

Someday, I’d like to take this challenge, too. I don’t think I’ll be strong enough yet in May, but perhaps in a year or two. In the very least I’d like to travel to the Isles of Scilly and see this quaint, quiet and beautiful area for myself.

What motivates you to get out of your comfort zone and try something incredibly challenging?

 

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Photo courtesy of the Scilly Swim Challenge.

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?

 

It’s Long Course Season Once Again

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Long Course at our pool.

I returned to swimming Masters and although I’m amazingly weak and slow, I’m thrilled to be back. I like the summer schedule and the fact that it’s Long Course. For non-swimmers that means the pool lanes run the length of the 50-meter pool, as opposed to across the pool, which is 25 yards for Short Course. I remember a few years ago when I began swimming Masters, I’d never go on Saturdays because it’s Long Course. Now there’s Long Course throughout the week–and I’m there.

I actually prefer it. Even though I’m recovering from knee surgery and I can barely swim 30 minutes without getting exhausted, there’s something about how good it feels. I find a nice rhythm and my mind has more time to think and wander before I hit the wall. I feel like I’m swimming more as opposed to pushing and bouncing off the walls back and forth like a ping-pong ball.

Last week was my first day back to the US Masters Swimming program with Piranha Swim Team since December. Of course, that’s because of the great ski vacation I had early January that ended with a toboggan ride escorted by the Ski Patrol at Alta, Utah. Anyway, last week I could only swim 500 meters without feeling winded, exhausted and my knee hurt. Today is Monday of week two, and I felt stronger and made it 900 meters.

It’s great to be back, and our coach was right. Returning to Masters and being with my swim buddies is motivating and will help me recover faster, as opposed to going on my own. I strongly recommend joining a Masters team to anyone, regardless of their swimming ability.

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Sunset at our pool during a meet.

How to live longer by walking faster

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Our Palm Springs city pool.

I read some good news today in “Scientists from five universities say walking faster could add years to your life” by Quentin Fottrell, Personal Finance Editor of Market Watch. He said if you want to “prolong your life, put some pep in your step.”

 “Walking at an average pace was linked to a 20% reduction in the risk of mortality compared with walking at a slow pace, while walking at a brisk or fast pace was associated with a risk reduction of 24%, according to a new study. A similar result was found for risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

“It’s not too late to start. In fact, the benefits were far more dramatic for older walkers. Average pace walkers aged 60 years or over experienced a 46% reduction in risk of death from cardiovascular causes, and fast pace walkers a 53% risk reduction, the study found.”

Now that I’m back to walking every single morning, still sporting my DonJoy FourcePoint knee brace, I found this motivating. I’m walking faster than when I began walking a few weeks ago. Now, with this information, I will pick up the pace.

In the article, Fottrell cites another study, this one from Harvard:

A recent Harvard University study concluded that you could add 10 years to your life by following five habits: eating a healthy diet, exercising 30 minutes or more a day, maintaining a healthy weight — a body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9 — never smoking and drinking only a moderate amount of alcohol.

In that study, the researchers analyzed 34 years of data from approximately 78,000 women and 27 years of data from more than 44,000 men. The authors predicted that women who adopted these five habits would see 14 more years of life, and men would add 12 years.

This sounds like good advice for all of us. Amazing how we literally can add a decade or more to our lives by walking and keeping a healthy lifestyle. As far as walking, I’ve found that since I’ve returned to walking around the park, I wasn’t motivated to continue my pool walking. It’s been so hot, I haven’t felt like being out in the pool in the bright sun. But, yesterday I forced myself to go to the pool in the evening while my daughter was coaching. I used the pool ladder to get in and out rather than the handicapped steps. Yes, it hurt, but what a major accomplishment for me.

I told our coach that I’d like to come back to Masters but I needed to be able to swim more yards first. He told me to come back now and not wait. He’s right. I will do what I can do. It’s so much easier to be motivated to swim if you have people to swim with. I’m looking forward to seeing my swim friends after five months.

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The view of Mt. San Jacinto from my daily walk around the park.

What do you think about daily walking and the impact on our health? Does it work for you?