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?

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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?

What My Kids Learned While Staying Wet

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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.

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“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.”

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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.

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12 Reasons Why Masters Swimmers Are So Happy

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Butterfly. 

I was at our local U.S. Masters swim meet this weekend. Since I cannot swim with my torn ACL, I volunteered to time for a short bit with my friend visiting from Seattle. When I walked on deck I immediately saw two grown kids, who were former swimmers with my children on the club team. They were happy to see me, and I was excited to see them and sat with their parents. It was almost as if we were at an age group meet together again to watch our kids swim. I worked my way over to my Piranha teammates, who were warming up, talked with our coach and my other swim friends. I loved seeing all my friends on deck. I truly miss being a part of the team and swimming. Although meets make me so nervous when I’m competing, I was more than okay not to dive off the blocks. Then again, I’ve been nervous at every meet where I watched my kids swim, too, but more so when I’m the competitor.

 

While I was at the Masters meet, I noticed how different it was from age group meets. The main thing I noticed was that everyone is happy. Yes, there are a few nervous swimmers. I know I am fraught with anxiety at meets before I swim. But, generally, the atmosphere is very laid back and upbeat. A friend explained it like this: “It’s more of a party atmosphere of a community of swimmers rather than the nervous energy found on deck at age group meets.”

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Me diving off the blocks at my first meet.

Here are 12 ways Masters meets are different than age group meets:

 

ONE
Everyone at the meet, whether it’s swimmers, coaches, or family, really want to be there. Or, they wouldn’t be there.

TWO
There are no parents yelling at swimmers who miss an event or add time.

THREE
The only person who will argue with an official after a DQ is a swimmer.

FOUR
There doesn’t seem to be that hectic feeling trying to find heats and lanes.

FIVE
Everybody is friendly and although some swimmers may be a little nervous, mostly they’re chatting with other swimmers, laughing and joking.

SIX
Swimmers feel like they’ve won if they make it off the blocks and complete their event close to the time they swam the year before.

SEVEN
Getting out of the deep end without a ladder can feel like a major accomplishment in itself.

EIGHT
You will not see a single crazy parent—anywhere.

NINE
There’s no pressure for junior national cuts or college scholarships.

TEN
Nobody is getting nervous watching you swim.

ELEVEN
Every swimmer gets out of the water with a smile on their face. You won’t see any tears.

TWELVE
Masters swimmers are happy when they age up, because they feel it’s an advantage to be the youngest in their age group.

 

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My daughter at a meet where she got her first Jrs cut.

If you’re a swimmer or compete in another sport as an adult, how do you find it different from youth sports?

“I’m Getting Better Every Day, In Each and Every Way”

 

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What are we doing every day, to get better in every way?

I listened to a webinar this weekend by sports parenting expert David Benzel called “From Good to Great in Four Steps.” He has a link on the USA Swimming website to his webinars and website called “Growing Champions for Life.” I enjoy his material because it’s so well researched, he has real-life experiences to share, practical advice, plus several good resources of books to do further study.

Although the webinar focused on four ways we could help our kids achieve in sports and life, I listened to the talk through my own unique lens. Some of the areas Benzel hit on were Citius, Altius Fortius, the Olympic motto which means Faster, Higher, Stronger. Benzel pointed out that it doesn’t say, Fast, High, Strong—because we constantly want to get better.

It comes down to–what are we doing every single day to get better? That reminded me of a saying my mom and aunt often used: “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” That is a famous positive affirmation by French psychologist and pharmacist Émile Coué, 1857-1926. His autosuggestion method has been met with positive acclaim as well as cynicism.

My own daughter has pointed out that I often have very negative self-talk. I’m sure her work as an athlete with the university team’s sports psychologists has educated her in the importance of positive self-talk. That’s something the entire team works on together. If we are continually doubting ourselves, or think we’re not good enough, then it should be no surprise that we’ll prove that negativity to be true.

I’m taking the four steps I learned about in the webinar to work on–not only my health and recovering from my injury–but in my daily writing, too. What are the four steps, you ask? Number one is to “dream big.” I won’t share my big dreams here today, but I do have them. Second, “aim accurately.” That is taking specific actions to reach goals that lead you on the path to the big dream. Goal setting is another way to look at it, but they need to be goals that lead you in the right direction. There can’t be too many of them either, or we can lose our focus. Third, use “visualization” as a tool to reach your dream. Many successful athletes and people generally in life spend years living in the movie inside their brain how it feels, smells, and sounds like when they finally reach their dream. Once it happens, it’s not foreign but feels familiar and right. The last of the four steps is “to believe” passionately in ourselves and our ability to make it to our big dream.

With those four steps in place, then every single day, we can improve in some small way to reach our dreams.

12745503_10209017757384931_7005852646538628157_nHow do you approach your goals and life dreams?

What I Would Do Differently

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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.

What would you do differently as a swim parent?

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

Why Swimming is the Best Community Ever

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My daughter in USA Swimming’s Open Water Nats.

One of the best things about the swim community is just that. It’s an amazing community! We’re close-knit with camaraderie between swimmers, swim parents, coaches and officials.

A prime example of community happened this weekend. My daughter flew to Florida for USA Swimming’s Open Water 5K swim.

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My daughter, coach and teammate in the Crippen Sunset Mile.

She swam with her coach and teammate in the Crippen Sunset Mile, a tribute to Fran Crippen, a distance swimmer and seven-time medalist. He died during a race in the UAE in 2006 at the age of 26. You can find out more about his life, foundation and impact he’s had at the Fran Crippen Elevation Foundation.

“Fran believed that sport has the power to transcend barriers, both those between people and those within oneself. No dream was too big for Fran, and he believed that there was no barrier that could not be overcome. That legacy continues with members of Team Fran all over the world.” –Fran Crippen Elevation Foundation. 

My husband and I stayed home and didn’t go. Why? I have no idea.The location for the Open Water Festival looked beyond gorgeous, and we love watching our daughter swim. The only upside? We cleaned our garage–which was way overdue.

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A view of the swim course at Miromar Lakes Beach & Golf Club.

Here’s where our swim community came into play. We didn’t hear much from our daughter, but we had Ref Paul to keep us up to date. Yes, an official from our very own SoCalSwimming and Eastern Committee was clear across the country in Florida officiating. Paul kept an eye and camera out for us. He made our weekend complete with photos, videos, and stroke-by-stroke updates. Our daughter loved having her teammate and coach with her–plus an official who’s been at her meets since early childhood.

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The officials at Open Water Festival 2016.

In this community of swimming, it’s truly a small world–a supportive, caring and fun world!

Photos from Paul Szuszkiewicz