#SistersInSweat tells young women to keep playing

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During my morning walk, I checked out what was trending on Twitter and saw that #SistersInSweat was up there. It turns out it’s a hashtag and video created by Gatorade featuring tennis superstar Serena Williams with her baby girl.

You can find it on twitter under the hashtag, but if you’re not a Twitter fan, here’s a link to the emotionally moving video.

Some of the phrases that caught my attention were:

“Sports will teach you to be strong.”

 

“You’ll discover the power and grace of your body.”

 

“You’ll learn to move and you’ll learn to move others.”

 

“Keep playing.”

 

This is a great video to empower young women, and in my humble opinion, playing sports is helpful for everyone — boys, men and middle-aged women like myself, included.

Since it’s Thanksgiving week, I’ve been thinking about what I’m grateful for in my life. Today I was writing an article for SwimSwam.com about gratitude and came up with a list of all the ways the sport of swimming has impacted our family in a positive way. Then after watching the #SistersInSweat video, it really put in perspective how swimming and participating in a lifelong sport has shaped my daughter. She’s strong, sometimes scary, confident, understands what it is too put in hard work. She appreciates the rewards but also understands that life offers her no guarantees. Yes, all of that was learned and experienced in the pool. My son also learned those lessons in the pool and although he’s not swimming, he has a love of fitness and works out and has developed an interest in “erg.”

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My daughter in her “Girl Power” cap getting ribbons and medals and an attaboy from Coach.

I believe we need to follow our passions and that participating in youth sports can help our kids learn many life lessons. Also, if it’s music, art, theater, writing—whatever they love–can do much of the same, except for the physicality part. There’s something to be said for feeling physically strong, for being fit and carrying on healthy habits throughout your life.

One of the things Serena Williams says is there are many reasons to quit. And there are. I have seen very few kids stick with swimming all the way through four years of college. In fact, I’ve read a study from National Alliance for Youth Sports that 70 percent of kids quit organized sports in the U.S. by age 13. Their number one reason for quitting is that it’s no longer “fun.”

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Why do you think sports empower young women?

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Who knew youth sports was a $15 billion industry?

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My daughter racing, a few years ago.

Who knew that the youth sports industry in the United States has turned into a $15 billion a year industry? According to Time Magazine’s Sean Gregory, “Across the nation, kids of all skill levels, in virtually every team sport, are getting swept up by a youth-sports economy that increasingly resembles the pros at increasingly early ages.”

As a swim mom, I understand how easy it is to get swept up in kids sports. “Before Swimming” is how we refer to the years before club swimming took over our lives. “BS” we used to take ski vacations in Snowmass, CO and ski weekends in Big Bear. I took my son and daughter to youth tennis where they laughed and ran around with their friends. My son tried Cub Scouts and my daughter went to ballet.

They did a number of activities back in those days. Then they both fell in love with the pool. After taking lessons for water safety since they were six months old, my son around age seven was skilled enough to join the Piranha Swim Team. We were so proud! Then my daughter soon followed and every evening we found ourselves with other parents around the pool deck.

During my daughter’s high school years, I’d add up the costs of swimming just to see….I won’t give you a figure—but with dues of $160 per month, private lessons, and hotel stays at travel meets, and meals out, it added up. Then we came up with the brilliant plan of buying an RV to avoid the hotel costs and restaurants. Thing is….we never used it for a meet. It never seemed to be convenient.

From the Time article called “How Kids’ Sports Became a $15 Billion Industry:”

“The cost for parents is steep. At the high end, families can spend more than 10% of their income on registration fees, travel, camps and equipment. Joe Erace, who owns a salon and spas in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, says Joey’s budding baseball career has cost north of $30,000. A volleyball dad from upstate New York spent $20,000 one year on his daughter’s club team, including plenty on gas: up to four nights a week she commuted 2½ hours round-trip for practice, not getting home until 11:30 p.m. That pales beside one Springfield, Mo., mom, who this summer regularly made a seven-hour round-trip journey to ferry her 10- and 11-year-old sons to travel basketball practice. Others hand their children over entirely. A family from Ottawa sent their 13-year-old to New Jersey for a year, to increase his ice time on the travel hockey circuit. A sponsor paid the teen’s $25,000 private-school tuition. This summer, 10 boys from across the U.S. stayed with host families in order to play for a St. Louis–based travel baseball club.”

I enjoyed reading the Time magazine article and I agree with most of the parents who are interviewed. If your child is passionate about their sport, it’s natural to do everything you can to help them out. My life soon got absorbed by the team. I was writing the newsletter, press releases, fliers to hand out at schools. Soon, I was serving on the board, planning banquets, fundraisers, organizing goodie bags and buying year-round gifts. I remember breaking down in tears when I had to chase one parent down to do a minimum of a few hours volunteering at a meet—and he refused. He refused loudly and rudely. But then, I also remember early on when our family was asked to help at a meet with set-up and tear-down and we told the president of the team, “Sorry, but we have a life.” I guess we did, but that was “Before Swimming.”

I don’t regret a moment of my swim parenting days, though. I’d do it all over again.

Are you involved in the $15 billion youth sports phenomenon? What sports do your kids participate in and how involved are you as a sports parent?

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Third place relay at Junior Olympics, 9-10 age group.

 

Is it time to take a break from youth sports?

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My daughter racing a few years ago.

If you have an athletic, active kid, chances are your lives revolve around youth sports—whether it’s tennis, gymnastics, swimming, basketball, baseball, soccer or another organized sports program. There are so many amazing reasons for our kids to enjoy, learn and have fun with teammates, but out of the 45 million who play organized games, 80% will quit by age 15. Not only that, but record numbers of young girls and boys are facing injuries and surgeries.

When is it time to put on the brakes and take a break?

According to a news report from FOX Q13 Seattle, “Should your kids take a break from playing sports?”

“This summer at Q13 News in a series called ‘Safe Summer’ we tackle the question — should your kids take a break from playing sports?

“Kids are more overscheduled, they’re focusing on a sport,” said UW Sports Medicine Physician Dr. Brian Krabak.

More practices, more games and matches, and more injuries is something UW Sports Medicine Physician Dr. Brian Krabak sees it firsthand.

“If you’re a soccer player we’re concerned about ACL types of injuries. If you’re a swimmer you’re more likely to get shoulder or lower back pain. If you’re a basketball player we’re more concerned with ankle or knee injuries,” said Dr. Krabak.

And it’s those injuries he sees in more kids now than ever before. Dr. Krabak says focusing on one sport or specializing instead of kids playing different sports limits their ability to develop naturally.”

I read in a USA Today publication,“Top orthopedic surgeon urges parents not to push young athletes too hard:”

“As spring turns into summer, most kids are given a break from the daily routine of sitting in the structured setting of a school classroom. For young athletes, however, summer can simply mean two more months of intense training, scrimmages, and over-passionate parents and coaches alike.

According to top New York orthopedic surgeon Armin M. Tehrany, who has been named one of New York City’s best doctors several times by New York Magazine, kids who play youth sports today have seen their risk of injury increase dramatically. Among the most common injuries, he says, are dislocated shoulders, concussions and tears of the ACL and meniscus. Believing that coaches and parents contribute greatly to the problem by pushing kids too hard, he urges them to understand the limitations of a young athlete.

“Competitive parents can often put a lot of pressure on their children to succeed in sports,” Tehrany said. “That has led to 70 percent of children choosing not to continue sports by age 13.”

“It’s important that parents and coaches voice the importance of never ignoring an injury or any type of pain,” he said. “Playing through the pain is dangerous, and can worsen an injury and increase risk or chance for surgery.”

As parents, we need to step in if our kids are playing injured. They may want to keep competing, but we are the grown-ups here, right? We want them to be able to enjoy being active in the long-term and may have to put their sports career in perspective. Yes, they may want to be at the Junior Olympics they’ve been training for, but missing a meet at 12, 13 or 14, won’t be the end of their careers.

My own daughter took a break from competing this summer. She took two weeks away from the pool and found out there were other activities like spin class, yoga and running. She believes that her break will allow her to come back and compete refreshed and stronger.

Here’s a great video with kids talking about how they feel about their parents watching their sports. It’s a good reminder for all of us sports parents. After all, we don’t want our kids to be among the 80 percent that quit sports, correct?

Have your kids taken a break from competing in sports? If so, for how long and was it helpful?

What’s the epidemic hurting our kids in youth sports?

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My daughter’s high elbow freestyle stroke.

After reading an article in the New York Post, June 19, 2017, called “The Epidemic That’s Ruining Youth Sports” by Kirsten Fleming, I realized there’s something going on that’s hurting our kids—including my own.

The whole point of youth sports is to teach our kids life lessons like perseverance, time management, good sportsmanship, confidence, etc. Also, an active kid learns healthy habits and doesn’t have time to get in trouble. Our kids are gaining so much from sports, but they are getting hurt, many from overuse injuries.

Excerpts from the NY Post:

“The injuries are a byproduct of many factors, including hypercompetitive athletes, a growing number of travel teams and tournaments, and overzealous parents pushing their children too much because they believe they have the next LeBron James on their hands.

“There is a huge amount of delusion, I think,” says Kelly of the latter.

“But the largest cause is young athletes specializing in one sport at an earlier age. Instead of playing lacrosse, basketball and football, they are opting to stick with just one, and it’s taking a toll on their bodies.”

“A 2015 survey in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that 60 percent of all Tommy John surgeries in the US are for patients ages 15 to 19 — startling considering that professional baseball player Tommy John himself was 31 when the surgical-graft procedure was invented to repair his damaged elbow ligament in 1974. In 2010, AOSSM launched the STOP (Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention) Sports Injuries campaign to combat the worrisome trend.”

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Nighttime swim practice.

Kids work so hard in their sports and give 100 percent—sometimes more than 110 percent. My own daughter has suffered overuse injury of her shoulder and I’ll admit she specialized in swimming since she was five years old—and she’s a distance swimmer. She has one season left to swim in college and hopefully, she’s going to make it. There have been some scary times and tears when she’s said her “shoulder quit shouldering.” I wonder if shoulder surgery will be in her future?

 

Looking back on all of her years’ swimming, I honestly don’t know what we would have done differently. She was healthy all through her swimming career until the past couple years. Maybe all the repetitive motion has finally caught up with her body. In any case, she was the one who wanted to swim. She loved every minute of it and wouldn’t have dreamed of not swimming year round. We tried early on to expose our kids to many other activities but they both loved the pool. And yes, mom and dad were really into it, too.

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My daughter swimming in the eight and unders age group.

Do you know any kids who have overuse injuries? Did they need surgery? Also, were they specializing in their sport for many years? Please share your stories.

 

The Problem With Participation Trophies

Healthy competition at a swim meet.

Healthy competition at a swim meet.

Why are our kids getting awards for showing up? Is it damaging to make them believe they’ve earned something without achieving it?

Kids instinctively know who’s the smartest in the class. They know who the fastest runners and best athletes are. By not recognizing achievement, what are we adults trying to prove? That everybody is equal? It’s not if you win or lose, but how you play the game?

Robert with friends at CSF banquet where they were recognized for academic achievement.

Robert with friends at CSF banquet where they were recognized for academic achievement. Did you know that some schools have done away with valedictorians because it’s hurtful?

An NFL star named James Harrison of the Pittsburg Steelers made headlines this summer because he returned his sons participation trophies.

“I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies!” the linebacker wrote. While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them ’til the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy,” Harrison said.

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I believe by not having winners and losers we are encouraging mediocrity. We are telling kids that when they are older and have a job, that it’s fine to just show up and they’ll receive raises automatically. We are taking away a valuable lesson that should be learned at an early age—how to handle failure.

I think it’s great that my kids are swimmers and they learned how to deal with failure. Swimming is a pure sport. Kids are racing against a clock. It’s not subjective. It’s not judged (well, not much—there are officials that DQ swimmers for technical mistakes). The point is this: everyone does not get a ribbon, nor a participation trophy. There are winners and losers. Kids learn from this.

trophyAs a team we celebrated achievement and excellence. We held send-off parties for Junior Olympics, Juniors and National meets. We sent a swimmer to the Olympics twice—Beijing and London. We had pot-luck dinners on deck and goodie bags, special caps and t-shirts for the ones who made it to higher level meets. We had annual banquets with four awards per group. For the fastest boy and girl strictly based on time. And the coach’s awards, based on criteria such as attendance and effort.

Those were proud times for all swimmers and parents. The kids who didn’t receive awards or goodie bags did not have their self-esteem pummeled. Instead, they were motivated to achieve and work harder so they could get recognized someday, too. They cheered loudly with team pride for their teammates.

I’ve written about how failure helps kids this week on SwimSwam, and previously in What My Kids Learned While Staying Wet.

By giving everyone ribbons and medals for participation, we are holding our kids back. They aren’t learning what losing teaches—working hard, resilience, good sportsmanship, empathy and persistence.

My son getting a hug from his piano teacher for a beautifully played Clair de Lune.

My son getting a hug and present from his piano teacher for a beautifully played Clair de Lune at his senior recital.

My kids are definitely persistent, almost to the point of “stop already!” They have a never-give-up attitude that serves them well. They were never the most talented swimmers who could jump in and make finals at JOs. No, they were the ones like the tortoise, who had to work steady for years and years to catch the hare.

One of our fellow swim parents said it best:  “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

I guess a character named Yoda said it first.

Do you have experiences where all kids received trophies at school or in sports? What’s your opinion about participation trophies? Please comment below. I’d love to hear your stories.

My daughter and teammates at Junior Olympics.

My daughter and teammates at Junior Olympics.

Eight Thoughts About My First PAC-12 Champs Swim Meet

Olympic swimmers competing at the PAC 12s.

Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin competing at the PAC 12s.

1.  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 life long 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, too.photo 2 (1)

How swimming has helped my kids and what my family has learned from it.

pics for swim (1)Note: I’ve invited a writer to give a fresh perspective on what kids learn from swimming. Everything I’ve read of his brings me smiles and tears. I’m pleased to introduce my first guest writer, Juan de la Quinta.

johnphotoHow swimming has helped my kids and what my family has learned from it.

When I was asked to share my thoughts on the theme of this post, I immediately felt that this topic is perfect for my casual writing style and the fact that I love to share stories about my 3 daughters. I’m going to leave them nameless, but they really do exist…trust me.

Our eldest, now 24, deserves credit for bringing our family into the swimming world. She was 12 when she brought home a flyer from middle school announcing swim team tryouts at the local community college pool. Still relatively new to the neighborhood and without a sport since her Karate Sensei had moved away a few months earlier, my wife took her to the pool the next day and she passed the 25-yard swim test. We signed her up and the transformation began. 

Although this daughter had the courage to stick with swimming all the way through high school, despite her lukewarm interest, what she remembers most about swimming is that it taught her about long-term commitments. She grew up a natural athlete who had the privilege of playing a variety of different seasonal sports that allowed her to maximize her enjoyment for 3-4 months at a time. She excelled at basketball, softball, karate, flag football, soccer, and was a natural swimmer with solid form in all 4 strokes.  Before joining swimming, sports were second in priority to individual and family activities. Once she committed to swimming we expected her to juggle her schedule to keep swimming the first priority after schoolwork. What she learned from this experience, especially in high school, was that excessive homework (or the claim thereof) was the only reason we ever allowed her to miss swim practice. She has since adopted our philosophy of priorities and could not be a more reliable person when she makes a commitment. 

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Biological Offspring #2, on the other hand, has benefitted from the lessons mom and dad learned with #1 and she has never tried to get out of swim practice for any reason because she knows from 10 years of swimming that we can’t be fooled twice. Seven years junior to #1, this child has set the standards of excellence for herself and her 12-year old sister in both academics and athletics. Formation of her character and personality can be directly attributed to the experiences she’s had with her swimming coaches and teammates. During her earliest years she adapted to the many transient coaches that we endured because of the challenge to find and keep swim parents capable of managing the intricacies of a good team. We bounced our way from one end of our valley to the other before landing with our current team. #2 never let these team and pool changes affect her attitude or behavior. She has consistently trained with older girls who’ve inadvertently taught her many lessons of life. 

#2 has always come home from practices and meets to parents who’ve encouraged, expected and at times demanded that #2 and #3 be open, honest and candid with us about their lives. In these talks around the dinner table or driving home from a meet, we’d hear about the shenanigans that other kids were pulling with their coaches, other swimmers, other friends and other kid’s parents. We’d analyze these incidents and use each of them as teaching opportunities. 

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Being a supportive parent is much easier in the 3rd person than the first because emotions are less likely to influence our feedback and guidance. The key to this parental practice is to remain neutral as often as possible or the kids pick up on the one-sided opinions. If you are honest and admit when a situation is delicate, difficult and/or embarrassing, then your kids will realize that your opinions are fair and your guidance is not designed to just make a parent happy for the sake of happiness, but fair because it takes into the account the feelings and effects that will happen to all parties involved in a situation. In other words, try not to judge. It’s a good practice in general, but essential to good parenting. 

Now when it comes to #3, I have to admit that much of the influence she’s gotten from me was actually in her pre-swimming years, riding along as I drove #2 back and forth to practice and when we drove as a family to meets. I repeatedly shared my own passion for hard work and my competitive spirit through stories of my childhood and young adult life. These frequent infusions of positive values necessary in athletics and life were absorbed well by #3. As soon as our backyard pool was built, #3 was four years old and the perfect student for #2, who trained her little sister in the fine art of racing starts, turning at the wall and the fundamentals of all 4 strokes. This first summer of training was the advantage that #3 took with her onto the team when she started swimming a year later. It took about one season for me to realize that #3 was actually swimming faster than #2 did at the same age… and we always thought #2 was fast. 

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The greatest qualities of character that #3 learned from her teammate-sister was humility and kindness. #2 has always worked hard to reach the top levels of her age group, so when she started to win races and bring home medals, we repeatedly instilled the lesson that her hard work was the direct cause of her success, not other extrinsic factors. Recognizing the truth of this cause and effect relationship, #3 works as hard as anyone on her team to improve herself. The beauty of her humility and kindness comes not just from witnessing her sister’s humble success and good sportsmanship, but also from her own spiritual development. It’s easy to impart Christian values to a child who experiences so many incidents of recognition. As parents, we’ve repeatedly taught her that she’s been blessed with all the attributes of a champion. The lesson we teach repeatedly is that not only does she owe it to God to use her talents to the best of her ability as a way to say thank you, but to continue to open herself up to God’s will by raising up others around her. The value of knowing that the competition is not an enemy, but rather just another child of God swimming next to you is the key to her ability to befriend anyone willing to smile back at her. Don’t get me wrong, she doesn’t like to lose races but when that happens she has no problems congratulating the girls who beat her. It takes nothing away from who she is as a person and it does nothing but inspire her to work harder. 

I love being a swim dad, but this snapshot only highlights a few things our family has learned from over 10 years of participation. I could go on and on about the great families we’ve met over the years and the friends we’ve all made along the way or our joy of watching other swimmers on our team improve and mature. But most important of all, swimming has brought my family closer to each other as we’ve endured triumphs and disappointments with our kids. Our closeness and love is a direct result of being a committed swim family.

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