Thursday, February 2, 2012

Why Should I Swim If I'm Not The Best?

I think I've already covered this topic on this blog about 7 times already, but it still seems to be a big issue with age group swimmers all over the place. So I'll spend 1200 words covering it again because swimmers are still faced with a few different scenarios. The big ones are:
a.) I used to be a really fast 12 year old but now I'm not winning everything anymore so whats the point?
b.) I'm not the fastest and I'll never be the fastest so whats the point?
c.) The group of swimmers I used to be as fast as are now all national qualifiers and I'm not and I'm embarrassed by that so I don't want to swim.

Swimming means so much more than just winning. But how much value is truly put on amateur sports? For whatever reason, here in Ontario, clubs driven by parent volunteers, really want to see their kids do really well NOW, with very little long term thinking. What is going to keep these athletes involved in the sport long enough to truly succeed? Look around... how many 14-16 year olds were at World Championships this past summer? How many will be swimming at the Olympics this summer?

Sports has changed and athlete & parental mind sets must change as well. 20-30 years ago, it was normal to see a 16 year old girl or a high school aged boy swimming at the Olympics or breaking world records... and there was a reason for this: money. Years ago, amateur sports were truly amateur (loosely translated "for the love of the sport") and athletes could not afford to keep going past a certain age (the physical toll on their bodies was a lot higher as well with limited sports science knowledge). Now, there is lots of money through Universities, grants, endorsements, sponsorships, etc to keep athletes going. So what is YOUR plan to keep swimming after age 22? What is your club's plan to make sure that this will happen?

Here is my final whack at the question "Why should I swim if I'm not the best" (which I'm sure I will recycle a few times in the coming years). The 6 reasons to swim even if you're not the best.

1.) Sports is about role playing. Tobias Oriwol articulated this very well for the Halton Hills Blue Fins at their October Awards Banquet (audio can be found on coachmikepodcast episode 7). Basically, Tobias put it this way: in football the roles are clearly defined: you're a blocker, your job is to stop someone from interfering with a rush or pass play. Very little glory there; but you know that getting into it. In swimming its a little different. Training roles and competing roles exist and its important to figure out what role you play and how you make the TEAM better with you on it. If there was only room for world record holders, there would only be about 6 clubs in the world and those clubs on average would consist of 2 people each.

2.) Average age of champions is on the rise. Aside from USA's Missy Franklin, the top 150 swims in the world are not exactly littered with 18 and unders. Swimming has to exist after high school in order for Canada to succeed in the world... and High School Swimming is not helping. Stephen Clarke (Canada's best freestyler and flyer back in 1996-2000) didn't even qualify for Nationals under age 18. Rick Say didn't even really start swimming seriously until University. If you're 14 and not where you want to be yet: don't sweat it! Your career is very young.

3.) Its about the journey, not the end result: "Swimming produces some of the best and most well rounded people." ~ Dean Boles, Ontario Provincial Mentor Coach. Swimming can teach you so many things, amongst them, time management. Not many other sports demand as much training at inconvenient hours... as a result, swimmers have the opportunity to learn how to balance a busy and important school schedule with a long training schedule. I say the opportunity because it is very tempting to not train during exams or busy school time... and thus is the challenge and the lesson. I'll say (and be accountable for) the following statement: Swimmers are better people... but its a learned attribute. Rise to the challenges ahead of you.

4.) Self reliance:I swam for (what feels like) a life time. In that time I really learned a lot about myself. At age 15, I realized that I was a big wuss and it embarrassed me. Upon that realization, I decided I wanted to become more self reliant (in charge of my attendance, swimming, travel, etc). There were several times when my family was going away for a weekend and I stayed behind to train. There were many times when my mom would put me on a team bus or with another swimmer's family and wish me luck for the weekend. I was (with the exception of my coaches and team mates) on my own. At 19 I was still not very adventurous (I decided to stay in Ontario for University rather than scholarship) but I really feel that swimming kept me on track in University and made me University ready. Those opportunities are there for everyone in the sport. Here is a good read by Dick Hannula. EVERY swimmer should have it printed out and sitting next to their bed.

5.) Fitness: I have 2 children under the age of 4 and its very easy to let fitness slip when you have children. However, I had done so much in the past that I was still able to fake general fitness for years... and when I got back into a gym, it didn't take me very long to get back into shape... AND I knew what I was going to do to get me there. This is my round about way of saying that the benefits of childhood fitness pay off. Trust me! Also, swimming is a life skill. You should always want to pass that skill to your kids... and then beat them in a race and gloat about it.

6.) What if you ARE the best and just don't know it? Above, I referenced Rick Say and Stephen Clarke, obvious late bloomers... but how would they know if they backed out at 13? You owe it to yourself to answer that question. Train and practice as if you already know the answer is "yes".

Far too many athletes give up too early because no one can give them an answer to that question. I've given you 6. See you at morning workout, right?

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