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They Done Good

One of the challenges of being a swimmer is that swimming is not a seasonal sport.

It’s a year-round, full-time commitment once you really decide to commit.

The  year is broken into two main seasons (in the Northeast, anyway).

September through March is known as short course season. That’s because all meets are held in a 25-yard pool.

Most teams have about a two week break at the end of March or beginning of April, and then you move into the summer season, which is called long course. It’s called long course because you swim in a 50 meter pool. It’s also called an Olympic distance pool (cause that’s the distance pool used in the Olympics).

After long course season, you might get a little longer break. Like close to a month.

So out of every 52 weeks,  you have a total of 5-6 weeks off.

By the time you get to  the end of long course season, you are fried.

Which is why I didn’t give you a recap of our trip to Zones yet.

Because when we got home from the meet on Sunday night, I was shot. And I wanted a couple days where I didn’t even think about swimming. At all.

To be honest, I’m still kind of in I-don’t-even-want-to-think-about-swimming mode.

But I do want to let you know about our trip.

If you missed the first post before we left, in a nutshell, Zones is short for Eastern Zones Long Course Championships, and it’s a big, intense meet for the top swimmers on the East Coast in Richmond, Virginia.

There are teams from Virginia all the way up to Maine who attend the meet. It’s a four day meet, and if you are involved in swimming at all, you know how tiring these are for not only the swimmers, but also for the family members who attend them.

If you are not familiar with swimming at all, all I can say is that they are grueling. And that is no exaggeration. Each session, from the time you get your swimmer there for warm up until you leave the pool is at least five hours long. Usually closer to six hours.

The pool area is well over 80 degrees, the stands are even hotter and filled to capacity, and people are often douchebags in the stands. Of course it’s fun to watch your kids swim, but in a session that lasts four hours, your kid probably swims for a total of less than five minutes.

However nervous your kid is, you are ten times as nervous. You leave each session of a meet like this feeling like you’ve run a marathon. I’m not really kidding.

If you have more than one kid swimming, you are stressed out about both of them doing well because when one has a good meet and one has a shitty meet, that is no fun.

And if you have to bring along younger siblings who are hot, tired, thirsty, bored, have no desire to watch the meet and who have to sit around for 4+ hours,  that does not help.

At all.

So I had four days of that, and then two days of driving at least eight hours in the car with four kids ten and younger.

It was a long week.

There was not much personal space.

In fact, there wasn’t any personal space.

So it was definitely not a vacation. Not for me, anyway.

But I will say that breakfast was included at our hotel and there was free coffee available 24/7. It was pretty awesome to just walk downstairs and have breakfast waiting for us. And I absolutely needed the always available coffee.

The families from our team stayed in the same hotel, and one of my friends has five kids roughly the same age as our five younger ones, so the kids were ecstatic to have five consecutive days of playdates with their buddies.

They had lots of fun in the hotel pool and hot tub.

They enjoyed having the freedom to go to their friends’ rooms on their own.

Number 6 especially enjoyed having his own key. He also learned how to sweet talk the hotel concierge into giving him extras.

When I got home and cleaned out my purse, I found these:

Whoops.

The kids were a little crazy at times. There was a lot of whining, a lot of arguing, and a lot of crying. There may have been a few complaints by other guests at the hotel about some blond kids running in the halls early in the morning.

But there was also a lot of laughing and fun. (But more whining than fun).

So there was the management of Number 5, 6 and 7.

Then there was the swimming part. Which was, you know, the reason we were down there.

Number 3 stayed with the CT team in a different hotel. So I only saw him at the pool.

I talked to him for a grand total of approximately 90 seconds  between the time I dropped him off at the bus on Tuesday morning and the time I picked him up from the bus on Sunday night.

That was just what he needed. He needed time away. He needed a little space from Number 4. He needed to do his own thing.

Four years ago he was so crippled by anxiety he wouldn’t even walk into the locker room alone at an unfamiliar pool.

Last week he hopped on a bus and drove 400 miles away with a bunch of kids he didn’t really know, slept in a hotel with two other swimmers he hadn’t ever met before for  five nights, and had almost zero contact with me the entire time.

He swam really well. But I was sure he would.

When I picked him up on Sunday and asked him if he was bummed it was over or if he was happy to be home, he said, “I wish we could have hung out for three more days. It was so awesome, Mom.”

So I couldn’t be happier for him. It was a major self confidence building experience for him.

I was much more stressed out about Number 4.  Trying to make sure she got a decent night’s sleep every night in the hotel room with three younger siblings was a challenge.

And I was not sure how she was going to swim.

Actually, that’s not true.

I was sure she was going to swim like crap.

Two weeks before Zones, she had a very disappointing meet. It was the championship meet for the season, and she did not have the times either one of us expected she would. She spent the last night of the meet crying in the car for a good hour or so.

She was determined and convinced she was going to swim much faster this past week at Zones.

I was not convinced. I was afraid she was putting too much pressure on herself.

It is typically difficult to swim well at a meet like this for younger swimmers, especially only two weeks after a big championship meet.

So I was expecting her to be disappointed. I was expecting lots of crying and drama. Again.

Of course, in true Number 4 fashion, she totally proved me wrong, and she kicked some serious ass.

She swam better than I would have ever anticipated. And I’m her coach.

She walked away from Zones with huge drops in times and a fifth, a third, and a first place medal.

She said she had something to prove to herself, and she had something to prove to everyone else.

And she did it.

I was blown away by her.

Again.

And that sums up our trip to Richmond.

Exhausting, exciting, challenging, surprising and 100% rewarding.

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Next Stop, Richmond, Virginia

Number 3 and 4 first joined the swim team six years ago.

They swam on the town team which only swims in the summer and practices in the lake at the town beach. It’s a rinky dink little team, but it was the perfect introduction to swim team for them. They both loved it.

Of course, growing up a swimmer and swimming all the way through my senior year in college, I was  pretty psyched when they asked to join the swim team.

It’s hard not to live vicariously through them. Too much.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t doing that at all.

It’s also hard to balance their desire to do well and win and be the best with the knowledge that the burnout factor in swimming is very, very high.

There aren’t too many kids who are ranked among the top swimmers in the state as ten-year-olds who are still swimming when they are in high school.

So it’s a fine line.

Pull the trigger too soon and you risk them falling out of love with the sport before they really get to the good part. The part where they learn all the important life lessons that have both gotten me through some of the darkest times of my life and also given me the closest friends of my life.

Anyway, here they are after a meet that very first season.

Number 3 had just turned seven, and Number 4 was five years old (two months away from six).

They both exhibited natural talent and ability early on.

And now, six years later, here they are.

(Number 7 is the age now that Number 4 was six years ago when they first started swimming 🙂 )

Both Number 3 and 4 had great seasons this summer.  And they both qualified for a big meet in Richmond, Virginia this week called Eastern Zones Long Course Championships. It’s a four day meet where the top swimmers from states up and down the East Coast will be swimming.

They both set goals to make it to this meet this summer, and they both did it. I am so proud of them!!!

So, with the knowledge that they are swimming in some relatively elite circles at a fairly young age (which increases the pressure they may put on themselves), we are headed off to Richmond, Virginia tomorrow where I get to watch the two of them swim not as their coach, but simply as their mom (which I am very much looking forward to).

I drop Number 3 off with the other swimmers from CT who are 11 years old and older at 6:45 a.m. tomorrow morning (they all ride together on a coach bus and stay in a hotel together as a team) and then I’m making the 413 mile trip from Connecticut to Virginia with Number 4, 5, 6, and 7 (because the swimmers who are ten and under have to stay with their parents).

It’s gonna be interesting, no doubt, and if I survive the drive and the next six days with those four in a hotel room, I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

Wish me luck!

 

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Five Things Parents Of Athletes Should Stop (or Start) Doing

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I have been involved in the sport of swimming since I was ten years old.

I swam for a small club team when I started, moved to a very competitive Y team in middle school, swam varsity all four years of high school, and swam for a Division I team in college where I was captain my junior and senior years.

Once I graduated from college, I transitioned to the other side of swimming and started coaching.

I  have coached every age of swimmer, from kindergarten through college. I’ve coached USS teams, Y teams, country club teams and Special Olympic teams.

I am presently the head developmental coach of a swim team that four of my kids also swim for. As the head developmental coach, I currently work with kids who range in age from five years old to eleven years old.

I coach kids who are brand new to swimming and kids who are the number one in the state.  I also coach three of my own children.

When my kids joined the swim team, I entered the third arena of swimming. Being a swimming parent.

This past weekend I had the pleasure of just being a swimming parent. This is not an opportunity I often have as I’m usually on the deck coaching while my kids are swimming.

It was a very welcomed change to be able to simply sit in the stands, just be a mom, and focus only on my daughter.

But as I sat in the stands, I overheard a mother talking about her son, who is ten years old. The same age as my daughter.

And after he had a swim where he didn’t swim a best time, where he didn’t place as high as she thought he should have, where he didn’t perform to the level she believed he should have, she said to the woman sitting next to her, I am going to rip him to shreds when we get home.

She wasn’t kidding.

It was disturbing.

Not as disturbing as what I overheard another parent saying three weeks ago at a different swim meet as he was exiting the building.

I heard a father tell his very distraught daughter, who was probably around 12 years old and who apparently hadn’t swum as well as she wanted to that day, I am pulling you off the swim team this summer. He later said to his daughter,  You swam so bad you might as well kill yourself.

I know.

What the f*ck.

You may think these are extreme and isolated incidents, but they aren’t.

Trust me. I get it. It is easy as a parent and as a coach to get wrapped up in the performance of your kid. I can see where you want to focus on times, places, overall finishes, medals, etc. You want your kid to be the best. You want your kid to be in the starting lineup. You want him to have as much (or more) playing time than everyone else.

But that isn’t why your kids are involved in sports.

Sure, that’s part of it. Everyone wants to be good. Everyone likes to win. Everyone loves to get a medal or a trophy or set a record.

But the most basic reason your kids participate in a sport is because it’s fun.

The definition of fun may evolve over time.

At first, fun equals playing games. Scrimmaging. Nothing too intense.

Along the way early on, while your kids are having fun, they learn some lessons. They develop skills and become stronger without even realizing it.

And they make friends. Friends who they look forward to seeing every day or every weekend.  They become part of a team. They have a sense of belonging and significance, something all human beings crave, no matter how fast or slow they are.

As your kids mature and develop, they learn to push themselves more. They realize that practicing helps them improve. They learn that by moving out of their comfort zone, they become stronger and better.

Now the fun isn’t just about playing. It’s about setting goals and working hard to achieve them. Practice becomes harder. But the results of your practice, playing well in a game or swimming fast in a meet is the fun part. So is working toward a bigger goal with your teammates.

It is on the coaching end of things that I’ve been able to rein myself in on the parenting end. A couple years ago, I was borderline psycho on the stands at Number 3’s baseball games. I was the loudest parent there. I was cheering loudly. But I was also being a backseat coach from the sidelines.

I was sure this was helping my son, but one day I asked him if he could hear me when he was pitching and his response was, “YES! And can you stop it? It’s REALLY annoying!!!”

I truly thought he welcomed my “input.”

But he didn’t. And I can only imagine how annoying I was to my son’s baseball coaches.

Something else occurred to me last week when Number 3 asked me a question while we were driving to swim practice.

He said to me, “Mom? What was  your best time in the 100 breaststroke when you were my age?”

And you know what? I have absolutely no idea. The more I thought about it, I couldn’t remember most of my times at any age, and I also didn’t really remember what place I came in at any of my meets. Even the big ones.

I think this is something many parents either never understand or at some point lose sight of.

In the big picture, the important thing isn’t what place you got or how fast you swam or whether or not your team won the championship.

Most teams never win the championship. The majority of swimmers never set a record or come in first place. Most players aren’t voted MVP and very very few go on to play any sport professionally.

If being the best and winning was the only reason anyone ever played a sport, there wouldn’t be too many people involved in athletics on any level!

As a former swimmer, I know from personal experience that challenging myself, setting goals and achieving (some of) them, realizing I was tougher than I thought I was, learning to move out of my comfort zone, making friends, laughing my butt off, and being a part of a team that almost literally became my family was what made swimming fun for me.

As a parent, I want my kids to be successful at whatever sport they participate in, but mostly I want them to have fun. The kind of fun I had when I was on the swim team.

As a coach I want the same thing. I want my swimmers to be successful. But more importantly, I also want to help them develop a lifelong love for the sport of swimming.

While the goals for a coach and a parent may be the same, the roles of a coach and a parent are different!

Your job as a parent is not to sit on the sidelines and direct or berate your kid. It is not your job to quiz your kid in the car and bark orders at him while you are on your way to practice.

What is your job as a parent?

1. Teach/encourage your child to take responsibility for him/herself. 

When your child is in the pool or on the field, it is up to him or her to pay attention, to focus, and to do the things his coach is asking him/her to do. If your kid is going to truly be successful in a sport, the drive/motivation/effort needs to be internal.

Stop packing your kids’ swim bags or baseball bags or whatever bags. They can do this! Even when they are five years old! When your kids are encouraged to take responsibility for their equipment/water bottles/etc, they are learning that all aspects of the sport are their responsibility.

I tell my swimmers all the time, I can tell you what to do, but I can’t get in the water and make you do it. You are  your biggest coach!

2. Stop trying to coach your kid. And relax.

Your kids’ coaches are the experts.

I see kids on the baseball field who make errors, and the first people they look at are their parents! NO! Look at your coach! When the inning or the race or the game is over, talk to your coach. Your coach will give you feedback to help you do better next time! That’s why he/she is there!

The same thing happens in the pool. There are children who, in practice, get to the wall and look directly over at their parents for guidance. Parents who have never ever been involved in any way in the sport of swimming before who are on the sitting on deck telling their kids how to move their arms.

It’s very frustrating.

And while these parents think they are helping their kids, they aren’t.

Neither is the mom who has spreadsheets and graphs at home of her kid’s swim times. (Yes, I met a mom who actually does that).

Trust your kids’ coaches, and let them do their job.

3. Don’t quiz your kid after practice or before a game.

There is only one question you ever need to ask your kids after a game: Did you have fun?

When dropping your kids off for practice, I know it may be tempting to fire off a bunch of directions at them. Keep your eye on the ball! Be aggressive! Work on your streamlines!

Just as you don’t want your spouse to nag you about things, your kids don’t want this from you either.

If you really can’t help yourself, ask this question: What is something you want to focus on today at practice? or What is something you think you did well at the game today?

This question helps your child to self-reflect and think about something he/she can do to play his/her best. And it helps your child learn to take ownership of his/her performance.

4. Let your kid fail.

YES. This is the most important thing of all.

Your kids will learn more about real life, more about being resilient, more about perseverance, more about sportsmanship and grace and humility, and more about themselves through failures than they will through constantly succeeding.

Failure isn’t unhealthy for your kids. But a parent who constantly tries to rescue them from it is.

I know it’s tough in the moment, but those moments don’t last forever, and your kids come out stronger, smarter and better for it on the other side.

5. Be present.

Put your phones down.  Watch your kids. Sure, pictures and videos are nice. But most of the time you bring your phone to a game or a meet, you end up doing something else on it. It distracts you.

And you know what your kids want the most when you are at their games and meets and practices?

They don’t want pictures or videos for you to put on Facebook. They definitely don’t want to look over in the bleachers and see you staring at your phone.

They want you to witness that home run first hand. Even if it isn’t a home run or anything spectacular, your kids want your attention and and they want your support.

And as their parent, that is the biggest gift you can give them.

 

 

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Next Stop, Webster, New York

As you all know, I spent this past weekend at a pretty big swim meet with Number 3 and Number 4.

And at this meet, it was Number 4’s goal to swim well enough to qualify for an even bigger meet where the best of the best on the East Coast swim called Zones.

She had set this goal for herself exactly a year ago when Number 3 qualified for the meet.

Knowing it was a goal of hers, I took her to Webster, NY with me last year to watch Number 3 swim.

Number 4 was mesmerized.

It’s a pretty cool experience. And as far as age group swimmers are concerned, it’s a big deal.

They have a big podium at the meet, and the top six or eight finishers in each event are given awards, just like at the Olympics.

In fact, last year they had a former Olympian placing the medals around the necks of the winners.

And as soon as Number 4 saw that, she said, Next year I’m coming here. And next year I’m going to be on that podium.

She didn’t just want to make it to Zones. She wanted to make it to the Zones podium.

So going into this past weekend, I have to be honest.

I have never been so nervous about anything since becoming a mother, and quite possibly, in my entire life.

And I’m not exaggerating.

The first day of the meet was last Thursday, and on Wednesday I hardly slept at all.

As you also know, I’m Number 4’s coach. I knew she had big goals for herself.  And if she didn’t meet them, well, I’d feel responsible for that.

And if she was gonna get on that Zones podium, I had to first get her to Zones.

She had six events to swim over the course of four days.

Her best shot to make it to  Zones was on the third day of swimming.

I really didn’t want to  wait until that third day. I couldn’t handle three nights of no sleep.

I tried not to let on that I was totally freaking out.

But I was.

Her first event was the 500 Freestyle on Thursday. That’s 20 lengths of the pool. It’s not her strongest event, so I wasn’t expecting her to qualify in that. I just wanted her to swim well so it set the tone for the rest of the meet and so she was happy.

She swam a great race, she dropped nine seconds, and she finished fourth.

The top three in each event go to Zones, so she just missed it.

I didn’t expect her to swim as fast as she did, so I was very happy.

But I was also still pooping in my pants.

On Friday she had two events. The 200 Freestyle (8 lengths) and the 100 Individual Medley (or IM as it’s called — one length of each stroke). I wasn’t expecting much from the 200 Free since she’s not really a freestyler, but I thought she had a decent shot in the 100 IM.

She swam the 200 Free first. She did a best time.

And she finished in 3rd place.

She made Zones in an event I never even thought she’d make it in.

YES!!!!!

Being the coach, I clenched my jaw as tight as I could and I pushed back the lump in my throat. I had a whole bunch of swimmers there, and I didn’t want to lose it in front of them (or any of the other coaches).

Being the mom, as soon as there was a break, I went into the bathroom and I cried like a baby in the bathroom stall.

I was proud and excited and happy and shocked and emotionally drained already and I still had two more days to go.

But now the pressure was off. Now we could really just have fun and enjoy all the hard work she had put in.

She ended up swimming really well in the 100 IM and finishing 4th. But due to someone in front of her not going to Zones, Number 4 was bumped up a spot, and she made it into that event, too.

So she had two events under her belt at the end of Friday.

Day 3, Saturday, was her big day. The 100 Backstroke. Her strongest event. The event I originally thought she’d qualify in.

The nerves were back. Because Number 4 was really hoping to win the whole thing, and of course, so was I.

She had a terrible start, and she came up about half a body length behind the girl next to her.

By the time she got to the third turn, she was about a head behind her.

On the last lap, she was reeling her in.

They were neck and neck.

You know that crazy mom on the sidelines of the baseball game or the soccer game or in the stands at the basketball game or the football game or the swim meet?

The one that is totally out of control and screaming like a lunatic and everyone is staring at her saying, Holy shit, Woman, calm the f*ck down?

Yeah. That was me on the pool deck when Number 4 was swimming.

I was out of my mind.

And I may have peed in my pants a little bit.

Number 4 and the girl next to her appeared to touch the wall at the same time, and all the coaches immediately turned to look at the scoreboard.

There were 2 times on the board.

1:07.59 and 1:07.67

Number 4 finished second by .08 of a second.

She came so close to winning.

But she swam her ass off, and never in a million years did I think she’d swim that fast.

Knowing she was my swimmer (but not my kid), a coach next to me from another team looked at me and said, “That was a hell of a race.”

“That was my daughter,” I told him.

I might have cried right there, and he may have thought I was a psycho.

But I don’t care.

Number 4 was amazing.

So she ended up qualifying for Zones in three events.

She leaves next Wednesday.

And part one of the goal she set for herself a year ago has been accomplished. Make it to Zones.

Will she make it up onto the podium once she’s there?

We’ll just have to wait and see.

But if I was the betting kind — if someone forced my hand — I’d go all in that she’s definitely gonna do it.

 

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