Those of you who have been around for a few years know that we are a pretty big swim family.
I was a swimmer from the time I learned to swim until I graduated from college. I have been a coach in some capacity pretty much my entire adult life.
Number 3 and 4 are elite swimmers, and Number 5 and 7 are pretty serious about swimming, too.
If you are also a swimmer, you know that there is a very high potential for burn out.
Competitive swimming is basically a year-round sport. There is about a two week break in the spring, and then another break of somewhere between two and four weeks in August at the end of the summer season before starting up again in September.
So you are swimming at least 46 out of 52 weeks a year.
When you reach the high school age, if you are serious about swimming, you practice six days a week, and on three of those days, you do “doubles” and swim in the morning before school for about an hour and a half and then again in the afternoon or evening for anywhere between two and three hours.
So by the time you are fourteen, it is very likely you are training in the water between 16 – 21 hours a week.
And then there is the dry land or strength training you have in addition to the time in the water.
So it’s about a 6 day, 25 hour/week, 46 week/year commitment.
It takes a special breed of person to make it through four years of high school maintaining that schedule. And an even more special breed of kid to do it for four more years in college.
Number 3 and 4 talk often about going to the Olympics.
This isn’t an uncommon thing for kids to dream about.
It’s also not uncommon for that dream to fall by the wayside once kids get a little older and realize the level of commitment and talent and persistence and hard work and sacrifice that is necessary in order to make that dream a reality.
Statistically speaking, only like .001% of swimmers will ever actually make it to the Olympics, so even at the elite level, chances are not so good.
But if my kids really continue to have that be a goal they have set for themselves, I wanna do what I can to help them achieve it.
A little over two years ago, Number 4 set a goal for herself to have the fastest time in the state in an event, and to get onto the podium at a big championship meet for swimmers from the East Coast.
And she did it.
But there is some danger in being at the top. Especially when you are ten.
Because then there is pressure. Pressure to stay at Number 1. Pressure to be the best. And at the age of ten, it can also be very difficult to understand that people are still going to swim faster than you occasionally. Or often.
Even for the most mature and intelligent ten-year-olds, this is tough to wrap your brain around.
And this is what happened to Number 4 after she turned eleven.
She put a tremendous amount of pressure on herself. She developed some pretty significant anxiety. She was having panic attacks at practice. She had always loved and looked forward to going to practice.
And now she was dreading it.
As her mother, as her former swim coach, and as a former swimmer myself, it was very difficult to watch.
To see her relationship with swimming turn from something joyful to something stressful at eleven years old was really heartbreaking for me.
So we backed off.
We backed off big time.
In April we switched to a team with a different philosophy. Ironically, the team we switched to is the best team in the state, but it has a much less intense philosophy, less demanding practice schedules and less demanding expectations for the younger swimmers.
There was not a minimum practice attendance. There was no pressure to be there a certain number of days each week.
And we took full advantage of this.
In April, May and June, Number 4 participated in a play and ran on the middle school track team and she opted more than once to skip swim practice so that she could accept babysitting jobs and make some money.
Out of a possible twenty-three practices in May, she went to approximately ten of them.
She missed more than 50% of her practices and averaged two-and-a-half practices a week.
And three things happened as a result of this.
First, she got a break from swimming and was able to get some clarity. And what she realized when she was away was that she missed going to practice consistently.
Second, since she was in the water approximately half the time she had been in the water in the winter, she had no expectations. She didn’t put so much pressure on herself when she was swimming in meets because she shouldn’t have swum fast because she’d hardly been training.
And swimming went from being something stressful back to what it was supposed to be.
Last weekend was the championship meet for 14 and under swimmers in Connecticut.
Number 4 had zero expectations for herself because her season had been so sporadic.
I watched her on deck from the stands.
She was laughing and cheering and talking with her friends from other teams, and she was dancing behind the blocks before her events when the music was played.
SHE WAS HAVING SUCH A GOOD TIME.
And you know what happened?
Number 4 had the meet of her life.
In six events, she dropped a total of 40.02 seconds.
This means nothing to you if you aren’t a swimmer.
(If you are a swimmer, that’s an average of almost seven seconds per event, and she swam three 200’s, one 100, and two 50’s).
In laymen’s terms, she dropped a shit ton of time and swam incredibly fast.
Fast enough that she is currently ranked 18th in the country among eleven year old girls in one of those events.
She does not know this.
And I will not tell her this.
That will just create pressure for her. Self-imposed pressure. She doesn’t need the pressure.
Because the anxiety has finally disappeared.
At finals on the last night of the meet she said to me, “Mom, this is literally the most amazing swim meet of my life.”
A swim meet where she had no expectations for herself other than to have a good time with her new teammates and catch up with her old ones.
And then when we were all completely depleted and had finally gotten home after having spent more than 30 hours at the pool over the last three days, I went upstairs to say goodnight to Number 4 who was already snuggled under her covers.
And she said to me, “Mom?”
“Yeah?” I answered.
“I DON’T THINK I COULD POSSIBLY BE HAPPIER THAN I AM RIGHT NOW.”
And I kind of felt the exact same way.
Because things had come full circle for her. And swimming had become fun again.
And who knows.
Someday that Olympic dream may still become a reality for Number 4 after all.