As a swim mom for 16 years, parents of younger swimmers sometimes ask me what is the secret to keeping your child engaged in the sport. After all, if you want to keep improving and hope to compete in college, the commitment grows stronger as you become older. There are usually early morning practices, dryland exercises and many thousands of yards required every week. There is really no off season other than a few weeks after your club or college championships.
Most swimmers at some point along the way face injuries. And others, like my own daughter, must deal with chronic illness. It is not easy to be an elite level athlete. The sacrifices are real. But, the rewards are many. The friends you make along the way are the greatest reward.
Obviously, becoming a college swimmer requires many qualities – qualities you will find in every great athlete. Life between the lane lines requires a special kind of soul. Most champions have the falling qualities that enable them to shine on deck and in life.
Motivation is what gets swimmers going. They push themselves to excel in practice and in competitions This is often visible at a young age. Some days this is easier than others. But when you are tired, sleep deprived and always hungry, motivation is what keeps you in the pool and the race.
When the journey gets hard, and it most certainly will, you must push forward. You will lose races you were supposed to win You will feel the grind of the dedication it takes to be a swimmer. Sometimes you may be sidelined by injury. Or you may catch a cold before a big meet. It takes courage to keep moving forward. Resilience is something swimmers possess by the truckload.
Throughout my daughters 16 years in this sport, I have remained in awe of the laser like focus of her and her teammates. Goals are an important part of swimming. My daughter’s club coach asked swimmers to write them down. So many things stand ready to derail you. After all if you cannot dream it, you probably will not achieve it.
My daughter had the privilege of growing up in an area rich with aquatic talent. One thing she never lost was what she was taught by summer coaches at 4. You always shake the hand of your opponents – win or lose. Even after your worst swims or your greatest wins, how you behave at races’ end reflects your character. After all the swimming world is small. Your next opponent could be a treasured friend.
I have saved what I believe is the most important quality for last: heart! Swimmers with heart are amazing teammates. They are wonderful swim friends. They eagerly embrace the tough sets and they lift others up even if they are feeling a little down inside . They celebrate the success of others. They are unselfish when it comes to the good of their team. I can spot them from the stands: these swimmers with heart. They light up the water with their passion for swimming. They know that a heart for swimming it what carries you along the journey. It sounds simple, but you have to love the sport.
Motivation. Resilience. Focus. Sportsmanship. Heart. Embrace these qualities and your swimming journey will be a reflection of what you fell in love with so many years ago. My daughter has often said, first you become a part of swimming. Then as the years go by, swimming becomes a part of you.
Donna Hale has been a swim mom for 16 years. Her daughter Hannah competes for The University of Lynchburg Hornets in the ODAC.