Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham
We are so fortunate to be swim parents. Our kids get to experience failure. That’s a good thing!
When my son was in Little League, we had the team over for an end-of-season party. Was I surprised to see a trophy for everyone! Even for younger siblings that weren’t on the team.
There were no winners or losers, the emphasis was on how to play the game. That’s a nice fuzzy, warm idea, but kids who never lose won’t know how to handle failure. Studies show they may be filled with anxiety and depressed when life isn’t perfect.
Our kids need to lose to grow. How else can they develop into well-adjusted, empathetic people? It’s not our job as parents to make our children happy, but to provide experiences where they learn life skills and are happy on their own.
In swimming, my kids both missed making cuts, repeatedly. My daughter tried for close to two years for a junior national time. In her words, “The 12th time is always the charm.” Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of high points, too. Winning at CIF, anchoring a relay at big meets, and being recruited for college were moments made brighter by hard work and previous losses.
No one likes to lose, but it’s a major part of why swimming is an amazing sport for our kids. Here are eight tips on what our kids learn from losing:
How to work.
Swimmers learn there are no short cuts. If you have a kid that’s especially bright, he or she may not learn how to work in the classroom. If they are a natural athlete, swimming success may come easier to them, but without hard work, they won’t go far.
They won’t win every race.
Learning how to behave after a loss is incredibly important. Our kids get cues from us on how we act after we suffer a loss, or how we act after their races. We’re their number one role models. Life is not one perfect moment after another, strung together. Learning how to cope with failure will help them with school, work and life.
Using the energy from the frustration of a loss and turning it into a positive is exciting stuff. Not many kids get the opportunity that swimmers do to come back after a loss and get right back on the blocks.
Having the focus it takes to stick with swimming throughout plateaus, losing a coach or adding time shows true grit. Lots of hard things in life take a stick-with-it attitude. Our kids will be prepared for the long road ahead and won’t likely quit the first time they hit a bump.
Short term vs. long term goals.
Your child may want to be the next Michael Phelps, but the first step may be working on a specific goal like better streamlines. Losing will help your swimmer rethink goals. One coach told my kids to dream high for their long term goals, but keep short-term goals within reach.
Satisfaction and confidence.
Being handed a ribbon for showing up in a sport is entirely different than the satisfaction our swimmers get when they earn their first age group ribbon or medal. Our kids know instinctively that they earned their award through their efforts. Instant gratification is so prevalent today with electronics and social media. It’s a blessing that our kids are building self-confidence through old-fashioned hard work.
If our kids have a less than optimal race or practice, they figure out on their own or with their coach what they did wrong. They may know practice was tough because they skipped breakfast, or added time in a race because they didn’t warm up. They can learn from their less than perfect swims and take ownership on how to improve.
Bouncing back after failure is what we hope our kids learn from losing. Coming back from an injury and sticking with a slow, sometimes painful rehab also teaches resilience. Our kids know that failure is not constant. It’s only temporary and how they react to it will determine what comes next.
I’m proud to have my kids in swimming and love all the lessons they have learned. What have your kids learned from losing in the pool?
Elizabeth Wickham volunteered for 14 years on her kids’ club team as board member, fundraiser, newsletter editor and “Mrs. meet manager.” She’s a writer with a bachelor of arts degree in editorial journalism from the University of Washington with a long career in public relations, marketing and advertising. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Parenting and Ladybug. You can read more parenting tips on her blog.