Ben Sutton Letter To Parents: Excellence Requires Sacrifice

by SwimSwam Contributors 0

December 07th, 2018 Lifestyle

The following is an e-mail that comes to us courtesy of Ben Sutton of the Fort Wayne Swim Team. Sutton sent the e-mail out to parents in his program, connecting his experiences as a youth athlete to the time and commitment demands on his current swimmers. You can read the full e-mail below:

Courtesy: Ben Sutton

Please understand that I have my own 9-year-old son who currently swims on our team.  My overriding priority is his lifelong happiness.

As a kid I was an exceptional athlete in multiple sports and ended up
swimming in college and competing with and against the best swimmers in the world.  If it wasn’t for swimming I would have never gone to college and earned a degree.  I was a punk kid who took everything for granted and wasted away many of my talents as a youth.  If you ask me why I coach its because I absolutely love it but that is because I want kids to learn from my mistakes and the crazy journey I had along the way.

From the age of 5 sports became the most important aspect on my life.
In one calendar year I was involved in 8 different organized sports
teams.  By the age of 11 I started narrowing it down and from 11 to 13
years old I was one of the best pitchers in the area.  My travel team
travelled all over the Midwest and even out to the east coast.  For
the most part my baseball coaches always allowed me to work around my swim schedule because they knew I did everything I could to make it to every practice I was able (I had a mother who drove me everywhere). During the Midwest Championship Tournament which happened to begin the weekend of Age Group State I informed the coach I couldn’t be at the first-round games because I would be swimming at AGS that weekend. Coach told me that if I didn’t participate in the first round, I would be on the bench the rest of the tournament.  (In hind-site I understand the message he was giving the team) I swam at Age Group State and sat on the bench for the remainder of the tournament and never played baseball again.

During the summer after 8th grade (this was the first summer I wasn’t
traveling baseball) I swam 2 hours in the morning at Auburn with FWA then would go home and ride my bike to Pine Valley and play 18-36 holes every day and then most days go to evening practice at the
Legion (Club O) with FWA.  That summer I was the best golfer I have
ever been (10-11 handicap).    Freshman year after a very successful
swim season I wanted to play high school golf.  I went to the first
day of tryouts and shot a 43 at Riverbend (In April).  Coach was
impressed enough to pull me aside and ask about my background.  I
explained my involvement in swimming and he told me that if I couldn’t commit to make every practice that I couldn’t be on the team.  I never played another round of golf with Concordia.

I am telling you all this because I sincerely want to provide every
opportunity possible for each one of your kids.  Do I understand why
the coaches of my youth did what they did…. absolutely.  However, I
want to afford the opportunity for your kids to be able to make
educated and informed decisions.  Swimming is a very demanding sport. If you want to be one of the best swimmers, you have to commit
yourself to a whole different level of commitment.  By the time you
get to high school you better know that swimming is what you want to
commit yourself to.  How do you know this???  By trying and
experiencing other sports, clubs, bands, show choir, speech
competitions, “We the People”, dances, etc… For the most part these
are all activities your kids will only be able to experience once.

Now, here is Ben the Swim Coach.  I have always stood my ground on
everything I said above.  I am currently the Head Age Group Coach for
FORT while being the Lead Gold Coach, Lead Blue Coach and assistant High School Coach.  I have grown into this position like everyone of your swimmers has grown in their ability levels and how you all have grown with your careers.  As I said above, swimming requires a level of commitment beyond most youth sports.  With that….” Excellence Requires Sacrifice” Let me say that again…”Excellence Requires Sacrifice”.  By the age of 13, to really be on top of any sport you have to fully commit yourself to that sport.  Now there are always exceptions to the rules but those are rare.  Having this conversation with your child is very important.  I am going to support every kid in whatever decision they make when it comes to these opportunities, but I am also going to explain that they need to tentatively adjust their current expectations of their swims.

As I said in the first sentence of this letter; My overriding priority
is my son’s life long happiness.   I commit to you that my overriding
priority for each one of your children is to teach them to work hard
and enjoy what they are doing.

I love what I do and want nothing but the best for each one of your
children.  All I can ask is that you support what I am teaching your
kids and support them no matter what the outcome of each race or swim meet is.  At the end of the day the times your kids swim this season or what place they get at a swim meet means absolutely nothing in life.  I always tell my older kids “it’s about the journey not the destination”.  Each season is its own journey and the lessons the kids learn along the way are what they will take with them the rest of
their life.  Working hard to achieve a goal; the resolve to overcome
adversity; to continue working hard and doing things the right way
even when sometimes things don’t go your way.  There are no guarantees in life but if you do things the right way and you commit yourself to the process then you give yourself the best opportunity to succeed. If I can get these kids to understand this and do it with a smile on their face, then we will have a successful season in my eyes.

Below I have outlined some key points from USA Swimming that I agree on.

Age Group Program Objectives and Challenges

Seek the overall development of each child.

Try to always act in the best interest of all children in the program.

Try to balance the needs of the individual with the needs of the group.

Parents to share the commitment to the team goals and team philosophy.

Coach Ben’s Goals for Age Group Program

Develop a balance of fun while teaching the kids the importance of
working hard and commitment.

Development of long-term success in the pool and love for the sport.


Coach Ben’s Parental Expectations

Coaches critique performance.

• Parents support unconditionally.

Coaches discipline during swimming.

• Parents support unconditionally.

Coaches determine direction.

• Parents support unconditionally.

Coaches push and challenge swimmers.

• Parents support unconditionally.

Shall I go on….. The only thing you need to say to your swimmer, is:
“I love watching you swim and I am so proud of you.”

From High School to Bronze Group you have a coaching staff who
genuinely care about your kids.  All of us coaches do this because we
love it and feel confident, we are pretty good at what we do.  Coach
John shared with me the three sides of the triangle of success.

1.        Coach – Swimmer

2.       Parent – Swimmer

3.       Coach – Parent

If all three sides of the triangle are in tact and on the same page,
then we give the swimmer and the team the best opportunity for

Below is a quiz from USA Swimming:


1.        Is winning more important to you or your child?

2.       Is your disappointment obvious?

3.       Can only you “psyche up” your child?

4.       Is winning the only way your child can enjoy sports?

5.       Do you conduct post mortems after competition or practice?

6.       Do you feel you have to force your child to practice?

7.       Can you do better coaching your own child?

8.       Do you dislike your child’s opponents?

9.       Are your goals or your child’s goals more important to you?

10.   Do you provide material rewards for performance?

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