Picture this: It’s early June in the year of 2021. It’s nice and warm outside, school is getting out for the summer, the world is finally working it’s way back to normal. Oh wait, you don’t have to picture it, you’re living in it. It’s also the summer that has two of the most exciting things in a young swimmer’s life… Summer League and The Olympics.
“But Mary,” you protest. “How in the world does summer league swimming live up to the hype of The Olympics?”
The funny thing is, these two wonders of the summer go hand in hand in the development of a young swimmer, at least they did for me, and here’s why:
Excitement: I can remember watching the Beijing Olympics when I was 9 years-old. This wasn’t too long after I had started swimming, and I’m quite confident it’s when I fell in love with Michael Phelps (but hey, who didn’t). I’m from a family that lives and breathes sports, who always has a game on, and this was the first time I can remember seeing swimming up on the TV with live commentators and fans in the stands. The 2008 Olympics is the first time I remember getting to cheer for American swimmers on the big screen, it was electrifying. To a 9 year-old, the Olympics is incredibly exciting, but you know what else is? Summer League. The Olympics gives an opportunity for kids of all ages to cheer for the best of the best, and summer league gives an opportunity for kids to be the ones getting cheered for. For many kids, this is where they get introduced to the sport, where they get to be on a team and swim on relays for the first time. This is where they first get a taste of sweet victory and bitter defeat. If you’ve never stood on the side of a summer league outdoor pool with no blocks cheering for your teammate to break a city record, I can guarantee you’ll lose your voice just as much as watching Michael Phelps win his 8th gold medal in Beijing.
Goal-Setting: I read three time Olympian Elizabeth Beisel’s book Silver Lining after it came out last year, and she describes in it watching the Olympics and saying as a young kid, that was going to be her some day. It gave her direction and drive to work towards and achieve her dream of becoming an Olympian. I saw a similar spark in my teammates and even myself growing up and watching the Olympics every four years. While I knew I wasn’t going to be rocking the red white and blue in the Olympics, it still allowed me to see what can happen when you work hard and give it your all every single day. The Olympics is a wonderful way to see where big dreams can get you, and funnily enough, summer league can do the same for kids. I’ve had the opportunity to coach a few summer league seasons and coach kids competing on their very first swim team. Very few things are as cool as watching a little kid swim their first 25 in a meet and see the smile break out across their face the next day when they get awarded their very first ribbon. They probably won’t understand just yet how far reaching the sport of swimming can be, how there are people that compete at the highest level representing their country in the Olympics. They do understand that they did something pretty incredible by racing their first race and getting their first ribbon. As they keep swimming, kids may start to set their sights on making it to finals at the City Meet, or break a city wide record. Summer league does a great job teaching these basic fundamentals of goal setting to kids.
The Mixed Relay: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the mixed relay. Growing up, this was my very favorite part of summer league. We would swim a 4×50 mixed freestyle relay, and those will forever be some of my favorite races to look back on. There’s just something so exciting and different in a mixed relay, there are just more variables than in a normal relay that can be played with. Also, not to flex too hard, but I did swim on a city record breaking mixed relay for like 6 years in a row ;). A little birdie (aka Google) told me that the 4×100 mixed medley relay will be raced at the Olympics for the first time in Tokyo. When I say I’m pumped, I AM PUMPED. I loved swimming on the mixed free relay, but a mixed medley is even more exciting. There is so much strategy that goes into this event, and I absolutely cannot wait to watch it. It’s events like a mixed relay that whether you’re swimming it in a summer league meet, or watching the fastest swimmers in the world go head to head, it’ll light a fire under you and get you excited.
Fun: From the time I started swimming to right now, swimming has always been something that is so fun for me to be a part of. Whether I’m the one in the pool or cheering on the side (or in front of the TV) I get so excited about the sport, and both summer league and the Olympics have played a big part in that. Where else can you hand your Mom a half eaten popsicle at the end of a lane and hop in and swim a 50 other than summer league? When else do you see the best of every nation competing to stand at the top of the podium and hear their own National Anthem while a gold medal is placed around their neck than at the Olympics? Both summer league and the Olympics bring a unique and exciting aspect of swimming to the table.
There’s just nothing quite like either of these things, and that’s why this summer is so exciting. For the first time in 5 years, we get to have summer league swimming and the Olympics. Right now, we have kids swimming in their first swim meets at the same time as people are competing at Olympic Trials. Something about that is just so exciting to me, and I love that we finally get to have summer league and the Olympics again.