Courtesy of Donna Hale (Swim Mom)
We are headed directly into the heart of summer swim season. In many areas of the country, Fairfax County included, it’s a seven to eight week marathon of pasta dinners, pep rallies, occasional parents who take it way too seriously and coaches who might cringe at the thought of one more developmental meet, IM Carnival, or ice cream social. Yes, I am the mom of a year round swimmer. And I, too, have been guilty of wondering, “Why does the summer swim marathon matter?” It takes so many hours, countless volunteers, and Saturday mornings spent in caravans throughout communities in America.
Today I was reminded as I saw Hannah, now 16, interacting with a young girl just starting out. Here’s what I remembered, which somehow got lost in the chase for cuts, thoughts of college scholarships, and grueling long course workouts. Here is why it matters.
This is where a love of this sport is often fostered. For most kids it begins in the summer. For Hannah it was at four years old. Terrific teens at a small community pool taught her to dive, reach for the wall and fly like a bird. In her first race she was timid, afraid to dive in. A terrific young coach got out, jumped in with her, and she easily made it across that pool for the lollipop, a teen superstar right by her side. A love affair began.
It’s where great sportsmanship is learned from the very start. Her very first coaches taught her that you never end a race without shaking the hand of your opponent. This lesson has remained with her even during the most intense year round competitions. It’s a race ritual as important as the famous Phelps stretch. Since most of our kids will not be Olympians, isn’t it great that they can learn this trait early on for any sport they choose to pursue?
You learn how to give something your all. You learn how to swim your heart out, maybe come up short and lose with dignity. You also learn how to spring from pool deck, race your heart out, and win with grace. Both are equally important. They teach character. All sports teach character. But none do it better than swimming, where a fingertip touch can be the difference between first and second.
You get your very first taste of swimming as a team. When the meet is on the line and all that stands between your summer team and that last relay, the cheers are deafening. It’s about more than you. Often you’re going against your fiercest competitors and your closest friends. You learn how to race for something more than yourself. It’s a lesson you carry forth to year round swimming, NCAA, and beyond.
Summer swimming builds community. In a world where we all race from place to place and rush through lives at a rapid pace, a summer meet slows us down, if only for a few hours. You get to know your neighbors well when you spend three hours timing a Saturday morning meet, eating yet another homemade pasta dinner, or meeting for lunch after the morning meet.
Memories are made, not just for the kids, but parents as well. In the blink of an eye and one day it will be gone. You will miss it. Most of all, as your child stands side by side with kids who were them ten years earlier, they learn the most important lesson of all: You’re a competitive swimmer. And it’s in these moments that it’s your turn to show them the pure joy of swimming – to pass it on.
Donna Hale has been a swim mom for 12 years as well as executive of several nonprofit organizations. She volunteers regularly for her daughter Hannah’s USA Team The Potomac Marlins, summer team Burke Station Destroyers, and Lake Braddock Swim and Dive Bruins.