Courtesy of Donna Hale
As I near the end of my age group parenting for a swimmer, I’ve had many conversations about what constitutes success in the sport of swimming. I mean real success. Because at the end of the journey the medals and ribbons will be put away, the special cuts will not matter, and you’ll be left with memories. Memories. Here is what you and your swimmer can do to be sure every moment counts and treasure the journey. I hope my child carries these great lessons to the NCAA.
1. Believe in yourself and honor what is in your heart and soul. Obstacles, challenges, setbacks and failures are amazing teachers. Embrace every opportunity to learn and grow but at the end of it all have some fun.
2. Treasure your teammates and fellow competitors. You’ll never regret a handshake, a hug or lending a supportive shoulder. You may regret encouragement unspoken or not being there when someone needed you. It’s your obligation to your team and yourself. It’s the price you pay for the blessings swimming bestows.
3. Give swimming your best each day. While not everyone can make the Olympics, athletes can commit to give it their best in the moment. And there will be times when that best will frankly suck. Remember in the end, the only person you answer to is yourself. Sorry coaches and parents, but this is an inevitable truth. When things get tough you can walk away or find a new goal and a different strategy. Forgive yourself for your mistakes. There will be plenty. But don’t dwell on the bad stuff. Repeat again: it should be fun.
4. Take care of your memories. My daughter has every shirt, sweatshirt, medal, trophy, plaque and swim treasure since she was 4. Hundreds and hundreds of pieces of swimming stuff. It is my hope that one day when the goggles are collecting dust, these stories will make her smile. Because behind all of them are antics, amazing swim races, horrific performances, towel turbans, and most of all friends. They are the jewel of this sport. Friends.
5. Appreciate what the people who’ve led you on this journey have given you. It took my daughter many years to realize how much she got from her very first coach. They clashed. He pushed. She pushed back. But she grew in ways she now sees clearly. But also evaluate each day for yourself if you are getting what you need. It’s not only okay to stand up for yourself, it’s your responsibility. You deserve to be surrounded by people who share your passion and love for swimming. Repeat again: it should be fun.
6. Figure out your end goal — the big why. And be sure your whole heart is in it. Do you want to just be a great high school and summer swimmer? Do you want to swim in college? Or are you one of the rare swimmers who is Olympic bound? Any answer is okay as long as it’s your own answer. No coach or parent can or should decide. Obviously they are allies and resources. But the fundamental question is basic: Why do you swim? One last reminder: it should be fun.
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.