Courtesy of Donna Hale
My daughter is home on winter break from Davis & Elkins College, her first semester as a student and an NCAA athlete is done. We were talking about the differences in high school, club, and college swimming just last night.
I asked her what was the most important attribute every swimmer, or for that matter, any elite athlete needs. There were a number of things that came to my mind before her big reveal. She has had her share of injuries, sickness right before the big meets, and the inevitable ups and downs that are a part of any sport. Many athletes with great potential eventually give up because pushing forward is too hard. It’s not etched in their souls.
I thought she might say a strong work ethic. Sports require so many practice hours. She says that hard work is a given. If you don’t put in the time, it always shows. You can’t hide behind missed practices or subpar effort. You’ll be exposed one day. And it goes beyond doing what is required. It’s doing what is expected when no one is watching – the hallmark of a champion.
I also thought she might say natural talent. But, again I was reminded of the hundreds of kids we have known who were truly gifted but had no passion. When it got hard, and it always does, it was no fun. It is what happens in the silence when no one is watching or even coaching that counts.
It was an amazing conversation. It made me cry. And I felt blessed.
She said quite emphatically that to succeed, to really win which goes far beyond a first-place finish, an athlete must have heart. Heart for their sport. Heart for their teammates. Heart for the journey. My daughter is right. Coaches know it too. These are the kids – the one with heart – that make coaching worthwhile. They have great years, shining moments, and times of despair for opportunities lost and dreams not realized. But they forge on.
But through it all, they keep the faith. They have heart.
Donna Hale has been a swim mom. Her daughter swims for Davis & Elkins and competes in USA swimming 14 years, most recently from The Potomac Marlins.