Courtesy of Donna Hale
Of all the great treasures of swimming, nothing is more important or profoundly character-defining as how an athlete responds as a teammate. When the medals are packed away, and the cheering crowds are a distant memory, perhaps what will define a swimmer the most is how they are remembered as a teammate.
No swimmer can reach their potential or experience joy of swimming without a lifetime of awesome teammates. My daughter, who is now a college freshman, was blessed with an abundance of swimmers who helped her fall in love with swimming, supported her in ups and downs, and convinced her anything is possible. As you progress in this sport, nothing matters more. Nothing.
Early in her career, she was having trouble breaking that under one minute mark in the 100 freestyle. At a three-day race, the boys on the team struck a deal. Go under one minute and we will wear girl’s suits to Monday’s practice. At the end, the clock registered a 59.59. And it was that group of boys who cheered with deafening screams the entire race. They inspired a young girl to reach deep. A moment that I will never forget. Neither will she. In that moment this silly challenge became a team goal. They were in that pool with her. A good teammate is supportive through the good and the bad. And ultimately they inspire each other: sharing the dreams they work towards every day. Swimming is not a one man or woman deal.
Great teammates celebrate the success of their lane mates – even if it means their friends reach the wall first. Sportsmanship is the hallmark of a good swimmer. A caring heart and soul is the hallmark of a great one. Great competitors win with grace. They lose with dignity. Races end in a tearful embrace or a spirited high five. Anything else is unacceptable and the great coaches teach this every day.
Awesome teammates are true friends. They don’t talk smack behind your back. And they do not need to tear others down to feel good about their own performances. In a sport where winning and losing comes down to milliseconds, most swimmers learn very young that many times your toughest competitor is also your best friend. And if that is the case, you’re truly lucky. Races come and go. There will always be someone better or faster. But teammates who have your back – Well they are priceless. Life is too short to settle for anything else.
Finally all-star teammates always have a shoulder — even if it’s an injured one. As a swim mom, I have seen this play out hundreds of times on decks all over the USA. Many times it is the teammates who console when races don’t end the way they are anticipated. They dry tears. Get extra water. Find the missing towel. They are also running across the deck after record-breaking performances. Taking selfies. Picking you up off the ground. Celebrating your success as if it were theirs. Because it is. Swimming is a team sport. Be a great teammate and surround yourself with the same.
So as you continue your swimming journey, do not settle. Seek out and train with teammates who inspire, rejoice and celebrate. Nothing matters more.
Donna Hale has been a swim mom for 14 years. Her daughter is a freshman swimmer for Davis & Elkins Senators