Courtesy: Donna Hale
Sometimes life takes us on a detour so we can follow the path we were destined to travel all along.
This happened to my daughter. Maybe it has happened to you or you are thinking about a different journey. Summer was always an especially intense journey in the life of my swimmer. It started when she just jumped into a pool when she was just learning to walk and talk. From that moment on, there was not looking back. In a world of dancers, runners, artists, and musicians, she was destined to be a mermaid. She has already swam for two years in the NCAA, and decided this spring to transfer to a new school and a new swimming program. While she has always loved the competitive aspects of swimming, there was something she craved more and that was belonging to a tribe that understood both the privilege and the responsibilities that come with being a good athlete. It has always been about the journey for her and the people you love along the way.
She is looking forward to a blank slate and to helping to create a culture that will live long after her goggles are not a daily mainstay. In a few weeks, she starts another aquatic journey in “the great wide somewhere.” As memory after memory pops up from this amazing ride, she has caused me to reflect.
As an athlete willing to put it all on the line in college, what are the “must haves” to thrive in a supportive culture. If you look around the country and talk to enough swimmers both past and present, I can promise you that you will find these elements in the world’s best collegiate programs. Here is what you will find in world-class swimming teams – not only in college but at the club level as well.
- Coaches who understand that swimming does not define you. It is what you do. It is not who you are. These coaches understand that dedication, compassion, sportsmanship, and passion for the sport are present in every great athlete – whether they win Olympic gold, a race in a dual meet, or come up milliseconds short now and again. There are some things that you truly cannot teach. After being around this sport for going on two decades, I can assure you that one is “swim love.” Great coaches are tough and set high expectations. But they are also the ones that support their athletes through the best and worst of times. They nurture “swim love” every day.
- A culture of fun, positivity and support. The best athletes know that the name on the suit and not on the cap is what matters. If you are part of a program where individual desires or needs are more important than those of the team, go somewhere else. These years fly by. And as much as people talk about swimming being an individual sport, in reality that is not true. Without the friendships, camaraderie, and lasting memories, swimming would not be the grand adventure that it is. Making these fleeting moments count is important.
- A sense of purpose beyond the lane lines. All of the programs my daughter has swam for have focused on service beyond the pool. Some have raised money for breast cancer research. Some have taught young kids to swim. Others have tried to eradicate poverty and serve the homeless. This sense of purpose builds powerful and community-altering cultures. And it shows each athlete that their role in a community is important and a lifelong obligation.
- They create a joyful journey. Yes, swimming should be fun. And teammates should build each other up and not tear each other or their opponents down. After all, if you make swimming a key part of your childhood, you will see many of the same faces through the years. Many become lifelong friends who you can count on when your goggles break at the blocks, you drop your towel in the pool, or you experience a life-altering tragedy. Your fellow swimmers are family. Sometimes it is okay to joke around, laugh until you cry, and bask in the pure joy of swimming. Joy is contagious and is meant to multiply.
- Finally, amazing programs create legacies. And, I am not talking about record boards. Every true swimmer knows that records are made to be broken. Creating a legacy is about more than the number of W’s a team can compile or the conference championships that they win. Legacy programs survive and thrive when the swimmers change and even the coaches. This is true because they are built on hard work, memory making, and athlete, coach and even parental support. Listen closely and you will hear the great team’s heart beating in unison. You see desire become destiny as the starter says: take your mark.
It is time again “to find adventure in the great wide somewhere.”
About Donna Hale
Donna Hale has been a swim mom for more than 16 years. Her daughter begins her third year in the NCAA this fall.