If you want your children to make the right decisions, ask the right questions.
When Summer and her brother Trevor were young, they didn’t know what a swim team was. I hardly knew what a swim team was having grown up in a small town in Eastern Nebraska during a time when very few women competed in sports, let alone swimming. Of course knowledge is power, so I made an effort to find out what exactly a youth sports swimming experience would be like.
We decided to join a swim team, after Summer and Trevor’s instructor from swimming lessons, mentioned that it could be both fun and help hone in on their natural talents in the water. From my perspective, I felt they could use some healthy activity too, so off we went to swim practice and swim meets.
We started on a parks and recreation league teams, which ran from just after Easter through July. It seemed harmless enough at the time. Well, as it turned out my children had considerable talent – much more so then catching on quickly or excelling in one or two areas, like the other children involved. While Trevor recognized his talents, he made it clear at about age nine, that he preferred soccer to swimming. But, Summer, she stuck with it.
Ok, at age 10, there was a few months pause in Summer’s enthusiasm - but it didn’t take long for her to figure out that she was bored and missed her swimming friends. She also missed going to swim meets and all the fun team events that go along with an organized youths sports experience. Add her symptoms of distance and time to her longing to participate in an upcoming swim met, and Summer soon broke. She couldn’t stand the break any longer and of course got back in the pool.
This first decision to return to her swim team, did not take any questions or egging on by me. However, when she turned 14, the story changed.
Immediately and constantly a good swimmer, Summer had won most of her events in the age group divisions that define the youth level. But then she became a teenager, and had to swim at Senior meets, where her ability to dominate in an age group was no more. You see at this level, it didn’t matter if you were 14 or 24, everyone swam against one another.
All of a sudden, Summer found that her talents could not easily carry her to a first place finish. She had to race much harder and diligently than she ever had before, something she internalized and found extremely frustrating. Indeed, her times were slower at this level and other swimmers were faster. Top that off with her constant complaints, comparisons and tears, and it became very clear, her transition to the next level of competition wasn’t going smoothly.
Partly I knew her age was a factor. Fourteen is a tough time in a young girl’s life. While she was still winning events, her times weren’t improving and she didn’t seem to be enjoying her sport anymore. Finally, a family friend asked her why she was getting up so early to practice and passing on school functions and events to compete at swim meets. Summer’s answer totally took me off guard. She said very matter of factly, “I don’t know.”
I was dumb-founded when I heard this come out of her mouth. I expected to hear something like, “I want to go to the Olympics”, or “I want to swim as fast as I can.” But instead I got, “I don’t know.” Why hadn’t I thought to ask her this question earlier?
Well, this called for desperate measures. First and foremost, I wanted her to be happy and she wasn’t. I also was concerned about the financial burden each month – especially when that money could be applied to something else my child enjoys. Plus, swimming demanded just as much of my time as Summer’, and I had my son Trevor and his activities to consider.
So I decided to have a real heart to heart with her regarding her decisions. I told her simply that she did not have to swim to please anyone but herself, and that I was fine with it if she quit. But then of course I asked her the hard questions that had been on all our minds lately.
If she enjoyed swimming and wanted to continue, why wasn’t she putting everything she could into her practices? Didn’t she want to see how far she could go? We had a conversation about young swimmers and their abilities as they move into more aggressive competition years and how as you get older, the competition continues to improve. Mental toughness was equally compared to physical toughness in our discussion, and this is where I believe my daughter began to understand the breath of her talents and how she, if she so chose, wanted to continue to excel in the sport of swimming.
Again, the decision to continue swimming was hers, and hers alone. But, sometimes we must ask the right questions in order to assist our children in their personal decision making process. Not long after our discussion, I noticed a difference in the way Summer practiced and in her attitude in general. She had started taking responsibility for her actions, which most parents can agree, is a big step on the path to growing up.