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The “Intangibles” of Competitive Swimming (Coaches’ Corner July 30)

By Lauren Caswell, Coach JR group.

Wow, I can’t believe that Regionals are here and the competitive season is almost over.  Once the big meets are complete, you and your parents will likely reflect on the summer and assess how things went.   However, I strongly encourage you not to look solely at your times and goal sheets when gauging your success.  

As a recently-retired competitive swimmer and a new coach for Vikings, I am only now starting to understand how this sport helped me develop not only as a swimmer, but as a person. Now, I may be biased, but I believe that swimming offers many life lessons that you won’t find with other sports.  Here is a list of some of the “intangibles” of competitive swimming that you should consider when evaluating your past season with the Vikings:

Health and Fitness

If you fully participated in the Viking program (i.e. attended most practices and several meets), you are likely in the best shape of your life.   Swimmers develop both great endurance and strength.  As a coach, I have observed a huge change in the level of fitness of my swimmers since May.   If you don’t believe me, I encourage you to join your school’s cross-country team in September.    Destroying most of the competition is easily achieved after a summer full of daily swim practices.

The Value of Hard Work

In swimming, talent will only get you so far.  Success in the pool in August ultimately comes from hard work done in May, June, and July.  Most of you quickly learned that there are no shortcuts in swimming.  The lessons of hard work learned in the pool are easily transferred to the classroom or life in general.

Accountability, Perseverance, and Handling Adversity

I recall that my parents jokingly said that the Vikings jam a year’s worth of life’s tough lessons into a weekend meet.   Swimming has taught you how to cope with failure and disappointment.  Whether you were DQ’d (again) in the breaststroke, failed to make finals or beat your personal best, or exposed yourself on the blocks when your swimsuit ripped (happened to me – twice!), you have likely faced adversity this season.

Swimming also holds you accountable for your failures.  You usually can’t blame your teammates, the competition, or the pool.  The clock doesn’t lie and you must take responsibility for your failures.

Finally, swimming teaches you that just because things in life don’t always go your way, you must dust yourself off and get back up on the block.   The ability to persevere after a difficult outcome (race) is a lesson that will come in handy throughout your life.

Friendship and Camaraderie

Swimmers share a special bond.  Maybe it is because only your swim friends understand the level of commitment required to get up for 6:30am practice.   Maybe it is because only your swim friends understand why you are so happy after knocking 0.5 seconds off your PB in the 50 fly.   Or maybe it is because of the countless laughs you all shared under the canopies between races.   My best friends are my swimming friends –  many who I met under the Vikings canopies as a young, developing swimmer.  Through the tears, hugs, and laughter, you will develop an unbreakable kinship over the years with your swim friends.   This is the best part of swimming by far.

My list is far from complete.  I have no doubt that my fellow coaches could easily add a few more points.  However, they would all agree that this wonderful sport has shaped them as a person – mostly for the better.   While your medals and ribbons earned during the summer will likely end up in a forgotten shoebox under your bed, the life lessons learned this summer will stay with you forever.   Rest assured, there are more lessons to be learned next year . . .  GO VIKINGS GO.

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