4 Life Lessons Learned at the Pool
Options for youth sports abound with the explosive growth of competitive teams and leagues across the country – baseball, football, basketball, lacrosse, field hockey – just to name a few. Many parents and kids wonder what is the right sport for them.
As parents of four and collegiate swimmers and water polo players, my wife, Katie, and I often wonder if we’re pushing our kids into our sports because we know and love them. Recently, as we launched Chlorine Deckwear, we asked our friends and fans why they love the pool. Reading some of the stories on our blog, we reflected on why we loved the pool so much, too.
Training for that race, playing water polo, learning synchronized swimming routines, practicing that dive, learning scuba and even getting in the pool for the first time as a triathlete leave us with important lessons that can apply to much of our lives. Here are four lessons that rise to the top for us.
1. Self-motivation is key to team success
Our family’s team of 6 works well because each of us have a part to contribute. When I choose to put off the laundry for an extra day, our team quickly devolves. The kids complain of nothing to wear, I send them off to school in ill-fitting (but clean) clothes, rooms are filled with dirty clothes on the floor, and I’ve made a big job even bigger. The team was not succeeding. I didn’t make the effort.
The same is true of swimming. Our good teams had individuals determined to drive to practice at 5:30 AM and try harder to make the send-off. While your opponent in the lane next to you and the muffled cheering helps, winning an event is more about you than anything else. But without you, the team could not have won.
When we say there is no “I” in “team,” it devalues something very true about teamwork. Teams are made up of a bunch of “I’s.” Each individual has to make up their mind to be their best. While coordination with your team is equally important, remember as you do assignments in school, projects at work, or raise a family, you are responsible to be motivated to do your part. The team will have a better chance of being successful if you do.
2. Swimmers are different. And it’s great!
I remember my driver’s test like it was yesterday. The panic of the written test (barely passed), the sweaty palms on the steering wheel, and the horrible smell of the instructor’s perfume made for a nerve-wracking December afternoon in 1993. Are you thinking about yours now? Our experiences of “driver’s tests” are universally shared, one-time events (or in my wife’s case, two-time.) The stories make for quick, relatable icebreakers. But, rarely is a connection formed..
The shared experience of growing up in and around a pool immediately connects swimmers.
Chlorine hair. Pullout. Bullpen. Taper. Gutterball. Eggbeater. Catch-up. Streamline. Degree of Difficulty. Long-Course. Descending. Drag.
These terms have meaning to us that they don’t to others.
We put in long hours and herculean effort into our craft. So, when you say “Oh, you were a swimmer too?” you immediately have a bond with an otherwise stranger. You know something about them without having spent time with them. It is a basis for a start of a relationship – it’s what initially brought my wife and I together. It is how I made friends long after retiring from competitive swimming. I get to watch my children making those relationships around the pool now.
As I grow older, I realize how much of life is about relationships. To have a meaningful short cut to starting one is invaluable.
3. Rest Period is mandatory and the Snack Bar is open
Is there anything better as a kid than rolling through the gate, towel around your neck, kicking off your shirt and flops and throwing yourself into the cool blue water? I loved it. And I would play. And play and play and play. Alone, with my brothers, with my friends, on the diving board, on the slide, in the “4 foot”, and in the “12 foot.” I could spend hours in there – and when the loudspeaker came on to say “It is now time for the 3:00 rest period. Would all boys and girls…” a collective groan would emanate from the pool. “I don’t need a rest! This is so dumb.” And I would get in line for the snack bar.
I found out later that rest period was for the lifeguards, not us poolrats. After lifeguarding for many years, I learned that good guarding requires constant concentration. We needed rest periods to recharge and refocus.
I also found out that the snack bar was awesome and there is nothing else like it ever again in life. Where else can you buy your favorite candy (Grape Now N Laters) and delicious fried cheese sticks for only $1.50 and with no shirt on?
The world is wonderful, terrifying, joyful, exciting and nuts – all at the same time. Jobs and raising families require constant concentration when you’re in the throes of it. You have to take time to yourself to recharge and let the water calm. And while you’re doing it don’t forget some of the small things that make you happy. (I still buy boxes of Grape Now N Laters.) Life needs a rest period where all us boys and girls clear the pool for a ten-minute break.
4. Finish. The. Set.
Our main set each year of our high school training trips was “100 x 100’s.” The send-offs were descending to where #90-100 were the fastest. My senior year, and after 95 of them, our coach challenged our lane to do the last five 100’s in times that were close to our best meet times. We made the time for #96 and pushed off for the #97. We would not finish #97 by the sendoff for #98, so we would restart #97. We then made #97 and pushed off for #98, but again we would not make the sendoff to start #99 on time, so we would restart #98. All of this to say, we ended up doing 105 x 100’s, the last ten of which were the fastest we could possibly go.
Our coach could have easily let us off the hook after 100. We could have let each other off the hook. We had worked hard and almost made the set. But that day, my lanemates and I were determined to “finish the set” by making sendoff on those last 5 even if it took us 100 more. We held each other accountable to finish. We pushed ourselves so hard to finish that I still remember it 25 years later.
This is the life lesson I leave you with: simple pleasure and lasting satisfaction follow a job well done. I’ve found success and happiness in life is far more about “finishing” than “starting” or “the effort.” Have fun starting things and enjoy the ride while doing it. But finish the project, finish the job, finish the exercise. And if you are going to do something, do it well. Swimming teaches us how to, so apply it to the rest of your life.