Two stories of swimming…
My son and swimming…
My son swam with a Swim Ontario swim club. He was pushed, and pushed and then pushed some more. By the age of 12 he had qualified for Festivals (i.e. Provincials <13 years of age) in the maximum number of events. He was swimming personal best after personal best taking 5, 10 even 15 seconds off at a time. He was pushed harder, and then pushed harder… and then he blew up. We were driving to a meet in May in that same season and all of a sudden I realized that my son wasn’t tired, he was exhausted, he had given all that he could, he was then expected to give more… but had hit a wall. A wall that he had no idea how to climb because there was nothing left, he had given all that he had… and he couldn’t get over the wall. In that instance, the momentum screeched to a halt, like a wave that he was just marginally staying ahead of, all of the pushing caught up to him and swallowed him, it was over. That was the end of swimming. My son was pushed to the point that he came to hate what once was a love, a joy, a pleasure.
I allowed it to happen… it happened on my watch!
I was supposed to protect him, I allowed him to get hurt.
It then occurred to me that it wasn’t just my son, but athlete after athlete, coach after coach seemed to have left sport on a low… a low that to this day they still seem to live when they chose to acknowledge its existence. When a swim coach shared that the thought alone of a swimsuit can make her choke, I realized… we are doing this wrong… its all wrong! Sport is not to leave us in a low, its to be a source of empowerment, a training ground that we use to succeed in life outside of sport as much as in sport.
It took years to help my son process his early years of athletic experience. There were emotional, mental and physical patterns that all had to be unwound in order to allow him to move forward in life without the baggage he had gained from being pushed and from trying to take the pushing to perform… for coaches, for the team, for his parents, for himself. Today, he is back to training, training in an healthy manner, training with first things first.
My story of swimming…
I swam with York SC out of Runnymede Collegiate and then progressed to the next training level which swam out of Weston Collegiate Institute. I started swimming “late” (as in not at age 6-7) so when I got to Weston Collegiate, I was in grade 8 going on grade 9 but I was swimming with those who started earlier and were at least a few years younger.
That marked the end of swimming because no one explained to me it wasn’t too late, I just figured it was. No one told me that if I stuck with it that I had a chance as good if not better than the younger ones, because in time… those younger ones typically burn out, blow up, end up exhausted, done like dinner before they see their teenage years.
I restarted swimming to train for triathlons in grade 12. I didn’t join a team, I swam on my own at the YMCA and when the opportunity arose with other triathletes. In my first year at the University of Toronto, I missed try outs for the Varsity Blues swim team but showed up on deck the following week hoping that I could at least train with the team because my focus was triathlons, not swimming exclusively. I had no false hopes that I would be able to make the team. It turned out that I was allowed to train with the team, and ended up making the team. I was a walk-on.
In the following four years, I competed as a Varsity Blue at OUAAs (University Provincials) but failed to make cuts for CIAUs (University Nationals). But what I learnt from the experience was critical… swimming doesn’t end at 10, 12 even at 15. I may not have qualified for CIAUs, but I trained with athletes whose times qualified them for OUAAs, CIAUs and to go on and compete around the world… at World University Games, at Pan-Ams, Pan-Pacs, at the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics. The UofT Varsity Blues team had athletes who swam for Canada at all these competitions.
The Solution Is…
IN UNIVERSITY… the path to INTERNATIONAL LEVEL
ACADEMICS & ATHLETICS is WIDE OPEN
STEP 1 – train to peak in university not before
STEP 2 – study to peak in university not before
STEP 3 – peak in university & explore your potential
There is no need for membership to any team or club (especially Swim Ontario affiliated swim club) that will attempt to peak you earlier. Instead join a team, a club, train with a coach who understands that your peak years will be long past the days that you were with them… you will be off at university, off to explore your potential and the world.
Parents… keep kids achieving, keep kids dreaming, keep kids training, keep kids from over training, from over competing, keep kids active in an healthy manner helping them build the physiological and psychological base so that when they do hit that sweet spot of their peak performance years as a young adult they will be able to seize the opportunity. If it so happens that your child is an exception… that they peak earlier, don’t worry, you will not miss the opportunity. If Penny Oleksiak despite being rejected by two Swim Ontario affiliated swim clubs could still make her way into the sport, and to the top of the sport… then anyone can no matter what Swim Ontario and SNC do to try and prevent it.
If I could walk-on to the University of Toronto Blues Swim Team and have the opportunity to train with the some of the best athletes in our country, to compete alongside some of the best athletes… imagine if someone had told me when I was 12 when I left swimming that all I had to do was… just keep going, not fast, not hard, just keep going.
Doors don’t close until you close them. Lets teach kids to open doors and then keep them open as long as possible so that they have a choice of opportunities when its their time.