I have been trying not to be that mom. You know the one. And you know her well. She yells like a maniac on the sidelines of her child’s sporting event, certain that the more (and louder) she screams, the more goals her child will score…or the farther he will throw the ball…or in this case, the faster he will swim. See, Tyler joined the swim team this year, and as soon as I stepped foot on that pool concrete on the day of his first practice, it all came rushing back. All the excitement, the motivation to work hard, and the desire to win. In other words, I felt all the things I used to feel when I was on the summer swim team. And, when I was on the summer swim team, I wanted to win. All. The. Time. Now, don’t get me wrong… if I didn’t win, I was ok. I wasn’t a poor sport, and I shrugged (or more my style, laughed) it off fairly well, but deep down was this desire to not ever let that happen again. Not ever. But I digress. Back to Tyler…
I began this season using my fabulous social work skill of self-talk to nicely remind myself that being part of a sports team was supposed to be fun.… that it shouldn’t be filled with too much pressure… that it was more about the friendships that were built and the skills that could be learned. And for the first month, I sat back and smiled at Tyler playing around in the water, learning how to swim Freestyle, and enjoying himself. Of course I want Tyler to enjoy himself. But where is that drive? Where is that competitive nature that I possessed to the core of my being? When is he going to take this seriously?…We just watched the Olympic trials, for Pete’s sake! When I tell you that keeping my mouth shut was like trying to control a wild animal, it’s an understatement. Inside, I was screaming, “KICK YOUR FEET!” “GET OFF THE ROPE!” “USE STREAMLINE OFF THE WALL!” And then one day, as I sat by the side of the pool, fake-smiling at Tyler while he stopped in the middle of a 25 Free to wave at me (yes, talking about it makes me crazy), I noticed it. I don’t know how it had taken so long, but on this one day, it hit me. There was no clock. NO PACE CLOCK?!?! And, with that, my mania reached new heights. The list of skills Tyler needed to master on his way to an Olympic Gold was growing. He NEEDS to learn to dive, do flip turns and do backstroke starts. He needs to learn breaststroke and butterfly…and what a 100 IM is. And, for the LOVE, how is he going to improve without knowing how to use a PACE CLOCK? But I said nothing. Instead, I did the next best thing. I hopped on the phone. I signed him up for swim classes at NOVA Swimming, and I plotted my plan. If I can get Tyler into year round swimming, like I was, then maybe…just MAYBE…he will have a chance to be the next Michael Phelps. And I am sooo not joking.
We walked into the NOVA building on day one, and Tyler entered his class. It took about 5 seconds before he was instructed…or rather ORDERED…by an older Russian woman, into the pool. There was pointing, clapping, and directions to swim “catch-up” Freestyle, all with the Bela Karolyi-ish accent. While Tyler tried to decipher exactly what he was supposed to do, my heart smiled. There she was…my dream come true…someone who would, quite possibly even literally, whip my future Olympian into shape. And fast. And then my dreams died. Just. Like. That. Tyler had no stinkin’ idea what “catch-up” Freestyle was, and the look of fear that had overcome his face was clearly not impressing his new coach. Tyler got kicked out. KICKED. OUT. He was redirected to a more “appropriate” class, and spent the next two weeks learning the fundamentals of Freestyle and Backstroke. He learned how to do them correctly. And he learned that it was about more than jumping in the water and swimming a make-shift version of either of those strokes down the lane. Every day while Tyler was in class, a group of children who swam on the year-round team were practicing nearby. Tyler eyed them often. He watched them dive, use flip-turns, swim all the strokes efficiently, do drills, and yes, use the beloved pace clock. They were working hard for that entire hour we were there. Then, one day on the ride home…no, not the first day, when Tyler told me that “swimming is two-thumbs down. I got kicked out and she doesn’t even speak my language!”…Tyler said the words I had been longing for. He said, “Mommy, I really love swimming. I saw all those other children swimming all those strokes and they were fast. I want to get better. Will you help me practice at our pool?” I could have cried. Literally. I said…ok, SCREAMED… “Of course I’ll help you!” From that point until now, Tyler has expressed his love and passion about swimming almost on a daily basis…without any further acts of manipulation on my part, I am proud to say. And I have yet to blurt out any directives regarding the kicking of any “hineys” of opposing swimmers. That too, I am proud of. However, I did have a moment where I wondered if my acts of manipulation were actually in Tyler’s best interest. And then my thoughts turned to my childhood and my own mom.
She put me on the summer swim team when I was 6…the year-round swim team when I was 8. She came to every swim meet I ever swam in, and she got up before the sun on many weekends to put me, sleeping in her arms, in the back seat for the drive across the state, to get to some swim meet somewhere. And when she could get close enough, she stood on the sidelines and cheered me on. While I couldn’t hear what she was saying from the water, I could see her (at least while swimming backstroke), and she was definitely yelling. Loud. She drove me to early morning practices, to afternoon practices, and sent me to the University of Virginia swim camp. She pushed me to do my best and she encouraged hard work and dedication daily. She fed me carbohydrates before meets, and she made me rest when a big meet was coming up. She taught me discipline in the name of being my best. And I learned what it meant to push myself. And I was good. Really good. And the commitment, passion, and energy I was encouraged to put into swimming did not hurt me. It added value to my childhood and ultimately, my life. Swimming kept me in tip top shape. It taught me that I had to work hard, and often, and that I had to make sacrifices for the things that I wanted. And what I wanted was to be great. Through swimming, I was introduced to a coach, Tony Barney, who invested his time, energy, and love in me and my teammates, daily for many years. Through that relationship, relationships with other coaches, parents, and children, I felt important. I felt challenged. I felt loved. I felt that I was worth something. Yes, Tyler just turned seven in April, so should I reconsider putting him on a diet or a rest schedule? Yep. Probably. But, I am going to stop feeling bad about gently and lovingly (key words) nurturing his abilities and pushing him towards being the best. His best. I want to encourage the type of discipline, commitment, and passion that I was encouraged to have when I was his age. And I want him to know that it is ok to want to win…and how to lose gracefully…and the importance of cheering for your peers and what sportsmanship is really about. And I want him to have fun…you know, that thing we talked about earlier? I could write for days about the fun I had as a summer and year-round swimmer, the card games I played, the laughter I shared, the memories I cherish, and the pranks I played while in hotels for “away” meets. And, I want him to learn that even coaches who clap, point, and make him do push ups for pulling on the lane lines, love him and want him to be the best he can be. I know this to be true because Tony made me hit the pavement more than once.
I’ve decided that my mom was on to something. She knew that swimming would change me and make me better…not just in the water, but on this journey called life. And if what she did made her that mom, I am here to say I have joined the ranks. I, too, have become that mom. And I think that is a-ok.
Tyler swam in his last summer swim meet last Tuesday. Throughout the course of the season, he dropped over 20 seconds in 50 Free, over 20 seconds in 25 Back, and approximately 15 seconds in 25 Free. Needless to say, I am one proud mamma! Tyler has chosen to continue with swim classes to learn and hopefully master, breaststroke and butterfly. The way I figure it, Tyler is well on his way to swimming stardom…and of course that gold medal. Enjoy some photos from Tyler’s first swim meet!