Last Tuesday night we wrapped up a successful USS season by holding our annual awards banquet.
It was a potluck dinner, held in the basement of an historic stone church in Hanover, New Hampshire. Almost all of the swimmers were there (about 70 of them), along with moms, dads, sisters, and brothers. Everyone was in a lively, boisterous mood because it had been a good season — and the coaches were about to hand out AWARDS.
I always have the pleasure of handing out awards to the newest, and youngest, members of the team. We call these swimmers the Rookies, and this year we had 16 of them. These are kids, age 6 to 11, who have just come out of the Red Cross lesson program. They want to be on swim team but need to refine their strokes and learn the ropes before we turn them loose in a workout situation.
What I love about working with the Rookies is that they remind me every day what swimming is all about — or what it should be about — and that is FUN. When these kids get to the pool, they can’t WAIT to jump in the water, and they never want to leave. They APPLAUD when it’s time to learn a new drill. And when it’s a butterfly drill, some of them actually SHRIEK with delight. They will endure belly smack after stinging belly smack in learning how to dive off the blocks, and no amount of water up the nose will keep them from mastering the flip turn. They have a knack for heading under the surface JUST when you’re about to explain something to them, and you have to explain things OVER AND OVER before they get it, but their smiles and enthusiasm can make you melt.
The Rookies also tend to have near-perfect attendance. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that they are having so much fun.
At the banquet, I had to wonder about the fact that we had 16 Rookies and only two graduating seniors. What is it that happens along the way — between the age of 8 and 18 — that takes swimmers away from swimming. The easy answer is that it’s soccer… or hockey… or homework… or boys… or girls… or theater… or any number of activities and interests that present themselves to today’s teens. The other answer is that swimming becomes more and more demanding and less and less fun.
As I was sitting at the banquet, I wondered how many of our 16 Rookies would be here ten years later — being honored as graduating seniors. I realized that to get them there, it would be up to me to keep making it FUN and rewarding for them to come to the pool. I made a silent vow to try to keep them smiling for the next ten years. Posting this photo of them above my desk will help remind me what I need to do.