This past week I spent most of my time traveling to a couple different states filming for upcoming projects. It offered me the opportunity to talk with people at vastly different levels, and with vastly different goals, in our sport.
One conversation really got me thinking. It was with the parent of a very good swimmer, one who could be on the verge of becoming great. Only circumstance, desire, and opportunity stand in her way. The question of parent and swimmer was: “How do you know if all the work is going to pay off?”
What’s the potential of this swimmer? You decide, but I see incredible ability here.
This conversation was based on the parent’s desire to provide his child with EVERY opportunity possible, while at the same time weighting the reality of finances, grades, family life, and the complete understanding that, at any moment, the swimmer could simply decide… I don’t want to do this anymore.
I have had the opportunity to witness many different levels of commitment in this sport — from a child who absolutely hated the sport, to the parent who was disappointed IN the child when that child got second at Senior Nationals. Most of the time, like the squeaky wheel, the BAD parents are the ones we hear about the most. But in my experience, the majority of parents really only want one thing, and that’s for their children to be happy. This is what should guide all the choices.
The parent I was talking to had thought enough about relocation to bring it up. Can you imagine what could be going through the minds of the parents in this situation? You get married, get a job, get a house, have some kids… then … 15 years later, the kids start showing promise, and you pick up EVERYTHING you’ve built, on the slim chance that this kid could achieve something special in the sport.
Is this crazy? No. Parents do it all the time. You’ve heard about it and read about it. Heck, I even did it. As a sophomore in high school, I moved to Cincinnati and lived with a host family so that I could train with the Cincinnati Pepsi Marlins. By the end of the summer, I had tasted success that I never knew I could reach… I was hooked, and I wanted to stay.
This is really the answer in most cases, baby steps. Don’t make HUGE moves, or relocations. Instead, allow for smaller TRIALS. Send your swimmer to a great clinic or camp, but make sure the swimmer knows he or she is there to learn, and to experience what great swimming is about, not just for the sleepover. Personally, I wouldn’t even talk to my child about any opportunities until I KNEW I could pull them off. Nothing disappoints an athlete more than thinking an opportunity is coming, only to not have it happen. Athletics is such a mental game, it’s better to surprise than disappoint.
The answer to the question “How do you know if it’s all going to pay off?” is never an easy one. Simply put, you never know if it’s going to pay off. That’s also what athletics is all about — risk, reward, failure, success, disappointment, achievement, defeat, and, of course, victory. They all go hand in hand and, in my opinion, you can’t enjoy one unless you’ve experienced the other.
So, what does all this have to do with the title of this article, Time is Fleeting? Basically, we as athletes live our lives by timetables. Not the pace clock on the wall, but the timetables placed on us by society. Society tells us, you HAVE to be great by the time you’re a senior in high school so you can swim in college. College tells us you have to be great NOW because we only have you for four years. The reality is that you may have more time that that. Look at Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres if you want proof that time is NOT fleeting. In fact, in most cases, we have PLENTY of time. The real question is, who’s timetable do we live our lives by? Do we live by the timetables that society places on us, or do we live by timetables that allow us to reach our potential?
Of course, we’d love it if everything could come together by the time our kids are seniors in high school. Scholarship money is certainly nice. There is always, however, that other risk. Pushing too hard, too soon, ends it all LONG before potential is even a consideration.
Summary? Allow the athlete to make the final decisions, but offer opportunities they’ve not thought about. A great camp is always MUCH cheaper than joining a new team. A summer with a club away from home, is always MUCH cheaper than a relocation. If relocation becomes the only solution, stick with your decision, don’t look back, and commit completely to it. If it doesn’t work out, you live with the understanding that you’ve done EVERYTHING in your power to achieve your goals. You NEVER have to go through life wondering what COULD have been. You’ll have lived life as an elite athlete, and the character that comes with that is, as the commercials say, PRICELESS.