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Keeping it Fun

As I’ve met more and more people in the sport of swimming, I’ve learned that there are ALL KINDS of levels of understanding of – and commitment to — the sport. Some are interested in teaching philosophies, some seek to understand the technical aspects, and still others want to learn more about training, racing, and nutrition. There’s so much to learn. And so many ways to enjoy and experience swimming. One thing they all agree on, however, and that they remind me of all the time, is that it has to be FUN.

I’ve heard this more in the past couple months than I’ve ever heard it before. Almost like learning and fun just don’t go together. There seems to be an overriding feeling that if we demand from our kids perfection in movement, or the acquisition of skills, it’s just not fun. The consensus seems to be that fun is racing, fun is swimming back and forth, fun is relays, fun is simply doing more and more of the same thing until, eventually, the kids will pick up some key points and perhaps start to swim faster.

My personal observation is that when kids learn, when they acquire new skills, when they gain mastery over something, it’s FUN. When they become better at anything, it’s fun. When they begin to understand WHY they’re doing something, it’s fun; in fact, it’s MORE than fun – it’s the beginning of hope and of having control over your own destiny. When kids are involved in the process through constant interaction between swimmer and coach, it’s fun. Nobody enjoys hearing a coach (or a parent) say, "Do it because I said so" or "You don’t need to know why I want you to do it, just do it.

I once worked with a very talented swimmer in Ohio who frequently missed practice. He had so much ability, and I just thought it was a waste that he didn’t really commit himself to the sport. One day he missed because he was playing basketball with some friends. That afternoon I sat down with him to have a talk, and he said he just felt like having fun instead of working. At the time, I tried to get him to define "fun" and he basically said fun was doing things he enjoyed. That should have been my clue to make practices more fun. Instead, I tried to motivate him by telling him that winning was fun, and that, to win, he had to work. I’m sure this turned him off even more. What a fun coach I was, huh?

I’ve learned many lessons in my 37+ years in this sport (starting at 5), and a very important one is that to reach your potential in this sport, you have to love it. People generally don’t love things that they view as a task or work or drudgery. It’s my responsibility as a coach/teacher to learn enough about each person I work with so that I can figure out their goals, and draw things out of them by getting them to WANT it. I have to make it fun.

I’ve learned that once my swimmer, or student, understands that I’m really in this for them, they tend to give me more effort… because they want to, not because I’ve demanded it.

Swimming is a supremely difficult sport, mentally and physically. Then again, what sport isn’t? They’re all tough if you’re determined to be the best, and there is no easy way to accomplish lofty goals without a tremendous amount of work, pain, suffering, sacrifice, and total commitment of your life. Every athlete has to determine the level of his or her commitment and involvement. But an athlete will NEVER commit at the highest level unless he or she has learned to love the sport, mainly because they’re having fun.

I’ve been so fortunate to find something that I love to do, and that I can make my life’s work. I’ve been rewarded in so many ways. I’ve visited every continent (except the Arctics, not much swimming there). I’ve met Presidents. I’ve got friends who were some of the greatest athletes in history. I just think it’s all so cool. These things have happened to me because all of this is very fun for me. The greatest gift, to me, is the smile that I see when someone accomplishes something they didn’t think they could – when they overcome something that has stood in their path or held them back. Seeing those kinds of smiles is just plain FUN.

I hope the images imbedded in this article give you a sense that these are the looks I crave around a pool. These are the kinds of smiles I want to surround myself with on a daily basis, and I can only hope that your coach, or swim teacher, desires the same thing.

I still desire simply to have fun, and in choosing that as my goal in life, I’ve ended up in a small business, working many hours a day doing things my friends say would drive them crazy…. but to me, it’s fun. There is always some price to pay if you strive to do something well, but the rewards are almost always equal to the work that you put in. My price is sitting at the computer for hours on end. The work is fun in itself because it’s creative, but the work I put in now will result in seeing more smiles throughout my life.

There’s always some price to pay for success at any level, just make sure you pick something you really have fun doing, and succeeding at, and the price will never be too high.

Now… go have some fun… GO SWIM!