Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Iron Sharpens Iron

Swim Team 2014.

It's all over but the party. For the most part, the mothers are elated. But then mothers typically rejoice at the end of grueling endeavors -- pregnancy, labor, potty training, research papers, science fair projects, braces, nearly every sports season.

I, for one, have mixed feelings.

We started swim team in 2013 with nothing but noble motives:

1. To improve our swimming

2. To bring a little order to our day

By those measurements, Swim Team 2013 was a great success.

But then a funny thing happened on the way through Swim Team 2014: John proved to be  fast. Wednesday morning during swim team means water polo, donuts, and ribbons. Last week I sat with a cluster of moms as their children began running to them -- some elated, some clearly not -- to show off ribbons earned the night before. One mom glanced over to her daughter and, in a monotone voice, fed her an obviously well-rehearsed line: Look at your time, not at your place.

Look at your time, not at your place.

I've said it dozens of times myself. This was especially true for my older boys who joined the swim team 8-10 years too late to have any chance of being competitive. Fitness and fun, I'd tell them. It's about fitness and fun. Look at your time, not at your place. I created a spreadsheet to track the boys' speed. And it really was fun to watch them improve both in form and in time.

So here we are in 2014, and our goals are pretty much the same:

1. To improve our swimming

2. To bring a little order to our day

In our first meet, John garnered a couple of firsts and a second. Ditto the second meet when he might have earned three blue ribbons had he not lolly-gagged toward the end of the freestyle sprint. See, suddenly I'm analyzing and not just enjoying. The third meet brought a goggle malfunction as did the fourth meet and the divisional championship, and suddenly I'm stressed and aggravated and thinking like a Hollywood stage mother when, really, it's all about fun and fitness, right?

Then Dave got to chatting about swim team with a guy at work, and the guy showed Dave this mystical page that lists the swim rankings for our entire region and, as it turns out, John and his good buddy Henry were doing just swimmingly.

Horrible, horrible pun, I know.

And none of this -- the malfunctioning goggles or the ratings -- helps keep our focus on fun and fitness, and by "our focus", I really mean "my focus" because John? He's oblivious. He just gets in the pool and does his thing and does it well.

Go, Kolbe!

A whiff of success and suddenly we're far more focused on performance than fun, thinking about what didn't go well rather than looking at what did.

Well, we all survived and actually enjoyed ourselves in the process, if you can enjoy yourself spending hours and hours watching a sporting event in a sauna.

(Not to digress, but if I were still employed by Procter and Gamble, I'd totally be writing those commercials that celebrate swim Moms. Walking into a humid lobby with three children and fifty two pounds of gear, carrying the gear up two flights of stairs that were -- no exaggeration whatsoever -- my 140 degree attic in August, moving up to the bleachers that made the lobby feel like Autumn in Maine, squishing into the stands with a thousand other parents and feeling sweat drip between your shoulder blades all so that you can cheer for your kids who spend just about two minutes in the pool.

And that, my friends, is swim team finals! Please do not judge the mothers who prayed their kids wouldn't make it into the All Star Meet which was deja vu all over again the following night.

So let's offer a virtual high five for swim Moms everywhere).

Proverbs 17 reads, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."

I've heard friends debating the purpose of athletics. Fun and fitness, of course, top the list. But what about competition? Does it do nothing more than fuel the ego (parental or otherwise)?  One dad mentioned Proverbs 17 and suggested that iron does indeed sharpen iron, that sports can be a greenhouse of virtue through which we learn to do our best, to push ourselves, to win gracefully, to lose gracefully, in short, to hone key life skills.

In a rather comical application of this principle, Ainsley turned the corner with swimming after watching her friend Isa put her head in the water and plow forward with the front crawl.

"Isa's more better than I am," my sweet daughter lamented, head down in the pool gutter.

Somehow that combination of bad grammar and green-eyed envy spurred my girl on. The next day, she, too, put her head in the water and managed a very respectable dog paddle.

The girl swims -- and one day soon I'll get a  picture of it. Meantime, let's dance.

I have come to no grand conclusions about it all except for what I shared with Rachel as we left the pool: There's one sort of struggle when your kids aren't good at sports and a different sort of struggle when they are.

I think we're all ready to party.


Kris said...

So having older kids who have done well and some who have not done well in various sports, I had to weigh in (like you knew I would!) We also do swimming (and soccer and baseball and basketball and water polo!) because it's good exercise and fun. At least initially. And for the child who is not especially gifted in a particular sport, we either keep doing it "just for fun" or we end up migrating to something else that sparks their interest. With all boys, our only set of rules is one sport, per person, per season, and once you start something, you finish the season. That's it. Eventually, though, they find their passion. And that's when I DO start looking at things like times and rankings. Because the boys are already doing that. At a certain age, they know how they compare. But I do it because I want to show that level of interest for something that they love. And I also LOVE watching them do well. My oldest also made it to the County Finals (your All-Star meet) in two events. I spent 4 hours at the pool for less than 2 minutes of swimming. But he loved that I was there, and he was proud of his accomplishment. And it was his LAST swim ever in summer league. Same thing with water polo - I know all there is to know and what to do to improve and how we stand against the other team, etc. Because my two older boys have such a passion for the sport, and they are really good at it. And I just love to watch them play something that the love. So I guess that's the root of it for me!

Rachel said...

I love this Kel! Great analysis. I felt that way going into the All Star Meet -- SO MUCH IS AT STAKE. Nothing was at stake of course, but the minute you have someone who can really do "great" you have to force yourself to enjoy the moment instead of praying no one messes up. It was so fun to share this season with you. Can't wait to watch these boys grow and enjoy!