I spent most of my afternoons last summer teaching my kids basic swimming: putting their faces in the water, holding their breaths, diving down to retrieve torpedoes and basic freestyle.
In March of this year, I began schlepping the kids to the park district aquatic center for more lessons. By April, Seth was on our community swim team.
Not surprisingly, Seth was the slowest of the swimmers. Not only was he slower than his classmates, but most of the younger children as well. I say not surprisingly for two reasons: 1. Because the kids out here have been swimming for years and 2. Because speed is not my forte, endurance is.
After a practice or two, we decided Lael wasn’t ready emotionally to be on the swim team. But physically, Lael is highly advanced in every sport she tries.
Back to Seth: It took a couple weeks before my poor boy could make one length across the pool without flopping onto his back, resorting to chicken, star, rocket. Unfortunately, he was spending so long on his back, he wasn’t really swimming.
At some point, I discovered the real problem: Seth wasn’t inhaling when he turned his head up. I quickly hired a swimming tutor for help. After one private class and a few more at the aquatic center, we resolved that problem and he started making it across the pool.
Over the next few weeks, Seth became strong enough to swim several laps freestyle and backstroke across the pool. But butterfly confounds him. On the other hand, Seth was excelling at breast stroke, the only stroke his mom swims.
But despite all those practices and extra classes, Seth was repeatedly coming in last during the pressure-free swim meets. It’s not easy catching up to kids who have a pool in their back yards.
I also should explain that Seth is kind of like John McEnroe when he loses at games or sports, but dominates the classroom in English, math and science. It is hard for him to understand that sports is different than academics. Practice, practice, practice is the only way to success.
Of course, Seth doesn’t realize that one of the reasons why he is so good in school is because I make him practice, practice, practice at home. I guess there is a qualitative difference though to sitting at a table doing multiplication drills than from kicking your legs and inhaling air at the same time.
After one meet I told a crying Seth: “You have a choice to make. You can give up and never find out how good you might be at swimming. Or we can practice more, in addition to team training.”
“Will I start winning then?”
“There’s no guarantee, but you definitely won’t if you don’t start practicing more.”
“Okay, I’ll do it.”
I’m a realist. I know that in part Seth is willing to practice to please his old man. I’ve never once pressured the boy to win – that’s internal – but I know how his mind works.
To Seth’s credit, though, he’s been swimming several more times a week than his teammates. Slowly, he’s been catching up.
In fact, at yesterday’s meet, Seth placed SECOND in breaststroke. It was quite an accomplishment, but Seth focused on the fact that he took last in the other three categories.
The poor guy. I did my best to explain that his are improving and he’s now in range of his teammates and competitors. I point out that he can swim four LAPS without stopping as opposed to one length just a few weeks ago.
The pep talk only helped a little bit, but in the end, he agreed to keep practicing. To Seth’s credit, he’s never asked to quit the team.
I also arranged another private lesson for Seth, where he’ll focus on the butterfly. It’s a really tough stroke. Lael undulates her body instinctively like a dolphin; Seth – like his dad – flops more like a stiff board.
I know this has been a hard lesson for Seth. Some parents might be critical of putting a child through this, and I can appreciate that. But truth be told, much in sports – as well as life – requires a balance of genetics and a solid work ethic.
I believe this difficult lesson of perseverance will benefit Seth in the long term: he is beginning to understand that academics need the same determination as swimming does. I also think it’s important to learn that taking the path of least resistance isn’t always the right choice.