A few days ago, I had a chat with a reigning swimming world champion athlete. I asked how things were for her. She said she was busy, caught up with a cause that she is now championing, a noble cause.
I cheered her on her to keep her reigning World #1 rank current. She told me that she was not so sure now if she could do it. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic; she said she probably had 20 weeks in the water the whole of last year and with half of 2021 almost over; she probably had less time. Mental stress, fatigue and depression may have set in, all at once. She is not alone. It is a good assumption that most of the world athletes, probably athletes at all levels, may be experiencing the same anxiety at varying degrees. I read in various write-ups that Michael Phelps, the most decorated, Olympian of all time; is passionate about good mental health and is an advocate, championing it.
This requires mental toughness to stay in the game. Training on your own requires total commitment. Without sparring partners to push you pass the edge; you may not be able to get that extra wattage of power to get your time down by a hundredth of a second. And competitive swimming is all about that. And a lot more things, too.
Is this “pressure” worth it?
It all starts when parents send their kids for swimming lessons. Just innocent, playing in the water, learn to float, learn to move from one end of the swimming pool to the other. After some months; their kids can generally swim all the strokes – freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly. Then, the coaches will invite these young professional beginners to take part in swimming race championships.
There are two groups of parents. One group are parents of young children, especially those who are thinking of just sending their children for swim classes. They don’t anticipate what lies ahead after the completion of the highest level of the swimming lessons. Initially, the kids will find it fun just playing with their friends in the water. Once they complete the course on learning how to swim, what then? Competitive swimming, diving, water polo or synchronize swimming (for girls). The other group of parents are the highly competitive, “my kid must win” type who start planning for the Michael Phelps or Katie Ledecky replacement.
In this essay, we will focus on swimming as I am a parent of a swimmer. I am able to share from my experience and views on seeing my daughter learn to swim at age six, then competing in championships, to representing the state in Malaysia, to being one of the top in the girls age group in Malaysia for her favorite stroke, to now representing her university in the U.S.
Parents will now have to deal with, from taking their kids for lessons for an hour once or twice a week to three hours a day, three to five times a week training.
The child’s competitive success depends very much on his / her parents’ support in being on time and regular for training. It would be good to take an interest when the young swimmer talks about her sessions at training. The swimmer needs this because he or she will be up against non-swimmer friends who have all the time for computer games and loads of other stuff, including “hanging out”. After participating in a few swim championships, parents (and coaches) may be able to identify their swimmer daughter or son in one of the following categories:
Athlete Identifier (A.I.)
1. Compete for fun: These are swimmers who want to participate in competitions just to be with their friends, have fun activities.
2. Compete for fun and win at times: This is a group of swimmers who have the speed, win a few races with the main focus on having fun, not so much on competition.
3. Swimmers who are serious in competition: aiming to be selected as state swimmers and compete up to national level.
4. Elite swimmers who are serious in competition: to compete in regionals with an aim towards the Olympics and other similar world level championships.
This Athlete Identifier can be applied to any sport. The athlete can move from one category to another depending on her circumstances. By using this to identify the competitive level in each athlete; they will enjoy the sport. The whole idea is to enjoy the sport. When they enjoy the sport; they give their best.
As we move out of this era of the Covid-19 pandemic; parents should ready their children in this sport and others and possibly help inspire them to inspire others. It is a beautiful world.