Paul Peavy is an Official Florida Swim Network Parent Blogger and the father of 16 year-old ATAC swimmer, Lauren Peavy. He is also a psychotherapist who works with children and adolescents. Paul and his wife compete in Ironman triathlons of which swimming is his weakest event. He says his greatest strength as a parent is that he plays neither the role of therapist or swim coach with his daughter. (He believes this is why she is a very happy and competent swimmer!) Connect with Paul on Twitter at @paulpeavy
It’s Only a Swim Meet (Maybe Not So Much!)
I was watching a college basketball game on TV about a month ago. A few extra curricular elbows and shoves were starting to happen when the commentator made what should have been a rather innocuous statement., “They need to remember that this is just a game.”
Obviously, something has stuck with me about that simple statement with me for over a month. Perhaps it is because it was such a juxtaposition to what I believe about my own participation in sports in this stage and what I see adolescents going through in their participation in sports. Let me lay it out like this:
- When I play Ultimate Frisbee with the students at FSU, it’s just a game.
- When I play a pick up game of basketball at the gym, it’s just a game.
- When I play in a city league softball game, it’s just a game.
Even when I do an Ironman triathlon, it’s just a game. (Perhaps that is why I scored a lay-up in a kids’ driveway basketball game that was on the course at mile 131 of Ironman Florida.)
You see, none of those things have a whole lot to do with my total identity. They are not the reason I believe I was put here on this earth.
But I knew that to those college basketball players on scholarship at a major university that this was way more than a game. Nope, this was a huge part of their identity. It may be the biggest part of their developing who they are now and who they are going to be.
I think the key is to look at these athletes and our own swimmers in the since of adolescent development. Adolescence did not exist 100 years ago. When you were old enough, your work on the family farm or the family business simply grew more and more until that became your identity. Perhaps the GI Bill after World War II became the biggest thing to change that when it allowed all those soldiers coming home from the war to broaden their horizon from the family farm and onto higher education.
Culturally the emphasis on higher education has broadened the range of adolescence greatly. In China in 1980 half of the sixteen year-olds were employed. As continuing education became more heavily emphasized that number was cut in half by 1990. So what does all this talk about adolescence have to do with swimming?
As a therapist who works with a lot of adolescents it is so interesting to see the desperate search for identity and the many (often dangerous) avenues it can take. A sense of identity is a huge draw for both gang life, drug cultures, and many other “dark’ adventures kid take on.
One of the many reasons adults don’t take their kids’ swimming seriously is because they don’t understand the child’s search for identity may have become grounded, pounded, and surrounded in swim culture. Think of the number of hours spent in practice with the same kids and coaches over and over again. Then think about how no one except other swimmers really understand the straining of training that your kid has gone through at school.
Now you let that pressure build into a once a month or once a quarter or twice a year performance test known as a swim meet. Now you start to see why your sweet little angel may become the Tasmanian Devil around a swim meet. I am not at all saying it is okay for your swimmer to become rude and obnoxious around a swim meet I am saying it may be one of life’s great teaching moments on how to deal with frustrations, pressures, poor decisions by authorities, etc…
It might be good for you as a parent to set the table a day or two before the swim meet with a calm conversation starter like:
- “I know this meet means a lot to you, how are you feeling?”
- “At the last meet things didn’t go so well. Let’s talk about a safety plan for what to do if things start to build up, like walking to the parking lot, etc…
- “I’m proud of how hard you’ve worked…”
Adolescence is a pressure packed time where every moment may feel like the ONLY moment in a kid’s life. Swimming as a sport allows a kid to build a positive identity and develop skills such as a good work ethic, habits, organization, creative problem solving, and yes, even anger management.
Trust me, from what I’ve seen on the streets I’m happy to have my adolescent develop part of her identity of who she is and who she is going to become from a swim gang rather than many of the other options out there.