Winning Philosophy for Young Swimmers
1. Best times aren't everything, nor are they the only thing. Young athletes can't possibly learn from going best times in every race if they think that is their only objective. Does this mean that children should not try to go best times? Definitely not! As a form of competition, sports involve a contest between opposing individuals or teams. It would be naive and unrealistic to believe that best times are not an important goal in swimming. But it is not the most important objective. To swim without striving to drop time is to be a dishonest competitor in swimming. But despite this fact, it is important that we not define success only as dropping time. Not every child can become an Olympic swimmer, yet every child can experience the true success that comes from trying his or her best. The opportunity to strive for success is the right of every young athlete.
2. Failure is not the same thing as adding time. Athletes should not view adding time as a sign of failure or as a threat to their personal value. They should be taught that adding time is not a reflection of their own self-worth. In other words, when an individual adds time, it does not mean that they are worth less than if they had dropped time. In fact, some valuable lessons can be learned from adding time. Children can learn to persist in the face of obstacles and to support each other even when they do not achieve their goals. They can also learn that mistakes are not totally negative but are important stepping stones to achievement. Mistakes provide valuable information that is necessary for improving performance. Thomas Edison was once asked whether he was discouraged by the failure of more than three thousand experiments leading to the development of the light bulb. Edison replied that he did not consider the experiments failures, for they had taught him three thousand ways not to create a light bulb, and each experiment had brought him closer to his goal.
3. Success is not equivalent to dropping time. Success comes from what did the swimmer learn in that race to make the next one better. This is regardless of how their time is on the scoreboard. How, then, can we define success in sports?
4. Children should be taught that success is found in striving for improvement. The important idea is that success is related to effort! The only thing that athletes have complete control over is the amount of effort they give. They have only limited control over the outcome that is achieved. If we can impress on our children that they are never "losers" if they give maximum effort, we are giving them a priceless gift that will assist them in many of life's tasks. A youth soccer coach had the right idea when he told his team, "You kids are always winners when you try your best! But sometimes the other team will score more goals."
A major cause of athletic stress is fear of failure. When, young athletes know that making mistakes or adding time while giving maximum effort is acceptable a potent source of pressure is removed from their shoulders. Moreover, parents and coaches will also be less likely to experience stress of their own when their athletes are not dropping time. When success is kept in perspective, the child comes first and best times are second. In this case, the most important sport product is not a best time, it is the quality of the experience provided for the athletes.