A Season of Patience

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
(New Living Translation)

We all had plans. Plans to work, plans to play, plans to compete, plans to move. All of that has been interrupted and our lives are on hold for a situation unlike anything we’ve faced before. Are we overreacting? Not reacting enough? Only time will tell.

One of the news stories today is about the postponement of the Olympic games, and my thoughts have been drawn again and again to the swimmers who have been preparing for years. When I heard earlier this week that our local pools were closing, even to the swim teams, postponing the Olympic games was one of my first thoughts. I don’t know other sports, but in our sport, to deny athletes training time in the last few months prior to Trials and the Games is to derail everything they’ve worked for. But there are downsides to a postponement, too…some of those who are ready this year may not be ready next year. Life could intervene for them and they could end up not making the team in 2021 when they might have this year. There is a price to pay either way. It’s a “no win” situation.

There’s been a lot of talk of the economy and costs of closing businesses and shuttering public gatherings. There is a huge cost to these decisions, but again, there is a price to pay either way. The decision makers for the most part are taking into account what the worst case scenario could look like if we do nothing; we thumb our noses at them at our own risk. We don’t know what the right decision will have been until we have the benefit of hindsight, and maybe not even then. For some Olympic athletes and some regular citizens, there is no clear choice. Some will be hurt either way. It’s a “no win” situation.

We are in a season of patience, where we need to wait. Just wait. And wait some more. And try to find the patience to wait it out, find the strength to come out the other side, find the charity to help those who struggle.

For everything there is a season. This is our season of patience.

Fondly,

Coach Jill

In This Moment

When you’re facing a three hour long practice, or a long race, or the beginning of a grueling season, looking forward can be daunting. Trying to consider all of the possibilities, work to be done, and “what if”s can quickly short circuit your emotional reserve.

I have a series of photos, taken by a team mom, that show me waiting alongside a nervous 7-year-old in the lineup behind the starting blocks for her race. She had worked herself into a frenzy at idea of standing there waiting by herself, worrying over the race, how she would do, what it would feel like. I stayed with her and did my best to keep her just in the moment, talking, joking around, showing her she could talk to the other girls to pass the time.

When the things to worry about get too big or too challenging, the trick I learned (during my divorce) is to shrink things down into manageable bites. That old saying “take it a day at a time” is very true, but sometimes even a day is too big of a bite. Sometimes the mantra is “take it an hour at a time” or even just “this moment”.

It is a meditative practice to be in the moment; to realize the past is locked and the future is fantasy, that the only reality is in this moment. It is the only thing you have control over, this moment and what you do with it.

So breathe, and check in with yourself. In this moment, am I OK?  In this moment, do I have a home, a job, food in the fridge? In this moment, are the people I love OK? If you have challenges in this moment, what can you do in this moment to deal with those? Try to let go of the need to look out weeks and months, and churn over what might be, what the worst could look like, and how life might be different. Do your best to make THIS moment good and peaceful, and when the moment comes that there is a challenge to deal with, your soul will be ready.

Right now, most of us are waiting in that line behind the blocks, scared at all that we have stirred up in our heads. It is not our turn to face the challenge. We can be in this moment of waiting without being scared, we can lean on each other, we can find ways to laugh.

In THIS moment, we can be OK.

Fondly,

Coach Jill

You Are Not Alone

Individual sports (track, gymnastics, swimming, etc) offer an interesting experience for the participant. You train with a team, your efforts may support your team in term of points earned, but the competition itself can be a lonely affair. You stand alone, waiting for the signal to begin. The weight and pressure of the moment is borne alone, and as the crowd is silenced in preparation for the start, that moment can feel overwhelming. This is when the bonds of team are crucial. This is when you must remember, you are NOT alone.

At a time when things are difficult and frightening, isolating from friends can get overwhelming quickly. It is easy to focus on what is different, what is wrong, what is missing, and go down the rabbit hole, alone with the awfulness in your head. Catch yourself, and turn to your team. You are NOT intruding by reaching out, your friends are in this too. Reach out, check in, send a funny GIF, or even better, call and talk. Hear each others’ voices. Laugh. Write an actual letter and send it via snail mail!

Never forget, you have a team. There are more people than you realize rooting for you, praying for you, and wishing you well. You are NOT alone on that starting block; this is merely a temporary isolation. Look to your (metaphorical) left and right, and see your friends. Look around a little farther and see your wider team, your coaches, your parents, grandparents, and their friends. See your community. We are all invested in YOU, just as you are invested in us.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE. As always, I am here if you need me.

Fondly,

Coach Jill

My Team

When I was still coaching, it was vitally important with every season, every group, to create a sense of common purpose, common discipline and common goals. That is the essence of “team”–working together to overcome challenges and achieve results. Sometimes sharing a common pain (like 5am practices) is enough to bond a team together. This, folks, is our time. Our team.

We are a team. You, me, my children, your children, the person that cuts your hair, the person that packed the Amazon box sitting on your porch, the lady in China that stitched the socks you’re wearing. A team. My team. Your team. Our human team. In times like these, times that pull the rug out from under “normal”, we all feel the fear in our throats, that clenching uncertainty with every closure and new announcement. What will come next?

As adults, that fear is an awful and unwelcome companion. We have forgotten our child selves, who lived regularly with uncertainty and fear. It is the fear of the young swimmer, standing on the blocks, exposed and cold, wondering what the next moments will bring. It is the fear of “Can I do this?”, “Will I measure up?”, and “What am I made of?” We adults avoid making ourselves vulnerable like that, so when it is thrust upon us, we panic, and build ourselves a fort of TP and hand sanitizer and hot dog buns, as though the things we own will allay the fear.

I cannot make your fear go away, but I can tell you this:  you have it in you to deal with this situation, weird and unexpected as it is. You are made of all the things you always were, all the unique and beautiful things that make you YOU, and you have strengths in there that will bring you and your family through this. You do not need to worry about measuring up; coping is not a competition, and how YOU process stress and challenges will not be what your neighbor does, and that’s OK.

I will encourage you throughout to be a person you will be proud of when this is all behind us; let it bring forth the best of who you are deep down. Do your best to uplift the people in your life. Enjoy the small things, hug your family, feel the love.

And if you need some cheering on, reach out to me. After all, you’re on my team!

Fondly,

Coach Jill

Ripples

 

 

 

It’s an old metaphor, to throw a stone in a pond and watch the ripples spread and multiply, to remind us that the things we do have effects that we don’t realize or even intend. Sometimes, you are lucky enough to find out where a ripple goes. A conversation recently with a friend reminded me of one of my own; as usual, names have been changed, and quotes are somewhat paraphrased.

Coaching high school swimming was a mixed bag of frustration and reward. Grueling schedules, uncertain weather, convoluted rules, facility issues, kids not showing, flu season, low pay…the frustrations were many. The rewards felt fewer, but man! The rewards were huge when they came.

I was a great believer in a “no cuts” policy. This was a public school sport, and unlike other sports, swimming is a life skill, and a “save-your-life” skill as well. Over the years, we had many kids come to try the team who didn’t know how to swim at all, and just wanted a chance to learn. We took them all.

In my 2nd or 3rd season with the team, a young woman, a senior,  came to us during the first week of practice, and shared that she didn’t know how to swim but wanted to learn. Tiara was tall, thin and muscular, and looked like she had about 2% body fat, which is not really an ideal combination for an adult learning to swim. Fat floats, and learning to float is immeasurably important when learning to swim, so I knew we had our work cut out for us. It was a challenge, but she was determined, and so was I. We used aerobic float belts, kick boards, pull buoys…basically whatever it took to assist her with the float part so that she could learn the swim techniques that would eventually overcome her lack of flotation.

She was without a doubt our most dedicated attendee at practice, and worked hard. By January (our season began in November), we talked about her racing in a meet. She very nervously and somewhat reluctantly agreed, so we taught her to dive, and in a meet toward the end of that month, she raced a 50 freestyle for the very first time. It was one of my proudest moments as a coach, and I didn’t think I could be happier or more gratified with our work together.

I was wrong. You see, I hadn’t seen the ripple yet.

Fast forward a couple years to another meet, another group of kids. During a break in the action, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to find a grinning Tiara at my side. We shared a big hug, and the talk naturally moved straight into “What are you doing these days?!”  She caught me up with what she had been up to, and then shared that since she left school, she had been teaching swim lessons to kids like her, teenagers who didn’t know how to swim. My recollection is that it was her appreciation of what we had done for her, what she had learned and overcome with the support of the swim team, that had inspired her to pay-it-forward.

I was floored. I thought that the reward from that stone I’d thrown in the pond was her personal accomplishment, but that was just the beginning. It was a stunning reminder that our actions have ripples, and that we don’t know the lives we end up touching without ever knowing.

This was a humbling moment. Fortunately in this case, the stone I threw created positive ripples, but the ripples of our actions can just as easily be harmful. It is a reminder to be careful and mindful in our interactions with others so that the ripples we make are positive, and that what others pay forward in our names are things we are proud to own. We may never know where the ripple lands, but if we throw our stones with care and love and concern for others, chances are the ripples will carry that as well.

Stronger Than WE Think

(Sequel to Stronger than You Think, published Oct 2014)   Recent events have had me reflecting on the items in this blog, and reconsidering writing. I am inspired by the actions of young people in these early months of 2018, and my writing may veer from my theme of lessons learned from swimming at times. My love of young people is a huge part of my love for swimming, so perhaps the “theme” will not deviate too much.

In October of 2014, I published Stronger Than You Think, a story about the gut-level strength and resilience of young people, and one swimmer in particular. I was in awe of her, as I am currently in awe of the young people leading the #MarchforOurLives movement. I’m not sure how many people are aware of what an important and pivotal moment we are in. I hear too many adults either being dismissive (“kids shouldn’t be doing that, saying that, thinking that, leaving school, marching, blah, blah, blah…”), or being completely patronizing (“you kids should be so proud of yourselves…look at you taking action like you’re grown ups!”)

We need to hush for a moment and really pay attention. We need to hear them, really hear them and what they are saying. We need to think long and hard about how difficult it is to stand up and stand apart when you’re in middle school or high school…you know, that age when conformity is EVERYTHING. We need to see, feel and appreciate the gut-level strength it takes to do what these kids are doing, and their persistence in the face of some pretty ugly backlash.

Working with teenagers taught me a lot of valuable lessons, perhaps the best of which was that as an important adult in their lives, I needed to not just react to them, but to think, to listen, to consider, to look underneath the surface, to seek understanding. The other lesson I learned was that teens tolerate ZERO bullshit, and they can smell it a mile away.

Watch the talking heads and you will see adults patronizing, dismissing, condescending, and generally engaging in bullshit trying to deal with the young people in this country. They couldn’t be responding in a worse way. They have no credibility, no trust and no traction. These kids have discovered their strength, both individually and as a group, and they will not give it up. I, for one, am a huge fan.

Swimming is an individual sport in many aspects, but one with a team element. The best individual swimmers have a strong and functional team they train with. Their focus and strength, their ability to persevere in the face of adversity, to fight for their goals…this all comes from the support of the team. #MarchforOurLives is a team worth watching.

Sportsmanship

sportsmanshipAt a summer league meet one year, against a team we were going to beat soundly, my 15-18 boys asked if they could swim “silly strokes” against the competition in the 100 free, and didn’t initially understand when I said NO. I explained that being so sure you’re going to win that you don’t do your best, that you don’t even compete “for real”,  showed immense disrespect for your competitors, and was terrible sportsmanship. I recall asking them how they would feel on the receiving end of that. Luckily, I was able to dissuade them from this behavior. Luckily, they asked me before they did it.

“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”  Wise words.

As a coach, I was a stickler for sportsmanship. I didn’t engage in “trash talk”, and discouraged my athletes from doing so. I insisted that they showed respect at all times for themselves, their teammates, their competition, and the volunteers. I made them stay in the pool until everyone had finished the race; I encouraged them to congratulate their competition, win or lose; I would not allow temper tantrums or throwing of goggles over a bad race; I pulled my best swimmers from competition for unsportsmanlike behavior; and I was always on the lookout for anything that smacked of poor sportsmanship, to the point where I’m sure many of them thought I was just not any fun. So be it.

Sportsmanship is a demonstration of character, and was always one of my highest priorities. Honoring the rule and spirit of competition by competing fairly, honoring yourself by doing your best, honoring your competition by being gracious in both victory and defeat, holding yourself to a standard of behavior that exhibits respect…these are all incredibly important life skills, and athletic competition is a natural place to learn them.

I have become distressed in recent years to see the growing lack of emphasis on sportsmanship in athletics, from beginner levels up through professionals. Increasingly, talented athletes are being given a free pass for their bad behavior as parents and fans clamor for the win at all costs. Ugliness creeps into the team culture, accountability on the athlete goes out the window, and the ultimate result in the long run ends up being toxic players and, ironically, fewer wins. Allowing poor sportsmanship is the “path of least resistance” in the short term, but ends up eating the team alive from the inside like a cancer.

It was painfully evident at the Olympics that neither Chad Le Clos nor Hope Solo were ever held to a standard of sportsmanship. Le Clos’ behavior prior to competition, running his mouth, trying to “psych out” Phelps by waving his fanny in his face, simply served to make Le Clos look the fool even before he entered the pool. If he had been able to back up his talk, chances are many of us would have shrugged it off, but that would have been the wrong response. His trash was called out and mocked because he lost, but should have been called out had he won as well. Regardless of the outcome, he exhibited a lack of respect for his sport and for his competition, and that is NOT OK.

Hope Solo played badly during the Olympic competition, and instead of taking responsibility for her share in the team losing, she bad-mouthed the team that won. Having to denigrate the winner to mitigate your loss is the definition of “sore loser”, and is a lesson she should have learned by the time she was 12 years old. Behaving that way at the world champion level and at her age was pathetic and embarrassing; the ensuing  prolonged hand-wringing about how USA Soccer should respond was equally pathetic and embarrassing.

When talented athletes are given a pass to behave this way, whether they are 10 years old or 30 years old, we send the message that sportsmanship does not apply to some; that only those not as good should know how to behave with respect. To that, I say POPPYCOCK! When we, as parents of the prodigy, don’t back up the coach when the child is reprimanded for mocking their teammates or competition, we are creating a monster. When we as a culture excuse a Bobby Knight for throwing chairs because he is a winner, or when we excuse the remarks of a Hope Solo because she is so good at playing soccer, we are creating a monster.

These are not just lessons and behaviors for athletics. Athletic endeavors are where they are most often learned, but respect, manners, graciousness and good behavior are life skills, and we disregard this at our own peril.

You don’t think this spills over into real life? Think again.

Our current election cycle was a prime example of poor sportsmanship in real life. It was filled with people who have either never been exposed to these lessons OR who have been exempted from having to learn the lessons because of their talent or wealth. A major party candidate announced that he would only accept the outcome if he won, and continues to question the integrity of the process, despite winning, because he cannot emotionally accept how many people voted against him. In my own state, a sitting governor refuses to accept the results of the election, repeatedly demanding recounts and alleging fraud…presumably because he can’t believe he could lose in a state that was heavily gerrymandered to make sure those of his party won. It is an understatement to say that I’ve been disappointed with the behavior of the adults who have been tasked with leading our government, at every level. Their behavior would never have been allowed on my team.

America is suffering from a lack of sportsmanship, and the lack of character that follows along. People are appalled by the young athlete who throws a fit over losing, but will defend that behavior when it’s their own child. People bemoan how “kids these days” don’t say please and thank you, but do not demand that their own child do so with volunteer officials. People are furious with the rudeness of others, but dismiss their own rudeness as “speaking their mind”. People gripe about the sore loser who complains and whines about losing, but when their favorite star athlete trash talks, they see nothing wrong.

You can’t have it both ways.

“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”

Wise words, indeed.