I swam for 8 years in the Northern Virginia area. I swam for a summer league team with over 100 members, my high school team of over 40 kids, and a year round club team which had between 600 and 800 members, over 50 of which swam at my practice site on a regular basis. I have no friends from that experience. None. Zip. Zero. Nada. Not even one peripheral acquaintance located on Facebook. Given the thousands of hours I spent in this pursuit, that is a sad and pitiful statistic.
Given my own experience, it has been an ongoing wonder for me to watch my swimmers interact and build friendships. I have to confess that there were times I simply didn’t understand when a kid changed teams (or refused to, despite bad coaching) because “that’s where their friends were”. I have learned from them how much better the intensity of practice and the stress of meets can be when shared with people you care about. I have learned, mostly from my high school team, that the motivation for attending a 5:30am practice can be gleaned from the sharing of the misery. I have learned that while parents and coaches can say a lot, the most powerful words come from your friends. The swimmers I’ve coached have taught me what my own experience lacked.
That emotional connection, that love, is truly the glue that holds it all together, as well as the prize that makes it all worthwhile. Having folks in your corner, cheering for you and rooting for your success, offering a hug and a shoulder when things don’t go well…isn’t that what we all want? Whether it’s a dozen people, or just that one best friend, no one matters quite the way those friends do. They are the lift, the security blanket, the laughter, the tears, the scream of joy, the quiet understanding, the ones who are there solely because they want to be. They are the ones our eyes seek first, the ones who will understand best both our joy and our disappointment, the ones who do not judge or critique or point out where we went wrong. They are the ones who know when we are not feeling well, or having relationship issues, or family problems, or ate too much ice cream. They are the ones willing to go to bat for us and ask for help when we can’t ask for ourselves.
While I know that my attention and presence were important to my swimmers, they taught me how much more crucial that friend, that love connection, was to their growth and success. They have friends that are friends away from the pool, friends they will keep because they laughed and cried and understood and cheered and hugged and sang songs and offered a towel and sometimes just stood there next to them. I’m glad I got to see it, and share in its warmth.