4 Messages for Today’s Teenage Swimmer

Photo Courtesy: Sue Borst

By Annie Grevers, Swimming World Staff Writer

(From the Archive)

The teenage years are not necessarily one’s most selfless stage in life. Your own swimming career grows ever more important and your swims can begin to dictate how you treat other people. It’s not that teenage swimmers are incapable of being selfless, contributive, caring for those around them; it’s just that many times, they have no idea how much of a ripple effect their actions and reactions have on those around them.

In an American Swimming Coaches Association’s newsletter, a presentation from the 2015 World ASCA Clinic entitled “Cultural Headwind” was documented. Don Heidary of Orinda Aquatics gave the talk emphasizing the importance of character in shaping the culture of his club team. Heidary took a comprehensive look at what technology and public figures are doing to our youth.

I jumped on the Heidary wagon as soon as I read this — “Kim Kardashian. Worst offense: promoting appearance over achievement….She teaches kids that it is not what you do that makes you important, it is how you look and how you leverage those looks.” Social media was another of Heidary’s talking points. He quoted a “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine” film critic — “We stand in a crowd, staring into a glossy screen, scrolling into oblivion, lost to ourselves. Alone.”

I’m guilty of getting sucked into my phone. It’s not just a teenager thing. We see other people’s highlight reels on social media, which sometimes evoke feelings of envy and shame. It’s a platform that magnifies the importance of people based on aesthetics. How many people have become Instagram famous? I don’t want my team’s swimmers to idolize anyone’s Instagram account or the Kardashian lifestyle. The return on that is discontentment, upside down priorities, and a completely self-centered world view. A swim team should have the exact opposite effect.

“For three hours a day, teenagers are fully engaged, with no use of cell phones, no social networking/selfies/posts/tweets,” Heidary said. “They are not worried about their appearance, their makeup, clothes. They are not drinking. It is the healthiest environment possible for kids [Yep, he’s talking about swim practice]. The life classroom. The mental and physical nature of sports magnifies the most critical things in life: work ethic, sacrifice, humility, resilience.”

What kids do in these hours truly will shape who they become. Here are a few things I’d like today’s teenage swimmers to think about:

1. Your Instagram fame will never be enough.


But the support of your teammates and your support of them will pay dividends! I have seen Instagram photoshoots in “super cute” practice suits go on for way too long after a taxing swim practice. The double taps on photos may be thrilling momentarily, but it’s never going to elevate your confidence for as long as you’d like. Invest in encouraging and building up your teammates with more than a “like.” Show that you appreciate their effort in practice, their positive outlook, their new stroke technique. Show you care…in reality.

2. Stop vocalizing every ache and pain.

Each time you groan, give the stink eye, or try to negotiate a set, you’re permitting other people to flush mental energy down the drain. Think before you word vomit every thought you have about the main set. Maybe it’s not your favorite type of set, but survey your thoughts before you vocalize them. You know those people who are sometimes obnoxiously positive, but they tend to make you work harder? Be obnoxiously positive in your own head. It will help you. It will help your teammates. It can revolutionize your team culture.

3. Embrace the group challenge.


Photo Courtesy: Kenneth Chung

One of my favorite things about swimming was when something impossible was thrown at the group, and rather than seeing sulking expressions, there were faces of anticipation and excitement. The workload was seen as an opportunity. Something thrown at the team, not to break us, but to build us. A hard set can be an indication of trust. If your coach made the set for you, he or she trusts that you can handle it.

4. Find the true heroes.

Photo Courtesy:

Photo Courtesy:

Yes, we are fortunate enough to be in a sport with an incredible stock of fast swimmers to look up to! Then there are millions of heroes walking among us doing things to better the lives of others who go unappreciated. If you’ve never watched the CNN Heroes tribute, you should. Heroes are everywhere, and they typically aren’t the people drawing the attention of tabloids.

I once stood beside legendary University of Texas men’s head coach Eddie Reese. He’s one of my heroes. I watched as his Longhorn men came up to him after their races, waiting for a few words from the sage to latch onto or even saturating Eddie with a wet hug. They adore their coach. Because he leads them to win more NCAA titles than any other college team in history? Nah. Because he cares about them and would never dare credit himself with the success they have had or will have. The heroes in this sport, in this world, are those who pour all of their love and energy into others.

Heidary challenges his team to ask two questions, “How can you help?” and “Who can you help?” Having those questions as the cornerstone of your team culture will make for an intoxicatingly positive, encouraging, safe team environment. Who doesn’t want that?

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Kathleen Fetter
8 years ago

Excellent article!

Hannah B. Giles
8 years ago

Kristina Davis-Giles for the swim team

Georgina De la Cruz
8 years ago

David Nunez

Katie Lord
8 years ago

Marin Pirates!

Mike Smith
8 years ago

Kimberley Ackerson Smith

Kate Lawman
8 years ago

Alex Lawman

Hannah Smith
8 years ago

Sarah Cornell

Rick Van der Zant
8 years ago

Natalie van der Zant

Barbara Chandler
Barbara Chandler
8 years ago

Rock Solid Message.

Barbara Chandler
Barbara Chandler
8 years ago

Ephesians 4:29 ” Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen”
Philippians 2:3 ” Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself…”

Odette Beck Wheeler Perry

Very nice article. ?

Heather Good McTaggart

Kelly McTaggart PLEASE read this ENTIRE article! #TRUTH

8 years ago

I think this is a message for everyone and not just teenagers. Good job Annie Grevers

Kara Lennon
8 years ago

Margaret M. Bender Don Bender

Christina Richardson Rodriguez

Joshua Rodriguez

Deborah Bunce
8 years ago

Gema Fandila Bunce

Dan Simonelli
8 years ago

Yes! ?????❤️

Pamela Rose
8 years ago

Amazing and so important

Karin Lloyd
8 years ago

Hilary, Dan, David….

Hilary Yates Collins
8 years ago

Thanks Karin!

Margaret M. Bender
8 years ago

good article , thanks for sharing it Kara!!

Adrienne Langelier, MA

Excellent article. I work as a sport psychology consultant for a large number of teenage swimmers and am making all of them read this!

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