The Importance Behind Peer Mentorship

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Photo Courtesy: Meghan Smith

By Emily Thirion, Swimming World College Intern.

Though many see swimming as an individual sport, training and competition do not exist in a vacuum. While everyone loves to see a best time on the scoreboard or to have the experience of standing on top of the podium, the best memories we have of the sport are those shared with others.

Some of the most meaningful moments that have come out of my swimming career were when an older swimmer took the time to cheer for me at a big meet or encourage me when I was having a rough set. As I enter my final year of swimming, the most rewarding thing I do on a daily basis is being that support system for the younger members on our team’s roster.

As swimmers progress through the different levels of the sport, we spend years looking up to the greats like Katie Ledecky or Michael Phelps, but in actuality, the people who routinely impact us the most are those who we spend day after day training with in our home pool.

Peer mentorship is arguably the most important contribution any one swimmer can make to their team. Here are some reasons why peer mentorship is so valuable.

Peer mentorship cements a team-driven mindset.

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Photo Courtesy: Lori Langley

As a kid, it was always reassuring to see one of my older teammates behind my block before a race. Knowing that they were there for me, urging me on, and investing in my success made me feel like an integral part of the team. When swimmers feel like they belong, they know that others rely on them. When a swimmer feels valued, they work all the more hard to cement their position as an asset to the team.

Creates an empathetic shared experience.

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Photo Courtesy: Emily Thirion

Peer mentors are important because older swimmers are reminded of where they have come from, while younger swimmers get the benefit of seeing where their training can take them. Swimming is a long journey. Many of us start at the age of six or younger and carry on all the way through the end of high school or even college. Helping someone navigate the trials and tribulations you have already overcome increases empathy between teammates. This can foster a healthy team environment and culture from the top down.

Ups the ante for expectations regarding leadership.

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Photo Courtesy: Atlantic 10 Conference

Even if you aren’t the best swimmer on your team, it doesn’t mean that people aren’t looking up to you. It is expected as a young swimmer to naturally seek older athletes to guide you. In my case, the swimmers I aspired to be like weren’t Olympians, and many didn’t qualify for nationals or compete collegiately. But what they did do was show up every single day and work hard. They modeled good habits and exemplified the values of what it meant to be a good sportsman. They weren’t always the best ones in the pool, but they always had knowledge to share. Peer mentoring forces older swimmers to step back and assess what it means to be a role model and reflect on whether or not they are leading by example.

As we enter the grind of the holiday season, it can be so easy to lose sight of the purpose behind what we do. It can be more convenient to complain and bring negative energy into your training environment. The older swimmers might not be affected by you, but younger athletes are more susceptible to following your example, especially in challenging times. It is important to remember to take accountability for the attitude you bring into a space. It can be helpful to remind yourself that what you do impacts your younger counterparts. Ask yourself, “What makes me a good peer mentor?”

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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4 years ago

Graeme

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4 years ago
Reply to  Jack McGarry

its what we/you do already mate – keep it up and spread the word sir!

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4 years ago

One of the many things I love about the swimming world. My son is blessed with so many amazing and supportive teammates.?