With Labor Day weekend coming up we are now in the thick of the swimming season. So far there have been the initial Time Trials and three swimming meets. Still on tap we’ve got four more regular meets, the County Championships and possibly an All-Star meet before the Championships. With my two daughters now swimming regularly, both after school and competing hard at the swimming meets I guess its official, I’ve become a Swimming Dad.
There’s a special category of Swimming Dad reserved for the likes of me. My youngest daughter Sabrina at age 6 has turned out to be fairly talented however her Selective Mutism (SM) was affecting her practice habits. Recall that SM is a social anxiety disorder, and in certain social situations it causes Sabrina to freeze up. It’s akin to the anxiety people feel before giving presentations. At the beginning of the season Sabrina was charging full steam ahead and going to all the practices, but as we got into competition for some reason the SM kicked in and she began to miss practices. One week she only made two practices. The following week she could not get herself into the water.
Every day we went to practice. Every day she said she was going to swim. Every day she’d get to the pool and be all suited up and ready, but she just couldn’t get herself to go in. Both my wife and I told her that if she didn’t want to practice it was okay, she didn’t have to be on the team. It was a threat, practice or quit. She could do it next year, and that was perfectly okay with us and we wanted her to know we understood. “Come on Sabrina, you’re only six after all. You’re sister didn’t start until she was seven.” I told her. But she insisted that she would remain on the team. After missing an entire week of practice going into the second meet she didn’t get any best times, but she wasn’t far off her best times either. I expected her to fall off significantly, but she really wants to be on the team and compete. It doesn’t hurt that we now offer both daughters small monetary incentives that actually add up quickly for practicing, best times, scoring points for the team and placing first in their heats. It’s really helped with their motivation to practice and get better because they don’t get an allowance yet. I also think it helps them learn the concept of earning money through hard work. We had to do something to try to get Sabrina in the water and keep her excited about swimming.
So the following week on Monday the weather was in the low 50’s and we told our girls they didn’t have to practice if they didn’t want to and the both decided not to go. Then on the Tuesday I got into the side of the pool early which was open to the public and Sabrina joined me there. She wouldn’t join the team when practice started. I spoke with one of the coaches as Sabrina fooled around, haphazardly doing some strokes a few meters at a time, and he said it was good she was in the water at all. Here’s where my special category of Swimming Dad has come in.
Every day at 5:15pm since that practice I’ve been in the pool with Sabrina in a side lane that is open to the public practicing her strokes. She has not missed a practice since, and that’s been five in a row. It’s good for me because I get more exercise at the end of the day. It’s good for Sabrina because her swimming has improved. In our third meet this past weekend she got best times in both the breast and backstrokes, and if not for jumping off the blocks instead diving off the side of the pool for the freestyle heat she would have likely gotten all best times. In her 8 & under class she is now has the third fastest backstroke on the team, and in the last meet she was only .15 second off being second fastest. Backstroke is a stroke we hardly even practiced too!
This past week the quality of our practices, our first week doing it together, was kind of low. Sabrina did a lot of fooling around, not really focusing on her strokes and form, but she did improve over the week on her own. What could I do? She’s only six after all, and it’s not like I was going to ride her. I’m delighted she’s in the water at all! Also we seem to be developing a special dad/coach/daughter/pupil relationship. She seems proud to have me as her special coach, and I’m happy she’s letting me share this part of her life.
Last week we identified a few things she could work on during the meets and they seemed to have worked! It was very exciting. She ended up with a first place in her freestyle heat and two seconds in her backstroke and breaststroke. With Memorial Day weekend off, our next meet is in less than two weeks, and if Sabrina practices consistently I expect her times to further improve. I’ve identified something she can work on with her freestyle, the fact that she doesn’t concentrate on kicking enough, and I think that we can shed a few seconds off her time and get her into the low 20’s if she just concentrates on kicking all the way across the pool. The same goes for backstroke. With more work on the backstroke it’s possible she could have the fastest backstroke on her team before the end of the year. She has a very outside shot of qualifying for the All Star meet. Sabrina is already faster at the backstroke than her sister Skylee who is now one of the fastest swimmers among her peers. It’s pretty remarkable for Sabrina who never had a swimming lesson before this year, and never competed in anything, other than the typical daily fights with her sister.
In the meantime eight year old Skylee seems to really be blossoming as a swimmer. In the last meet she posted the fastest freestyle and breaststroke times for anyone on her team. She won her freestyle heat, took second in breaststroke, and also second in the grueling IM. IM is a four lap sprint, as opposed to only one, that she routinely does in under 2 minutes. The first time she did it she got a 1:53 time. 1:52 is a time that will qualify her for the All Star meet. The last two times she has been at 1:55 and we’ve indentified what she needs to do to get better. In particular she needs to come out of the pool with an empty tank. That first meet she was completely spent after the IM. These last two meets she did not exert herself as much. There’s a special incentive for making the All Star meet in our house too, as the girls can get ‘Twinkle Toe Shoes’!
In the last meet Skylee’s breaststroke was only .14 from being an All Star qualifying time. The pool was warmer too so it swam slower for all the swimmers. I’m sure she will qualify during the next meet. Also her freestyle time came in at 19:74, a best time for her and only 1:74 away from All Star qualifying. I didn’t think she had a realistic shot at qualifying in freestyle before the season started, but now it just might be possible for her to swim in the 17’s. That would be amazing for her!
Swimming is not so much about what the competition is doing, but what you are doing in the pool. There are kids swimming in the 15’s. That’s great for them, but the important thing is that swimmers try hard and improve over the course of the year. Skylee started last year swimming in the high 30’s, and now she’s almost cut her times in half a year later! I don’t really care if my kids are the fastest on the team, although it’s very nice, believe me. I just care that they are seeing themselves improve through hard work. I also like the idea of monetary incentives and I know they love it. Work hard, you’ll do well and make money in life. Don’t work hard, you probably won’t do as well as you can and you won’t make the same money. The kids get to decide, and by everything we’re seeing right now, in the thick of the swimming season they’re making the right choices.
Andy Falk is a father of two incredible daughters ages born in 2001 & 2003, Skylee
and Sabrina. Andy is very active in the lives of his daughters, from coaching soccer to supporting them during swimming season to just plain doing homework or hanging out. Andy also surfs regularly, bicycle commutes and is a successful Realtor in Marin County, CA. Andy earned his MBA from San Francisco State University with an Internet Marketing concentration, and holds a BA from the University of California at San Diego where he studied and surfed in the 80’s.