This was it. In 24 hours we would know if my eight year old daughter Skylee would get times to qualify for the All Star meet later this month. It was her last opportunity. There was still another meet prior to the All Stars, but those results wouldn’t count toward qualifying so this was her last shot. She had been working extra hard at practice over the past two weeks, maybe putting more pressure on herself than necessary. Case in point during the week she had a dream that she didn’t qualify with her freestyle time, but she did with her breaststroke. You know you’re excited when your sleep is affected.
In the meantime Skylee’s six year old sister Sabrina had been fooling around in the pool. She didn’t listen to the coaches when they spoke choosing to dive underwater, or she got out of the pool and did cannon balls. She started her practices late and got out of the pool early, anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes on either end of the practice basically cutting her water time in half. She just was not capitalizing on her considerable natural talents, while her older sister was making the most of what she had.
This was where the proper parenting perspective needed to come in. They were six and eight for God’s sake, so what did it really matter? Skylee was in a position to earn points for the team, meaning finishing in the top three positions overall for her age group, in all three of her heats: freestyle, breaststroke & IM. With the third fastest backstroke time on the team Sabrina had an outside shot at getting points for the team too, but she seemed nowhere near being able to mentally take on the challenge of working hard in the pool. A friend reminded me that last summer she still wouldn’t go into the pool without literally clinging onto either myself or my wife, so she had already come a very long way. It would be interesting to see what next year brought, when at 7 years old Sabrina had a shot at being the fastest on the team, in her 8 and under age group, in all or most of her events like her older sister. I believed her motivation would have a lot to do with the trophies and ribbons her older sister ended up with at the end of the year. If Skylee earned an all star trophy this year, I was sure Sabrina would be ready to focus next year.
Points, ribbons and trophies, none of it really mattered. In the long run I wondered if I was raising two different types of kids entirely. Would Skylee grow up to be a very successful individual who would be willing to put in the time and effort to get ahead? Or would she get frustrated, disappointed and burn out on trying? I doubted it, as even at this early age she always seemed to excel. Would Sabrina grow up to be the slacker, someone who would simply get by? Or would she learn how to focus and become motivated when it mattered, which is where things seemed to be going? All this coming from me, the ultimate slacker in high school who graduated in the exact middle of my class, 251 out of 502. I didn’t learn how to apply myself until college. I had come to the conclusion that what mattered in the present was Skylee taking some pressure off herself and lighting a fire under Sabrina’s little butt.
The day of the meet we were all very excited. Skylee was practically jumping out of her skin when it came for her first heat in freestyle. 6 out of the 8 swimmers had faster times than her going in, so our hopes weren’t too high. Amazingly Skylee ended up posting the fastest time of the year for an 8 and under Orca girl, and placing third in the heat. That was good enough to earn a point for the team. Her next closest competitor swam 18.51. Skylee came in at 18.50. It was an amazing finish!
Sabrina was in heat three of the freestyle, and like her older sister the field was stacked with swimmers who had better times coming in, five to be exact. It was another close race, and Sabrina knocked nearly a second off her best time, coming in third place. She placed right behind another six year old Orca teammate, who now has the bragging rights of being the fastest freestyle six year old on the team, a position Sabrina held up until the meet. That’s okay though because next year would be totally different. Both girls will be a year older, stronger, longer and faster. I was expecting both of their times to be competitive with the best in the county next year at this time.
Sabrina was next up in our family, racing in heat one of the backstroke. The way swimming works the fastest swimmers are in the earliest heats. Skylee was scheduled for only heat ones. Sabrina was in heat one of backstoke, heat three of freestyle and heat two of breaststroke. In backstroke the odds were stacked against Sabrina again. There was only one swimmer with a slower best time. I had tried to get Sabrina to work diligently on the backstroke during the week. She typically would only swim only one or two lengths of the pool and refuse to do anymore. It was a little frustrating, but there was nothing I could do about it so we just moved on to other strokes. Sabrina’s lack of preparation showed in the heat. She ended up swimming three full seconds slower than her best time, placing very last in the heat, four seconds behind the next fastest swimmer. She spent a lot of time grappling with the lane line, which is never good. It’s so hard to swim straight when you can’t see where you are going. It’s something one needs to practice and Sabrina simply didn’t.
When the breaststroke heat one came up it was time for Skylee to show her stuff. All week she had been working up to the moment, practicing overtime on her dive, glide and technique. There was only one faster swimmer coming into the heat, so we felt very good about her chances. Additionally for the past three days she had been posting All Star times in practice. Skylee didn’t disappoint, winning the heat, posting her fastest breaststroke time of the season and making the All Star team! It was nice to see hard work pay off for her.
Sabrina was in heat two, and with only two faster swimmers in the heat she had a good chance to place well. Sabrina ended up winning her heat by .01, beating out the teammate who had beaten her in freestyle! Skylee had won heat one, Sabrina heat two! Sabrina’s teammate should have won, but she made the technical mistake of looking at the other swimmer during the heat several times, and like a track runner when a swimmer looks at the field they invariably slow down. Sabrina needs to work hard to maintain her position on the team this coming week, and in fact her performance earned her a spot in heat one where she will be swimming with her older sister’s side for the first time! So Sabrina should be in both heat one of the backstroke and breaststroke next weekend. That’s pretty amazing for my little six year old. Just image how well she will do if she practices hard this week.
We spoke at length regarding Sabrina’s practice habits after the meet. We told her, we have no doubt that you are going to be a great swimmer, but you are going to have to put in the work. Take a look at your sister and how well she did after so much hard work. Also your friend passed you as the fastest six year old in freestyle on the team. Both of them worked very hard. Sabrina’s response was shocking, “I’ve been sick all week with a cough.” It was actually one of the first times I can remember her making an excuse. She had a minor cough for the past few weeks, but it hadn’t kept her from school or practice. Listening to her in the days that followed we realized that there may have been something to her excuse as the coughing continued. It didn’t keep her out of school or keep her from playing with others, but it was there. One of the kids in the neighborhood had the lingering cough for several weeks, and we believed Sabrina must have gotten it from her. In fact as of this writing I’ve got a touch of it myself.
The final individual event for Skylee was the IM. We talked about it of course beforehand. In the previous week she had done four lap the event in 1:55. She would need to be at least three seconds better to qualify for the All Star team. Plus there were three other faster girls going into the heat, so she needed to beat one of them to come in at least third and get a point for the team. During the week I had spoken to Skylee many times about leaving nothing in the pool. Sprinting for two minutes is hard enough for anyone, let alone an eight year old, but Skylee was up to the task. She ended up getting third place with her best time of the year, coming in at 1:49 and making the All Stars!
The day was a complete success for Skylee who scored three best times, qualified for the All Stars in two events and getting a first and two thirds. That translated into 7 points for the team. She also participated in two relay events and her teams got second and third places, scoring another 4 points for the team. It was pretty impressive stuff for a girl whose swimming strokes looked downright clumsy last year. Skylee is intelligent and a very hard worker. Her efforts paid off and hopefully her younger sister will learn from watching her.
That’s going to be a fine line. It’s never good to point out how well one child is doing to the other, which can make them feel inferior and resentful. So our approach was to tell Sabrina that next year she will enjoy the type of success that Skylee is having this year, she just needs to be a year older. She’ll get there. By the time she’s eight she will likely do even better than Skylee! All this was not lost on Sabrina who said with pride, “Next year I’m going to be Skylee.” It made me believe we just be doing something right.
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.