On Deck With Dunc

The Pool Is The School. The Lessons Are For Life.

Competitive Swimming – A Fish Out Of Water

Competitive swimming is a tough sport in a soft world.

It is an old-school sport in a new age environment.

What does that mean?

Like most organised sports, competitive swimming is a luxury. Families and children are not engaged in the world that is competitive swimming unless life is generally good. In broad sweeps of the brush that means life is peaceful, stable and, socio-economically, middle class or up.

By the very nature of society and today’s modern culture, families that find themselves in the competitive swimming demographic will often (but not always) exhibit other characteristics.

Parents will frequently be of the lawnmower or helicopter persuasion. From time to time certain individuals come along who embody that awful combination of the two – a parent who is always hovering around anxiously while micro-managing and troubleshooting every aspect of their child’s swimming journey. Poor kid.

Layer that on top of the natural emotional investment parents have for their children’s swimming, that visceral desire to see their loved one succeed, which can manifest as extra pressure on the young swimmers’ tired shoulders.

And swimming is a tiring, demanding, time intensive sport. Swimmers train a lot. It is not uncommon for age-group athletes to train for 16 hours a week, 48 weeks a year all to race a handful of times. That’s hard.

It tests resolve.

It tests desire.

It tests.

Now, combine all that with some of the common traits our modern age-groupers exhibit and we are left with a noisome, noxious brew.

Teenagers today live in a totally different world thanks to the influence of social media. It’s a world that distorts perceptions. Teenagers operate in an echo-chamber that never sleeps. They have unrealistic views about success. They catastrophise making massive mountains out of measly molehills and, encouraged by the pedagological mumbo—jumbo taught by sociology academics, they have mastered the art of avoiding personal responsibility. Everything that happens is someone else’s fault.

In the face of all this, competitive swimming remains essentially unchanged. It offers an arena for athletes to test themselves against themselves. There are no judges subjectively scoring swims. Outside of relays, there are no teammates who can let you down. There is no opponent who can directly interfere with your swim.

It is just you, alone and exposed, standing behind the blocks with nothing but your preparation, confidence and shortcomings all measured against that unthinking, uncaring clock.

As a sport it is as distilled and pure as one can find.

It is the purity of that test, the total vulnerability in the face of the result and the absolute requirement of putting your cards on the table that makes competitive swimming such an anachronism. Win or lose, succeed or fail it’s all on you.

It is confronting.

It is uncomfortable.

It is tough.

Many young people today are not great at accepting responsibility. Temporary set-backs assume end-of-the-world proportions with well meaning parents over-intervening in response. For many young athletes and their families, the challenges thrown up by swimming only ever happen at the pool.

The still waters of an empty pool form a mirror that forces you to look at yourself. It has no ears to hear your excuses. A hard taskmaster, competitive swimming respects nothing but your time, grind and dedication.

However, for those willing to pay the price upfront in full, it offers experiences, lessons and achievements that will always shine brightly in the mind long after the racing days have passed.

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