How to Know the Pros and Cons of Competitive Swimming

The big advantage of competitive swim­ming is that very early in their lives children learn to be independent as well as learn that, if they want to achieve anything, they have to work for it themselves, with no mother or father to help them. In a way this is a little cruel, but after all, life can be cruel too. A swimmer is a lonely person. Although the squad members are around, the swimmer has got to do the work entirely on her own. Unless there is a driving force behind her to do better and strive for perfection, she is never going to succeed professionally. Swimmers have different motivations. Some do it for the pleasure of physical exhaustion, some to prove to themselves that they are capable of achieving some­thing. Others will do it because of the pleasure of winning, some for health reasons, and still others, perhaps wrongly, will do it because their father wants them to.

There are many pleasures in training and competi­tion and there are many disappointments too. Losing an important race can become a tragedy. Social life suffers—there is no time for parties, visiting the zoo, or even holidays. I must say, in fairness, that a social life does exist—but all your friends are fellow swim­mers.

I started competitive swimming at eleven years and stopped at eighteen and a half. After the Melbourne Olympic Games, I had achieved everything I wanted. Being a member of an Olympic team, traveling to many countries as a swimming representative, hold­ing twenty or so national titles, leading the top ten in a world list in my particular event, and most exciting of all, being a member of a world-record-breaking relay team. Still, I often think if I was given another chance, would I do it again? I probably would, but I often feel like a social outcast for not being able to play tennis, ride a horse, ski, or play the piano.

Most swimming coaches think becoming a cham­pion is worth all the sacrifices you have to make. But I think competitive swimming is fun only as long as nobody takes it too seriously. When families sacrifice so many years of their lives, giving up all their free time carting children to training sessions and swim­ming competitions, I think it is a little sad. Certainly there are a few exceptional talents and they should carry on by all means, but I see so many mediocre children involved in competitive swimming who really don’t care one way or the other; their main motivation is that their parents get pleasure out of seeing their offspring on the starting block. How often have I seen fathers scolding their children after a badly swum race? Competitive swimming should be between the coach and the pupil, and nobody else should be in­volved.

The reader might ask why, after saying this, am I involved in the swimming game? Well, I love it! I love passing on my knowledge to children, knowing that the gift I’m giving them will last a lifetime. Coaching is a bit like a lottery—occasionally one finds a perfectly talented, intelligent child, and to guide her until she achieves success is a satisfying accomplishment. Equally satisfying is to have a nervous, self-conscious child and, through training and successful competi­tive swimming, see her blossom into a self-assured, confident individual.

The swimming pool atmosphere is a healthy one, with boys and girls mixing freely. Running around in swimming suits, they don’t look on each other as “boy” or “girl,” but rather as friends.

Schoolwork, surprisingly, doesn’t suffer from all the outside school activities. Children who swim learn to concentrate much better than a nonswimmer, so do­ing homework takes a half hour of concentrated work compared with two hours for the nonswimmer, who fidgets, plays, and is distracted by TV. Now to the four competitive strokes.

Filed Under: Sports & Fitness


About the Author: By profession, Ralph Crutcher is a swimmer but enjoys playing football, Golf, and regularly goes to the gym to keep himself fit and healthy. This is one of the reasons; he likes to write about sports and fitness.

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