I wrote this article for our team and it seems to resonate with folks. I thought the sentiment is particularly important for all swimmers to consider in their own lives as athletes, so I offer it as an “op-ed,” of sorts.
Happy 2018 Islanders!
I’m going to risk “waxing poetic,” partly because I love to recognize things that are special to me and I enjoy sharing with our team, hoping that this message transcends that sentiment to our staff, parents and athletes.
With the dawn of a new year upon us and the ice flow of the Great South Bay reflecting a distant sun, I’m reminded of a bitter cold morning a few years ago in Western, NY that changed my perspective on how I approach each day and how that’s affected the way in which I coach athletes in our sport.
January days in Rochester, NY are rather bleak, especially at 5:30am. I was working with our Masters program, mostly comprised of swimmers who did not compete, yet were extremely dedicated in their pursuit of lifelong fitness and the pure, simple joy of swimming. This particular group was instrumental in allowing me to continue to find the mundane brilliance that aquatics can offer, long after the ribbons, medals and glory have been packed away in childhood memories.
I had a challenging Masters workout laid out for our crew, mixed with distance and sprint training intertwined, to touch on the various goals of our team; some triathletes, fitness enthusiasts and a few “fist time swimmers.” Somewhere around 7am a mix of blue, orange, pink and red colors bounced off the rippled water from the bay windows behind the starting end of our pool. In the middle of the main set, one of the athletes exuberantly exclaimed “There it is, there’s our morning’s reward!”
This perfect, albeit simple observation resonates with me still. In our sport, we spend literally countless hours staring blankly at the black line on the bottom of what can seem to be an endless void of blue abyss below. To find the beauty in the mundane, to celebrate the most basic and intrinsically human aspects of our lives is something that can truly inspire us to live a life that’s filled with meaning, purpose and enjoyment. Even in the day to day drudgery of a cold North Eastern Winter, we must open ourselves to accept the fact that we, no matter how hard we struggle, cannot control everything in our lives. In order to better understand ourselves and our own unique place in this life, we should; at the very least, appreciate that we can be present in any moment and relish the opportunity to become better, happier and more fulfilled, no matter where we find ourselves in our life’s journey.
Imagine the possibilities you could open yourself to if you had the mindset to appreciate the simplistic potential you have at the start of each new day. The problem I most often identify in our sport is that most swimmers develop goals without being cognizant of the path (process) that is the key to unlocking that future achievement. When we’re young, we all dream of making the Olympic team, even the most cynical teenager will tell you that at some point in their career, they imagined notching their name among Team USA’s roster. I would venture to believe that 90% of our last Olympic Team never stopped believing in that dream.
Belief keeps the collective faith in our own ability to achieve. When a door closes in our life that has been emotionally important to us, usually we adapt to the situation, learn from our faults and reapply our vision to eventually succeed. As adults, parents, educators and coaches, we must play out this scenario everyday. In that same vein, we must take those lessons and impart them on our children, our students and our athletes. In this way, sport, i.e. swimming, becomes a vehicle for us to encourage our youth to accept that failure and struggle are the keys to developing the skills to overcome the challenges of life.
If something as trivial, or sentimental as the sun rising on a bitter cold January day can be the emotional spark that ignites a small flame of inspiration, how much more effective & productive would you be during your practice, work week or year? If you allow these things to make even a small impact on you, I promise that you’re on the path to discovering a life worth celebrating, but moreover, maybe you decipher a definition of success that is unique to you and allows you to revel in the moments when you’ve taken steps toward that achievement on your horizon.
One of the greatest aspects of defining your own success and owning the path en route to that success is that no one else can interfere or negatively sidetrack you from your desired benchmarks. We have a tendency in our “plugged in” society to allow others, or invite others to evaluate our path or process.
I’m jealous of my children and the way they view their own achievements. At 3 and 5 years old, they’re so excited to show me what they can do, without any fear of mistake in the skill. I believe we all have that at birth, somewhere along the line we all forget how to be young.
I hope that this email finds everyone excited about 2018 for Islanders Aquatics and endless possibilities that lay ahead. Find the moments everyday that speak to you and run with the inspiration that they bring today, tomorrow and beyond.
I’ll leave you with this:
“Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.” ―Franz Kafka