Swimming Prodigy bucks the System…still sucessful

How many hours a week of swim practice does it take to get a shot at the Olympics? Fourteen, fifteen, how about twenty hours? Add dry land practice, and you’ll be well over twenty. If the swimmer is of high school age – even better, with summers off school, that means swimming 6 days a week with doubles [swimming twice daily] most days as well.

If you live in Southern California like I do, the mecca for competitive swim teams, the above scenario is likely what you’ll face with a child involved in the sport of swimming that goes one step beyond the recreational level.  Swim, sleep, eat, swim and repeat for six days a week. The seventh day is sleep and more sleep, or hit the beach and sleep. How NOT fun is that! For the swimmer, parents and family.

I read about seventeen year old Missy Franklin, from Denver – and her coach Todd Schmitz. My hope is that other coaches and parents can see that kids can have a life besides swimming [or whatever sport] and still be a successful athlete. Missy is the USA swim team darling and strong contender for the Olympic Swim Team- she’s got three gold medals and is a world champion in the 200 meter backstroke.

A Unique Approach….
What makes this story unique, is the coach’s and the parents approach to the sport and to the athlete – all of which seem to balance, come together to make it click for Missy so that swimming is not the focal point of her life, which allows her to be successful at her life, not just swimming.

Though, my guess is that most coaches will not be supportive, and this appears true…

“The insular world of international-class swimming sometimes rolls its eyes at Franklin. Her coach with the Colorado Stars, Todd Schmitz, isn’t famous. Her pools are scattered all over metro Denver. Her home state is a magnet for skiers, not swimmers.” (Henderson, 2011)

Unconventional Coaching
Two hour practices each day, six days a week, [we’re up to 12 hours now], oh yeah but summers? No Saturday practice in the summer, as Coach Schmitz believes kids should enjoy their summers. Really? OK, what about dry land? Well yes, dry land is important, twice a week. Wow.  Then I read that part of the strategy is adding ‘fun’ into the workouts…

Even when it comes to improving form—something other coaches regard as a strict science—Schmitz believes in the art of play … “A lot of this is about simply playing around in the water,” he said. “That’s what kids do naturally, and the play engages the mind and gives the swimmer the tools to figure out the right way to move their body.” (Futterman, 2011)

Having Fun – is that Allowed?
Is having fun really advisable for serious athletes? Shouldn’t it be hard work, pushing the limits, tiring the body to get better and better? Apparently, having fun is a critical component. In fact much research suggests that athletes of all ages, elementary age to high school athletes play sports to have fun, that’s the number one motivation. Not the scholarship potential, the prestige, but for fun.

I wish Missy the best – I hope she continues to swim as long as she enjoys it, and is still keeps her balance and shares her training story with others. Parents, coaches and young people need to see that success can come from balance, from a focus on fun, and by not succumbing to pressure from the ‘experts’. Missy’s parents had much advice, pressure even, to move Missy out of the small-scale swim team she was part of to swim with the big leagues (or should I say sharks).  They resisted, and Missy excelled.

Further Reading:
Why do you Play Sports?, The Players Survey

2 thoughts on “Swimming Prodigy bucks the System…still sucessful

    • Hi Andrew. you are already on the right track by being aware of how to alleviate pressure – it seems like having ‘fun’ along with working hard (practicing) does wonders. I don’t think kids or teenagers are ever too old to play games. Thanks for reading and for your comments. Debbie


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