15 October 2010

Escape the tyranny of the stopwatch

Swimming is a fantastic sport. It's not a zero sum game, you don't have one winner and one loser in each game. Because of the stopwatch, you can compete against goals and not feel like a loser because lane 4 beats you every time. That's one of the primary lessons I've wanted to teach Chopstick about swimming. Worry about yourself and your effort. And it has worked.

But unfortunately, this isn't all happening in a vacuum. The stopwatch has also caused problems. Chopstick will get out of the pool after a fantastic swim and be more concerned over whether her time was a personal best than the fact that she nailed the fly to back turn. This is even more exacerbated on events where she's close to a goal like a far western or JO.

We ended up getting in tiffs after races because she just couldn't leave the emotions in the water. I told her it's OK to feel disappointed in a swim, it's a matter of how you handle that disappointment and channel it. But all of our little tricks to overcome this problem were just bandaids on a wound.

It took a while to realize it but the real problem was me. Despite my calm, understanding and patient demeanor; deep down I care about the times. And she knows that I do. She'd look for clues in my face as she got out of the water to see how her time was. I'm pretty sure she cares about them because I care about them.

That's not to say that she doesn't want to swim fast for herself, but the time obsession has to be because of me. Heck, she couldn't even tell you what her best time in any event is but she asks me after every race if it was a best time. Yep, that's on me.

Luckily, Tuesday morning I had a moment of clarity. Screw the stopwatch. We can't let it run our lives. And we can't let it hurt her enjoyment of swimming. So, we're going to try something new next weekend. We're just not going to look. I won't keep my spreadsheet in my back pocket. I won't look at the scoreboard. She wont ask me what her time was. Her coach might give it away but he usually doesn't pay attention to the times until Monday, can't see why he'd do anything differently this time.

We'll check once, after her last event on Sunday. We'll go write the times down and collect the ribbons. Maybe find some surprises in there and maybe not. I am pretty sure we'll learn a lot about ourselves and her motivations though.

I've always maintained that Chopstick swims because she likes ribbons. I'm going to do my best to get out of the way of the reasons and stick with my most important role in her swimming, emotional support, encouragement and making sure she has a towel when she gets out of the pool.

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