Swim team started today and the two older kids proved to me again how your offspring, while perhaps genetically linked, are very much their own individuals.
I started swim team when I was four. I was the obnoxious little sister who got dragged to all the meets and finally wore my mother down enough with all my whining that she threw me on the team. Somewhere around five or six (still too young to have the official team suit) I was thrown into a relay last-minute and ended up having to swim the final leg. I won.
I can remember the heart-bursting feeling of realizing that an entire crowd of people was counting on you and you came through. My sister, who up until that point had mostly regarded me as the nuisance the wrecked her life, was the first one on the edge of the pool to grab my arms, yank me out and, wait for it, hug me. She actually looked…proud? It was my first taste of the feeling called exhilaration and from that moment on I was hooked.
I was the youngest of six with a dead father and a mother who had gone back to work. I’m sure in reality, I actually was showered with attention by an army of well-wishing friends, family and neighbors, but I know it never felt like enough. You know who gets attention and validation? Winners. Especially winners on a swim team of 60 kids.
So I made it my personal mission to win every race in every meet, every summer for every year of my childhood. As I got older I began to foster this competitive nature by actually hating my competition. Sport became personal and I thrived in the arena of combat.
I’m certain if you asked any one of my team members on any of my sports about this side of me, they’d all be shocked. I was the very picture of kindness and sportsmanship, as that is what my mother was vocal about valuing above all else, so that is what I displayed. Her approval stayed on top no matter how old or seasoned I became. However, inside I grew more and more into the terminator, dead set on annihilating the competition-my self-worth dependent on it.
The only problem with this attitude is that it becomes impossible to gauge your success in any way except against the performance of others. As you smart people probably know, measuring success against other people might be the most detrimental thing one can do to oneself. When comparing yourself to everyone else, you almost never win. That’s a whole lot of un-programming I’ve had to learn over the years.
Somewhere around 12 or 13, Amy showed up on my swim team and blew my shit out of the water. I had to learn to be second place almost permanently and not hate the competition on my own team, because Amy was pretty nice and I didn’t really hate her. She was also an excellent swimmer who I wasn’t going to beat no matter how much I wanted to. She was just more talented than I and devoted way more time to that talent than I. Amy was much like the girl I would encounter in high school, who pitched her way into the Guinness Book of World Records for most Perfect Games thrown. How the heck do you compete with that? You don’t, and if you try you just might burn yourself to the ground. I learned the hard and slow way that sports wasn’t just about me and that my total character and value weren’t revealed in my win-loss record.
I started to see sports differently. I began to relish the team aspect and opened my eyes to the other lessons learned on fields and in pools. I still worked hard. I still wanted to win. But I didn’t pin all my self-worth on blue ribbons or first place trophies.
This seems to be how my kids are approaching sports. They eagerly join teams. They try really hard in practice. They take what they can get and while they’ll be the first to tell you they’d prefer to win, they never let the losses wreck their days and so far there are plenty of losses.
I’m proud of them. I’m a little envious of them. What I mostly am, is beyond thrilled that this is one trait of mine they seemed to have skipped. Their lives will be richer for it.
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