Posts Tagged ‘discipline’


swimming: equipping adolescents for a lifetime of personal records

December 14, 2010

As someone who has worked with adolescents for the past 15 years, I am impressed with the consistency of character that comes for the students who participate in competitive, year round swimming. I am a student ministry pastor at a local church and have had students from just about every walk of life come through our program at one time or another. And as these different sub groups of youth culture come and go, I have noticed a unique difference in the character of the students who are competitive swimmers.

Extra curricular activities provide many benefits. Whether it is being in the top five percent academically, band, the arts or team sports, students learn many valuable lessons. But swimming has a unique culture that is not found in these other activities and provides something more significant than just lessons. The culture of a competitive swim team offers four things that are vital to the emotional well being and character development of adolescents that are difficult to facilitate in any other venue. Swimming provides family, discipline, forced quiet and an environment for self improvement.

Swimming creates family: Just about every competitive swimmer I have talked to and know sees their swim team as their second family. It doesn’t seem to matter the geography, the economics or even the coaching. Something within the very DNA of the sport creates a sense of family. The amount of time together combined with the mutual encouragement as swimmers develop and compete allows students to feel like they are a part of something bigger then themselves and have a place to belong. And when the coach expands their view and facilitates a healthy and caring environment, this sense of family and commitment multiplies.

Swimming develops discipline: Nothing about swimming is natural. We are land animals, designed to live and thrive above the water. Swimming takes a set of skills that have to be learned and perfected. Then these skills need to be practiced and made into second nature if there is any chance of swimming on a competitive level. The rigorous schedule weeds out the faint of heart, and those who remain develop the mental and physical discipline needed to participate in this sport. And because this is a year round endeavor, most swimmers have developed the discipline needed to master their personal schedule and the emotional discipline of self-motivation.

Swimming forces quiet: Where in the life of a student is there quiet? From the time they wake up until they fall asleep, they are bombarded with noise and distraction. Some of this is important and needed like school, and much of it is created by the students themselves. It is rare to come across a student who is not plugged in to their iPod. For the duration of swim practice, students are forced to live with just their thoughts and nothing else. This forced quiet allows students to discipline their thinking, to reflect on their lives and to quiet their hearts. Students need to be alone with their thoughts for proper development and lap after lap provides just that.
Swimming teaches students to strive to beat their personal record: Just about every swimmer knows that they are not competing for a shot at the Olympics or for a trophy or a ribbon. Swimmers don’t even really compete to be the best team in their area. Although competitive swimming has all of these elements, what makes this sport unique is that most swimmers are constantly swimming to beat their PR, personal record. Every part of the practice and the competitions themselves center around swimmers striving for this personal goal. And when these personal records are broken, the swim team family celebrates. Swimming offers a place for everyone on the team to compete and have their effort matter. It is not just the top swimmers that are important and need to push themselves; every swimmer is important and every swimmer’s race matters, because every race is a chance to prove that all that hard work is paying off when they crush their personal record.

The very nature of the adolescent world is chaotic and unsafe. Competitive swimming offers a gift in the unique benefits it brings to the lives of students who participate. Their team is their family, they develop a disciplined life, they are forced to live with their thoughts and they are continually striving to be their best, not the best. And the combination of all of this develops strong character and confidence in the lives of students.