Sep 28, 2011

Swim Lessons - Life Lessons from Swimming

Swim Lessons – Teaching our kids to learn from Disappointment
By Don Macdonald

Teaching our kids to cope with disappointment.

Three years old frozen at the edge of the pool, counting one, two, two and half, two and three quarters then three, whoosh I yell to my parents as I jump in the water. I had just taken my first stroke in a long journey to swim the English Channel.

Now in Junior High, an adolescent struggling in school my parents enroll me in clubs and sports so I may do well, build self esteem and become resilient. At 4’11” I learn basketball and football are not for me, too slow for track, choir and band are OK but somehow find my way back to water.

Many successes and failures behind me, I am sitting in a familiar place after two and a half years of training, at the edge of a body of water this time the English Channel. Thousands of miles swum under every conceivable condition - freezing 60f water, jellyfish, darkness, sharks, huge waves, spinal damage and even family tribulations only a parent appreciates. Every detail planned – I am prepared. I find myself facing a familiar challenge… one, two, three… but this time its bad weather turning minutes into hours, hours into days. I grow increasingly anxious hope fading as wind and rain sweeps ‘La Manche’. A full week passes and my opportunity to swim the English Channel this season fades away. I am crushed.  

While we most often think of resiliency as a virtue that helps us react to challenges and disappointments it also proactively supports our lives. Before I left for Dover I knew the chance for success was illusive as weather blows-out over 50% of all attempts and that success rates of those that get their chance is less than 20%. This is why Doug McConnell, my friend and training partner’s success is so sweet and my disappointment while quietly understood is so humbling. Yet just getting there and being prepared is a success that will have to be enough for now. Some things you just cannot control.

Without resiliency we are content to play it small; play it safe; hide from the world, protecting ourselves from being hurt thus removing ourselves from joy, excitement, and satisfaction. It’s something you have to earn like jumping in the water, taking that first stroke or watching your friend swim the English Channel, One Stroke At A Time.

Resiliency is a learned virtue that comes from repeated exposure to success, disappointment and failure. We need to teach our children to try things on their own, that it is OK fail, and experience negative emotions like sadness, frustration and fear. It is equally important to persist in the face of failure. As we get older we bounce back from our disappointments, overcome temptations to quit, face embarrassment from failure and accept praise graciously while not gloating on our successes (which in this age of social media is all too easy).

There’s no shortage of hand wringing these days about the effects of coddling our kids, uninvolved parents or the dangers of overzealous ones. This concern over kids “getting soft” rewarded for everything is easily spin on an age old criticism leveled by each and every generation (“Back in my day…”) but for a child to take chances, they must feel safe and supported so they can take that first stroke.

As a parent, a resilient spirit is one of the greatest gifts you must demonstrate and share with your child. It is a set of learned skills that will help them do better in school and work, have healthier relationships, and live a happier, and maybe even longer life. It’s the key to helping them reach their potential like my parents and teachers did for me all those years ago.

Not everyone can be a winner all the time, but trying our best and how we cope with disappointment is perhaps the greatest lesson of all.  Quiting is not in my vocabulary.

I am happy to share my experience with groups in person or with kids at school functions geared towards building resiliency, drop me a line at ''

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this article! We see so many parents struggle to get their children to take that first dip in the pool. This article is very inspiring. So did your parents put you in swim lessons when you were a child? I bet those swim lessons are paying off now. Thanks again for sharing this.