I hate the breaststroke but I’m OK at it — and my coach wants me to swim it in meets. I don’t see why I should because swimming is a lot more about individual events than it is about a team effort. Do I have to swim the breaststroke in meets?
— A.R., Alameda
Most of the time, there are grey areas in every question, but not in this case: Swim the breaststroke, and do so with enthusiasm and a smile on your face when the race is called.
Yes, swimming at the highest levels is an individual sport, and as athletes start to separate themselves from the pack, it makes complete sense to swim the events that a) you enjoy the most (because in the long run you’ll most likely do better at them), and b) suit your skills — but in case you haven’t noticed, you’re in high school.
In case you haven’t noticed, you’re not paying for pool time. You’re not paying for your coaching. You’re not participating as an individual. You are representing the school you attend, and when you are swimming for your school, it’s not about you.
Now if you don’t want to represent the school, if you don’t want to be part of the swimming community that practices together every day, then go find a pool and practice there by yourself and get ready for the summer. Don’t pretend you’re a member of a team, because you’re not, even if your friends are swimming.
When you’re on a team, you do what the team needs, even if it isn’t what you want. Let me repeat that, because a lot of young athletes and even worse, parents, don’t get it: When you’re on a team, you do what the team needs, even if it isn’t what you want.
In individual sports like swimming and track, it’s easy to put aside the team aspect, especially when dual meet results don’t have much impact outside the team itself. But the reality is that you are on a team, supported by the school, the booster club and the community, and that support carries with it obligations.
And first among those obligations is to put the team first. If swimming the breaststroke is what the team needs, you swim the breaststroke. If running the hurdles is what the team needs, you run the hurdles. If you’re hurt and the team needs someone to make some Gatorade, you make the Gatorade.
And you don’t whine, or act noble, or make it clear you’re doing this grudgingly. You smile, you are enthusiastic and you give your very best no matter what the task, on or off the track, in or out of the pool, or downstairs looking for the lap counters.
As a high school athlete, you always, always, represent your school and community, and you not only need to accept that responsibility, you need to embrace it.
Starting with the breaststroke.
Clay Kallam is an assistant athletic director and girls varsity basketball coach at Bentley High in Lafayette. To submit a question for Behind the Clipboard, email Coach Kallam at email@example.com
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