I have been an endurance athlete for most of my life — a swimmer for over 20 years, and approaching 10 years as a triathlete. In the past 20 years, I’ve also taught and coached thousands of athletes of all levels and ages. From both sides of the water, I have learned the most valuable lessons of my life, and continue to do so as I work with different types of athletes.
For the past 10 months I’ve been privileged to work with a group of high school swimmers who barely make a blip on the radar of most people outside the swim world. For the swimming world, they are a powerhouse: the Senior Elite group of the Pleasanton Seahawks.
What makes them elite? It’s not just that they are extremely talented and can swim fast. It’s not that they are in high school that grants them access to this group. To be in this group, they have to want to be there.
Being a top athlete is not just about being fast or talented. Being fast doesn’t just happen. The Senior Elite is a training group about building character. The philosophy for the group that has sent multiple swimmers to Olympic Trials and on to swim for top college swimming programs for the past 25 years is, “Character is what you do when no one is looking.” These kids live it every day.
They swim nine times a week, upwards of 6,000 strokes per practice, week in and week out through pouring rain, beating sun, AP classes and just trying to be normal kids. They travel the world swimming. They are the definition of dedication.
The question that each has to decide is ‘Why do I want to be in this group?’ They are defining their character every time they get out of bed for practice.
Watching these young, talented, hard working individuals, I’ve been reminded that the most valuable lessons I’ve learned have been from sport.
From sport, I have learned how to:
Respect — others, and myself.
Follow a plan.
Trust in a plan.
Win the adoration of others.
Do math by multiples of 25.
Not worry about the adoration of others.
Use my mind.
Exert my mind beyond what I thought possible.
Discover what you want from life.
When to socialize and when to put my head down and work.
When to be an athlete and when to be a coach.
Make your own luck.
Fail. And come back from failure.
To be humble.
Remember that I am only human.
Re-focus (a skill I notice is most difficult at times).
I also picked up integrity: in myself, my work and when I request it from others. Also, time management, planning and a whole host of other life skills that have helped me in business and personal relationships. While I do not exhibit all these qualities 100 percent of the time, they help to bring me back to reality quickly and send my mind into the clouds at the same time.
I am the group’s substitute coach for morning workouts. At first, the kids would thank me for being there, but not understand why I prefer to coach the 4 a.m. practice. I make a choice Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings to slog down a cup of coffee at 3:40 a.m. so I can open the pool by 4:10. I believe in this program. I believe in the individuals it creates and sends into the world.
Character is what you do when no one is watching. Character is about constantly making a choice. It may not always be the right choice, but that is how we learn. Thank you Pleasanton Seahawks Swimming for teaching me as a youth, and reminding me as an adult, that I benefit every time I stand on the deck in the pouring rain.
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