The summer club swim championships — prelims today and finals tomorrow –have signified a major rite of the season around our house for quite a few years now, the past four through the lens of our oldest son’s coaching role.  But he was a team member for nine years before that, and our other two kids also swam a few seasons, so I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on this activity!  As Michael concludes his summer club coaching career, my thoughts circle back to previous swimming posts, partially reprised and updated here.

Power of Community
Although a swim team is hardly a religious activity,  the experience at its best contains elements of a spiritual community because:

People are included.  Team members’ ages range from 5 to 18, and our club is especially blessed also by diversity of race, nationality and family style, yet a swim team’s inclusion goes beyond such categories.  There is room for all abilities, and the newcomer’s personal best is cheered with vigor equal to that of the contender’s first place finish.  Also it’s not
unusual for the occasional swimmer with physical or developmental disability to be IMG_0292celebrated simply for completing the race. In our family’s nearly 15-year involvement with the sport of swimming, I have witnessed these spirited affirmations time and again, but they are not mere gestures to “raise self-esteem.”

People are invited to grow.  Swimming is hard work, and improvement does not come without it.  Day by day coaches ask the swimmers to push their endurance a bit harder, to refine their strokes just a little more.  The nature of the sport is that the athletes work mostly as individuals, yet the results ultimately produce a team outcome, providing additional motivation and significance.  Likewise, swim parents must perform tasks that may be outside their comfort zone such as learning to time races or even officiate meets.  Unlike soccer or basketball, swimming is predicated on parent participation; the competition cannot happen without them.

People become connected to one another
.  For swimmers, sharing early morning practices in cold water or pulling together to win a relay or consoling one another after missing a close touch creates real camaraderie, and for parents too, working together at meets and cheering the progress of each other’s children forges an enduring bond.  Further, parents’ necessary presence at the meets provides a meaningful point of connection with one’s own children through their teen years.

People want to pass it on.  The impact of the swim team experience becomes part of you, and despite its hectic nature, you miss it after the season ends.  Then the next season rolls around, and you’re eager to begin again.  Veteran swimmers and parents both become mentors to new folks, instructing them how to read a heat sheet and other helpful tips, paying forward the help they received at the beginning.

God in All Things
As a tribute to the coaches, one year a team mom asked swimmers to write down something they wished to thank them for, which she then consolidated into a poem of sorts that was read aloud at the team banquet by some of the younger kids.  It was quite striking what swimmers of all ages expressed gratitude for:  Thank you for pushing me.  Thank you for believing I could do it even when I didn’t.  Thank you for teaching me SwimChampCoachhow to do butterfly.  Thanks for encouraging me when I was tired.  In other words, Thank you for expecting something of me and then being there to help me accomplish it. Out of the blue, a surprising thought surfaced – Is this how God wants to relate to us?  Is God pacing the pool deck of our lives, fists in the air, shouting “Yes!!” when we believe and do, or “Race!!!” when we’re ready to give up? Athletics are not really my milieu, so I’m regularly surprised by the piercing quality of this image as it arises, always unexpectedly, when inadequacy or fear threaten.

This is all Good News.