You are very nervous. You have never given such an important presentation in front of so many people, and now you are standing at the head of a 25-yard boardroom table, flanked by others who want to outperform you — and you’re standing there in your underwear!
But wait, this isn’t some work-anxiety dream. Rather, this is what 55 young swimmers on the Vashon Seals Swim Team experienced as they stood on their starting blocks at their first swim meet this past October (OK, they were in swimsuits, not underwear, but you get the idea).
This sort of drama — the publicly-attempting-challenges-you’ve-never-done-before sort of drama — can easily get overlooked in the course of a swim season. But it is this embrace of challenge, sharpened by the discipline of hard work and a commitment to team unity, that is really at the heart of the Seals swim experience.
The benefit of this hard work is typically measured in seconds. Competitive swimming is marked by swim times. Swimmers are always trying to drop seconds, even tenths of a second, off of their previous times for a swim event. And seconds dropped in abundance this past season. Personal best times were swam in 230 different events; 20 new team records were set, and 30 swimmers earned times that moved them to new standards — Bronze to Silver, Silver to Gold or Gold to Pacific Northwest Swimming (PNS) times. Three Vashon swimmers qualified for the prestigious PNS meet in seven different events.
These statistics make coaches and parents proud. But yet, numbers don’t necessarily reveal all the benefits from disciplined workouts and competitive swim meets.
Consider Lauren Houston, a 16-year-old swim team captain. Here is a teen finding ways to balance commitments to school and practice, as well as a commitment to leadership as a captain. Lauren has also battled a shoulder injury throughout this season. Yet at the Divisional Champs Meet, Lauren qualified for the finals in the 50-yard butterfly (just imagine how the shoulder works during that sprint). She swam the event three times, improving her time each swim and placing third overall for her age.
Numbers and statistics are very helpful in measuring improvement, and the numbers certainly have added up (or subtracted down) for the Vashon Seals this past season. But Lauren’s example — mirrored by other team members as well — points to such intangibles as discipline, courage, work ethic, commitment to a team and support for others.
Coaches and captains alike emphasize these qualities as much as success against the clock. The team mission of personal achievement, team unity, and competitive excellence is at the heart of this success. We might do well the next time we are standing at that very long boardroom table to recall the confident and supportive spirit of the kids on the Vashon Seals Swim Team.
— Tom Gross Shader is the father of a Seals swimmer.