I had this incredible, patient, strong-willed, and big-teddy-bear of a coach named Mike. When I made the Junior National cut in the 100 breaststroke at age 13, I told him I didn’t want to go because I wasn’t mature enough or “ready” (AKA – I was afraid to fail).
“Okay”, he said. “Let me know when you are ready.”
“What? It was that easy? What does that even mean?” I thought.
I went home from the meet that night confused, relieved, feeling sad, shocked, and of course – tired. I wasn’t sure why he didn’t want me to go. Was he disappointed? Did he agree? Was I not ready? Is this some sort of trick? Was I supposed to decide for myself – at 13 years old?! No way.. right?
Long story short – I didn’t go to the first Junior Meet. The following season, I decided it was time, so I packed my bags and went with the “big kids” on the National Team. We flew to Orlando, Florida altogether, and I was incredibly excited and nervous. My dad came to watch, and I remember sitting with him because I was terrified to sit with the older, faster kids on the team.
I didn’t swim in a way that I wanted to. I think I actually might have come in last in the entire race. I was embarrassed and wanting to give up. “See!” I thought. “I am NOT ready!”
We got back home after the meet and I had a meeting with Mike. He explained to me that he wanted ME to make decisions about my swimming – for myself. He was not going to make them for me, but he was there to push me when I do. In hindsight, it was a BRILLIANT coaching technique – instilling autonomy. He was proud of me for going, and told me that getting last in the race was a blessing. I didn’t quite understand at first, but when he explained to me that I would learn a substantial amount of things from that moment. It all became clear.
I learned to show up – afraid.
I learned to lean in – fearful.
I learned that I made a decision for myself – because I knew I could do it.
I learned that failing was as great of a teacher as winning.
I learned that the PROCESS was the reward.
And from then on, regardless of how I performed, I learned to take lessons to become a better athlete, each and every time. Don’t get me wrong, failing hurts. And tears are present in the pursuit. But let me tell you – I failed my way to a medal podium on several world stages and it was worth every single moment.
If you are a parent reading this – remind your athletes not to give up. To show up. And that if they fail – they learn. Winning isn’t the end goal – failing forward is. THE PROCESS, is.
And, winning will happen when they love themselves for exactly who they are.
Olympic Swimming Medalist & RISE Co-Founder