by Phil Hansel
Reprinted from: Swimming World magazine, February 1988
"Not everything we do in life is a pleasant experience. Not everything we do is beneficial. Not everything is productive. Not everything is a nurturing, loving experience. Life is full of negative, destructive experiences. Rejection, defeat and failure surround all of us. The trick is to be prepared to deal with this side of life and learn to overcome discouragement. I have always felt that the great value of swimming as a sport is that it prepares one for life. The total swimming experience is made up of people, attitudes, beliefs, work habits, fitness, health, winning and losing, and so much more. Swimming is a cross section of lifetime experiences. It can provide so many learning situations. A swimmer learns to deal with pressure and stress, sometimes self-imposed, sometimes applied by others. One learns to deal with success and failure. One learns teamwork and discipline. Swimming becomes a self-achievement activity. There is only one person in the water in a given lane in any race. The responsibility for performance ultimately lies with the individual. How well the individual has prepared physically and mentally to a large degree will determine the performance level.
Many swimming experiences can be of disruptive, discouraging type. But at least a young swimmer learns that this is a part of life, and the swimmer must learn to cope. By learning how to handle frustration and disappointment, the young swimmer gains confidence. The swimmer learns dedication and commitment. Through perseverance, a swimmer learns to overcome adversity. All of these experiences tend to develop an individual who is better able to handle life's hardships and face problems.
As coaches and parents, we tend to preach that hard work will lead to victory. We preach that clean living and proper training such as diet, sleep and regular attendance at workouts will lead to winning. Though in the long run for a productive successful life, these are probably truthful concepts that don't always work in short term situations. We have all been in situations where a bigger, more gifted person with poor work habits is the victor in race after race. Or we've known others who never seem to study, yet get good grades. We've known business people who never seem to lift a finger, yet for one reason or another, they close deal after deal. These things just are not fair. Yet this is one of the valuable lessons that swimmers learn: "Life is not fair." We don't all start out in life with the same physical, mental, emotional and financial resources. In that respect, "Life is not fair." A swimmer must learn what is fair for one is not necessarily fair for another. A swimmer learns we are all different and each individual controls his of her own destiny. A swimmer learns to emphasize given talents and skills. A swimmer learns to improve on a regular basis. By not setting limits and restrictions, this improvement will surely lead to success. A swimmer learns that effort becomes an individual crusade. If the ultimate goal is an Olympic gold medal, then with the proper talent, dedication, belief and support, all swimmers believe it can be done. This is the positive achievement side of swimming that I like so much. Through experience in swimming, our young people learn attitudes and habits that will remain with them throughout the rest of their life. Most swimmers learn to be "can do" people. Generally, these positive attitudes, belief in self and solid work habits will produce a terrific adult. Our society and our world are enriched by these former swimmers as they become adults. Because of their training, they handle life with a smile. They contribute time and energy to others in every way imaginable. We can be proud of what swimming contributes to this world. Though "life is not fair," a swimmer knows how to deal with that and can achieve a balance. For the most part, former swimmers grow up to be ordinary people, but they always have that extra plus from the swimming experience. We are different and can be proud of it. It's a pity and truly "unfair" that thousands and thousands of young people are missing the swimming experience. We must open our programs to everyone. We must find ways to share our fantastic sport."