My beautiful 16-year old step daughter Liz is on the left

Want to keep your kid on the straight and narrow path?  With our Brady Bunch of 5 kids and endless activities, my husband and I have found no better method than hard core swim team.

So far, we are either remarkably lucky or remarkably successful.  Our kids get into normal kinds of trouble and achieve higher than average successes; my husband and I, by the standards of the Western world, have trod similar paths. Of the 5 kids and 2 of us, 6 of 7 have been on swim team, and 5 of 7 have been hard core about it at some point in their lives.

A friend recently pointed me to the book “Outliers: The Story of Success,” by Malcolm Gladwell, to ask if it matched our experiences; granted we are not churning out the type of  “outliers” that Gladwell profiles, i.e., Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, and the Beatles.  In Outliers, Gladwell discusses how family, culture, and friendship each play a role in an individual’s success.  He notes that success “is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky.”

Liz jumping to intercept a pass thrown by her father to Clark, her step-brother

What is it about the advantage of the swim team life provided by their family that adds to a child/young adult/adult’s success?  Let me explain by giving you a snapshot of the life of my step daughter, Liz, although I could just as easily talk about her talented older sister Marie.

First, I submit that it is an advantage to be born into a family that deliberately creates an environment to maximize a child’s chances of success, and looks for activities that build life skills and help ground the child throughout the dangers and distractions of the growing-up years.  You probably wouldn’t be reading this post if you weren’t the kind of person/parent who believed in this role as a parental responsibility.  My parents strived to create this for me.  I in turn strive to create it for my children and step-children; to borrow from an oft-repeated concept on this blog, I believe I am accountable to provide this for our offspring, that it is my privilege and my duty.

Now, with this in mind, let’s look at the life of Liz. Liz is finishing her junior year in high school.  She has participated in year-round swim team since she was five years old and before that watched Marie swim competitively.  She has played a variety of other sports as well as engaged in activities ranging from an elite choir to flute to yearbook.  Her current swim schedule with Houston Swim Club and Bellaire High School Swim Team requires her to put in 15-20 hours in the water a week.  That’s added-on to her normal high school schedule.  Liz has a 3.6 grade point average.  She was a Texas 5A Regional Finalist in the 200 butterfly.  She is representing the U.S. Virgin Islands at the Caribbean Islands Swimming Championships in Cuba in the 200 Butterfly this summer.  She is a member of the award-winning Bellaire Choir’s prestigious Concert Chorale group.  By anyone’s standards, Liz is succeeding.

How does swim team play a part in her success?  Despite the number of hours it requires — or because of it — Liz is able to fit everything in.  She knows she is time-constrained, so by necessity she and other swimmers become masterful at organizing their lives, from young ages.  NOTE: swim team did not always require so many hours of her; the hours have increased as she has reached successively higher levels of competition.  So 13-year old Susanne spends only 10+ hours in the pool each week, in comparison to Liz’s 15+.

Loiz, without any parental prompting, packs her backpack and — most nights — 2 swim and/or school bags, her lunch, her snacks, and lays everything out before bed time.   She leaves the house at 4:45 or 7:15 a.m. each morning depending on her practice schedule and does not return home again before 7:20 p.m.   She can’t run home if she forgets something, and both the household parents work, so she must plan for what she needs or do without.  She gets ready, sometimes more than once a day, in tiny, crowded bathrooms or locker rooms.  When she gets home at night, she quickly eats and showers, does homework, and gets in bed.  Her early rising/long days and high level of athletic activity require sleep, sleep, sleep. To give herself more time for sleep and homework, Liz voluntarily took summer school last summer so that she could have a study hall period during the school year.

My strong, beautiful step-daughter, Michelle

Part of ensuring success is ensuring that teens stay out of trouble, and swim team contributes to this goal beautifully.  Liz has a nice social life, but she is too sleep deprived to get out of hand even on the weekend.  And she and her swim team friends prize their membership on their club team.  The coach is a stickler on commitment, and he won’t tolerate kids that are drinking, doing drugs, or too tired to practice because they are out partying all the time.  They are normal kids, and we are sure there’s a little more fun going on than we know, but not a whole heck of a lot.

The swim team environment is a culture of achievement.  The swimmers are all striving for personal best, and they normalize the effort required to achieve it for each other.  People, if you have never done it, I can’t begin to tell you how difficult it is to swim a 1500 for a warm-up, fifty 50’s each at a pace I can’t make for a single 50, and another 1500 for a cool down.  Or how excruciating a 200 meter butterfly really is, how much your shoulders hurt, how hard it is to breathe.  Yet it becomes second nature for these kids to do this because they look around them, and everyone is doing it.

Participation in this type of life-skill building activity is not without sacrifice to the parents.  For years, we have driven kids (and ourselves) to and from the pool multiple times a day.  The pool is 20 minutes from our house.  Before Liz got her driver’s license, between her and Susanne, we drove 11-15 round trips a week to the pool.  Most swimmers cannot compete at high levels without this kind of time dedication and without the training and support of what is known as a club team, which costs a couple of thousand dollars a year per swimmer.  (Some teams offer scholarships, or are able to discount their fees if they are supported in whole or part by donations.)  Swim meets range from 2-3 days apiece and with two swimmers in the house we usually have 2 meets a month.  We sit on concrete for hours upon days cheering the girls on, which is also critical to their commitment and ultimate success.  They need to know we care and are watching them, or they disconnect from the activity. So we watch.  And we watch and we watch and we watch!

Success, of course, is not just about effort and achievement.  It is also about quality of life.  And Liz loves to swim.  The first thing Liz does when we visit a hotel with a pool is grab a swim suit and run for the water.  She loves swimming so much that she plans to continue swimming in college, just for fun.  She plans to combine her swimming with a little bicycling and running some day too and follow her Dad’s footsteps into triathlon.  75% or more of the time, she is a perky, chirpy, happy girl who is fun to be around, too…and the rest of the time she is a moody teenage girl, which may be less than the national average for girls her age.  She’s a heck of a lot nicer and happier than I was.

Gladwell attributes part of eventual success on family/culture advantages. We try 🙂

In fact, Liz wants to swim so badly that when she qualified for CISC in Cuba this summer and we realized that our pool of funds had run dry, she chipped in $400 of her own money from her savings and by foregoing part of her 2010 birthday and Christmas haul and initiated (with parental help) a fundraising campaign for the $2000 she needed. As of the time of this blog, she has $1430 and would love to see a few more tax-deductible contributions (email me at pamelafhutchins@aim.com); the tax deductible status is made possible because donations for her support can be made directly to Virgin Islands Swim Federation, a registered non-profit.

What would our life, and hers, be like without swimming?  More sleep, probably!  But, other than that, I can’t think that it would be better.  Liz moved in with us when she was 13, so I became her day-to-day step-mom instead of occasional step-parent at an age when she should have been her most difficult.  She is, instead, the easiest of our remaining “at home” kids, and I believe it is in part due to the impact swim team has upon her.  And partly because she is an exceptionally good kid who has been raised well long before she moved in with me.

I hope this answers my friend’s question.  I believe that the swim experience in our household follows the “Outliers” mold. It creates life skills in our kids that add to the other advantages, accidents, and efforts in creating their opportunity for success.  What works in your household?

Three cheers for swim clubs.

Hip Hip Hurrah

Hip Hip Hurrah

and

Go Liz, Rock CISC!!

Wishing you all much success on your own terms,

Pamelot (sometimes known as “Momela”)

 

 

Please follow and like us:
Share →

27 Responses to In Praise of Swim Teams and Step-Daughters

  1. Eric Hutchins says:

    Go Bean, Go Coach Gilbert, Go Swimming. Really.

  2. kimmy0808 says:

    Your step daughter is really beautiful.

  3. Heidiopia says:

    Great post! We’re all about the sports/activities/schedules, too– builds responsibility and accountability on so many levels. Kudos Momela!

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by PamelaFaganHutchins. PamelaFaganHutchins said: Step-parenting sometimes looks a lot like "real" parenting — tips on creating a family "culture" http://tiny.cc/12c8d #parenting #outliers […]

  5. […] of “how do you root for one to rally at the expense of another one cratering???.”  Thomas, Marie, and Liz were all doing great — Eric’s kids…uh oh, I saw a common denominator […]

  6. […] husband and I faced a restructuring challenge when his 13-year old daughter moved in with us and my 11-year old son and 9-year old daughter.  We had been navigating the […]

  7. […] blog in the history of the world, was the importance that sports — especially bicycling, swimming, and triathlon – play in blending our Brady Bunch family.  My husband is an engineer, but […]

  8. […] reward truths when you can, rather than punishing a child’s bad choices.  We also believe in keeping our kids busy; less “mall” or “cruising” time.  This option does not guarantee success, […]

  9. […] how we discovered that there was no jack in the Suburban after all.  I’m not going to blame the teenage driver of this Suburban, but, well, there is the issue of custodial possession and responsibility.    If you’re […]

  10. […] “Those fish grew up in our pond. They trusted us. They were part of our family. Did you know he killed one of our cats one time, too?” said Liz Hutchins. […]

  11. […] out that one of the most effective strategies to focus the ADHD brain, at least in our house, is to physically exhaust the body.  Add exhaustion of the mind to that, and you’re really […]

  12. […] three iPods, two cameras, five phones, a desktop, and two laptops.  Total body count: 13.  She turns 17 next month, and she has asked for a birthday gift: another phone.  We now struggle with the guilt of whether […]

  13. […] about him and generally being a gigantic pain in the ass.  I love my normal, fallible kids and step-kids.  I love our messed-up, wacky […]

  14. […] Yeah, I read it…I am very interested and I want to go! […]

  15. […] Liz: High school swimming teenager with more clothes, shoes, makeup and hair straighteners than the rest of us put […]

  16. […] writer, mediocre endurance athlete (triathlon, marathons), wife, mom of an ADHD son, five kids/step-kids, business owner (www.epspros.com), recovering employment attorney and human resources executive, […]

  17. […] “Those fish grew up in our pond. They trusted us. They were part of our family. Did you know he killed one of our cats one time, too?” said Liz Hutchins. […]

  18. […] Yeah, I read it…I am very interested and I want to go! […]

  19. […] about him and generally being a gigantic pain in the ass.  I love my normal, fallible kids and step-kids.  I love our messed-up, wacky […]

  20. […] out that one of the most effective strategies to focus the ADHD brain, at least in our house, is to physically exhaust the body.  Add exhaustion of the mind to that, and you’re really […]

  21. […] We just hadn’t gelled as a family yet.  For more on this wacky transition, click here, here, here, and […]

  22. […] academic achievement with a distinguished degree for her extra course credits.  She will swim on a dual academic/athletic scholarship for Adams State College in the fall. Proud and […]

  23. […] rules, sports teams, routine, and — believe it or not — chores aka money-making opportunities. She immersed herself in activities with an incredible will. Sure, she complained from time to time, but she eagerly kept up her schedule of athletic […]

  24. […] “Bean”: High school swimming teenager with more clothes, shoes, makeup and hair straighteners than the rest of us put […]

  25. […] how we discovered that there was no jack in the Suburban after all.  I’m not going to blame the teenage driver of this Suburban, but, well, there is the issue of custodial possession and responsibility.    If you’re […]

  26. […] husband and I faced a restructuring challenge when his 13-year old daughter moved in with us and my 11-year old son and 9-year old daughter.  We had been navigating the […]

  27. […] A few years ago I wrote a piece called In Praise of Swim Teams and Stepdaughters, in honor of Liz and Marie and their lifelong devotion to the sport of swimming. You can catch that piece HERE. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

Pamela's Latest Blog

  • Do you like your mysteries with humor, suspense, or romance?
    by Pamela on October 18, 2017 at 10:13 pm

    Do you like your mysteries with humor, suspense, or romance? Well, no matter your preference, today is your lucky day. I’ve teamed up with nearly 100 authors in Booksweeps giveaways, where YOU can enter for a chance to win e-readers, mysteries with humor, and romantic suspense novels. To enter the mysteries with humor giveaway, click [... […]

Want free content?

to get her monthly newsletter and Act One, gratis.

Find Pamela on social media!

Facebook
Instagram
Twitter
YOUTUBE
BookBub

Thiefing’s Uncool

EVERYTHING (posts, pictures, etc.) on this website are copyrighted to Pamela Fagan Hutchins, all rights reserved, and may not be copied, used, printed or distributed without my express written permission. You may link to the website and my posts. Questions? Ask me.