4 min read

Written by Girl & Grown-up Workshop alumna Amy E. 

My daughter is a strong swimmer. I never imagined this would be her story. In so many words, her first swim teacher let me know she was the most challenging student he had ever had. She’s a quiet and respectful little lady, but man is she stubborn! These are not qualities that make it easy to pull something new out of someone. Regardless, we have a pool in our backyard, and I was determined to make sure she was water-safe.

When my daughter was 8, her instructor suggested that she join a cabana summer swim team. That was not necessarily part of our plan and she was not thrilled with the idea. As a parent, I was presented with a dilemma. Do I listen to my daughter’s first and typical response of “no” to the suggestion of trying something new, or do I push her a little and strongly encourage her to stretch beyond her comfort zone? I decided it was a good time to push.

The first season included a fair amount of tears. Solo races were scary for this girl! Thankfully, a few pep talks and reminders that she knows how to do this (I mean, practice makes progress and builds comfort, right?) helped her take her first jumps into the pool to race. That first summer of cabana swim team ended up being a lot of fun!

The second season presented my sensitive and cautious daughter with a new challenge. Without much warning, which is the kind of pressure she hates most, her coach signed her up to swim the 100 IM event, that is, 25 meters of each stroke (butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle) all in one race. The morning of the meet, she didn’t feel ready. Her teammate offered to take her place, and they approached the head coach.

I was proud of them. There was a problem, they came up with a solution, and they communicated it on their own. One girl stepped up to help her teammate, and the other girl (my daughter) deeply felt her limitations and had the courage to express them – not an easy task at all. The coach heard their request, validated my daughter’s feelings, but told her she would still have to follow through with the event. She only had to do it this one time and if she never wanted to do it again, that would be o.k.

That was a very tough moment for both my daughter and for me. It was hard for me to see her request denied only minutes before an event that I wasn’t even sure she could do. Although it wasn’t very pretty or fast, she did it! At the end of that second season, a season that was filled with greater risks and new fears to confront, my daughter announced (with no suggestions made by anyone) that she wanted to be a year-round swimmer.

My daughter recognizes that swimming is her race and her race only.

My daughter is now 10 and has just completed her first year of competitive year-round swimming. I cannot express adequately the amount of personal growth I have witnessed in her. She conquered her fear of flip turns and she chose, on her own, to do a 200 IM at a long-course meet. This girl is on a beautiful road to self-discovery. It’s not always easy, but she has shown incredible bravery and a strong sense of self during some tough moments. My daughter recognizes that swimming is her race and her race only.

The life skills learned in this sport have trickled over into other aspects of her daily existence. She’s gaining an understanding of the tremendous lessons learned from making mistakes, the value of healthy risk taking, and the incredible rewards that can result from taking those risks. She’s learned she can choose how she responds to some unpredictable and challenging moments in life. She is always going to have fears to conquer (like diving off the starting block, something she is currently working on), but she’s learned the value of pushing herself and listening to her heart.

As a parent, I understand that my daughter is not always going to listen to me, nor should she, so I’ve made sure that she has other adults in her life (like her swim coach) whom she can trust to help guide her decisions. She’ll dive off that block when she’s good and ready!

Through all of this, I have realized that there are tremendous lessons for me, too, and I am along for the same scary ride with her. It continues to be quite a journey for both of us and I will maintain faith in my parenting choices that I am raising a brave and resilient young lady who is connected to her heart and to the loving community of people that surround her.


Read more from Girls Leadership:

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  1. G. Skofteby

    Wonderfully written, Pat sent me here to this great article.
    My daughter had it the exact same way, she is now 13 and in year 4, and is loving it
    more each year, what a wonderful sport this is, and what fantastic things a parent discovers in one’s kid through swimming.


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