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The Spiritual Practice of Parenting; Heat Sheets

June 11, 2013

 

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In high school and half of college I was a runner, a hurdler, to be exact.  I ran cross country (3.1 miles) to get in shape for track.  I loved the 100 hurdles, suffered through the 300/400 hurdles, and adored running the last event of the meet- the Mile Relay (or 4×400 meter relay).  For the big invitational meets, booklets would be photocopied, collated, and stapled.  These were the heat sheets–all the events and entrants for each event were listed in this book and I loved reading them.  I loved seeing what people’s seed times were and then seeing how I finished my events based off of how I was seeded–did I do better or worse than what I was supposed to do?  Did I run a new fastest time for me?

Fast forward 20 years (yes, my last collegiate track meet was about 20 years, one month, and two weeks ago).  I have children swimming now.  Before every meet, we print out a document that contains every event and the entrants for each event.  I can tell which event, heat, and lane each child is swimming.  I can see how they are supposed to finish and and what their previous best time was.  This causes me a great deal of stress.

Running and swimming are very different than most other sports.  In most sports, I can say my child is good or not so good at the sport, based off of my observations.  I’ve learned people determine what good is differently.  In fact, my husband and I have gotten into arguments over whether or not Madeleine is good at soccer.  It is qualitative, or subjective.  Except for rare occasions, a child’s aptitude at a sport is based off of the biases of an observer.  Running and swimming are all about numbers.  Performance can be measured and other people’s abilities aren’t really a factor in your child’s performance.  Other athletes can provide a point of reference, but I know my son has had a bad race when he swims 33 seconds slower in 25 meter backstroke than his best time.    These sports are more quantitative–they can be measured with a standard scale.  One second is one second, no matter what bias you may have.

It’s been a struggle for me this swim season.  At what age are my children old enough to see those heat sheets?  Does knowing that they shouldn’t win  (or place) in a race make them less likely to place?  Does knowing how many people should be faster than them make them swim not as well?  Do I add extra stress on them by letting them see what the competition looks like?  If now is too young, then when is old enough?

I’m finding the decisions we need to make with swimming has to do with our values as a family.  Right now, Madeleine smiles every single event she does.  She was so proud of herself for swimming breaststroke (legally–without getting disqualified–the stroke judges are rather picky about breaststroke).  By the end of the race, every time she came up to breathe, I’d see a smile on her face.  I want her to keep loving swimming that much.  John, on the other hand, has decided he is the best swimmer and his stroke is perfect (both of which are rather far from the truth).   He prefers to goof around in practice and we had to convince him at a meet that when you dove in, the goal wasn’t to touch the bottom of a seven – ten foot pool, because he wouldn’t beat other swimmers by swimming underneath them.

We struggle with how much we should push.  How much?  How soon?  Madeleine is a decent swimmer–not the best, but she is doing pretty well this year for being in the young half of her age group.  Do we start year round swimming so she can be a good swimmer (maybe great, but maybe just good)?  Will that take the joy out of it for her?  How much do we push John?  Do we make him practice swimming every time we go to the pool?  Do I get anxious when I see him goofing around during practice, because he has so much potential if he just worked a little harder?

Curtis and I are talking about this a lot these days. I suspect families have these conversations frequently with a variety of sports.  For soccer we talked about moving Madeleine to a more intense, developmental league instead of the recreational league she is in now.  (We decided not to).  How much do we push our kids and when?

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There don’t seem to be an easy answers.  Where Curtis and I are at right now, as of Sunday, June 9 (and I state it like this, because it is bound to change), is that we aren’t ready to push too hard, not with swimming, not with soccer, not with anything.  We want our children to love the sports they do.  We don’t want to make them burnt out by pushing them too hard, too young.  We want Madeleine to continue to smile while she swims (and plays soccer and runs), because it brings her so much joy.  We would still like John to work a little harder.  For our family, we’ve decided our children don’t need to be the best at anything.  They need to have things that they enjoy doing and are good enough to do, either for recreation or fitness, without getting terribly frustrated.  There will be a time for them to settle into one sport and do intense year round swimming or soccer or baseball or gymnastics or whatever, if they want.  We’ve decided that the ages of eight and six aren’t those times.  We may let Madeleine do some off season swimming, probably at the YMCA again, without competing in the big year round meets.  We’ll probably get lessons for John (and Isaac) for swimming in the off season so they can swim well enough to have fun next year at swim meets.

And those heat sheets?  I still haven’t figured those out.  Curtis kind of laughs at me.  I haven’t reminded him that I still have my heat sheets from many of my high school and college track meets.  Maybe one of these times, I won’t print them out and even look at them.  It could be an experiment, to see if it really changes anything.  Whatever I decide, I hope it is a decision that I can make intentionally, keeping in mind my children’s best interest and not my love of staring at columns and columns of numbers next to names.

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