"Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life."
- Mark Twain
I am a true believer that in life, we are only given one chance to make a first impression and after we have made our impression, it remains the same for a very long time. Being a swim coach for predominately 8 and under swimmers has allowed me the opportunity to give dozens of swimmers their first impression of the sport of swimming.
Over the past 6 years, I have come to realize that the most important aspects of swimming for younger swimmers are making it both positive and fun. While younger swimmers are excited when they win a race and receive a blue ribbon with their name on it, I think the smiles on their faces are biggest when they are cheering and celebrating with teammates.
I have found that younger swimmers improve most when they have an established goal. Over the past 6 years, I have created a theme for each season that serves as a challenge and reward system for swimmers. Just last year, the theme was "The Key to Success is Practice, Practice, Practice." Each swimmer was given their own key ring and each time they accomplished something, a new key was added to their ring. I always loved watching their faces light up when they arrived at practice in the morning to find new keys had been added to their ring. At the end of the season, swimmers were thrilled to receive a picture key ring of them swimming in a meet from the season. One of my favorite themes was "Piecing Together the Perfect 10 Season," from 2010, where swimmers were given a puzzle piece each time they had accomplished something. At our end of the season banquet, swimmers received a special puzzle that when pieced together revealed an image of them swimming in a meet from the season.
Being able to share memories of first swim meets, first New Jersey Swimming Conference Championship qualifying times, and first victories has truly been a rewarding experience. While I hold my own memories from my 13 year swimming career very close to my heart, there is something special about sharing these experiences with each of the swimmers I coach. Swimming is a sport that has taught me the importance of hard work, dedication, perseverance, team work, and most importantly believing in myself. Though the life of a competitive swimmer is not always easy, it is always worth it.
Being that we are only given one chance to make a first impression, I hope each of my swimmers is able to share some of the important things swimming has taught me long after they have moved on from 'Coach Shannon's 8 and under group.' Whether they choose to continue their swimming career or take their unique talents elsewhere, I hope they always do so with a positive attitude, big smile, and sense of self-confidence.