I thought I would do another entry on communities, though no more juicy stories about the residents of my parents’ development believing the rules don’t apply to them. This one is a bit closer to home.
Last night we went to Becky’s swim team awards dinner. They do it at the end of each season to recognize not only individuals but the team’s accomplishment during the past season. It’s the first time we’ve been to one for this swim team as it was Becky’s first year swimming for them. Later, after we left, it struck me that this group of students is also a community within a community.
Recognizing that, I could immediately draw a comparison between this new community and the one on Becky’s old team, for whom she swam for three seasons. Now before I continue, I hope I am not hurting Becky’s feelings by stating that while she has a beautiful stroke, she’s not the fastest swimmer. Yes, she’d probably be one of the top swimmers in some of the schools we swam against, but in our town, on these two teams, she’s just not in the top.
Now on that first, team, where she swam for three seasons, she had a coach who wanted to win. There’s nothing wrong with that and he admitted that often and frequently. He admitted that every time a parent questioned, why their child didn’t swim in a meet. He’d say, “We want the team to win and the kids want the team to win; they understand.”
But here’s the thing, there were plenty of opportunities where the coach could have swam his 4th, 5th and 6th best swimmers in the meet and still won because the team they were competing against, wasn’t as strong. He didn’t. He still swam the top swimmers, the top point getters, the top contributors. So yes, while the kids liked winning at first, most, became disheartened; they felt as if they weren’t contributing. Later, they grew to believe their contribution wasn’t appreciated.
It got worse though. The coach always feared the loss of the top swimmers, the top contributors. So when these swimmers started to cut practice, they still swam. When they goofed off during practice, distracting the other swimmers, they still swam. When they back-talked the coach, they still swam. So now all the other swimmers believed, not only that their contribution was not appreciated, but that the rules, which applied to them, didn’t apply to the other, select few, top contributors. The top contributors believed that too and began to treat the other swimmers and the coach with disdain.
On this new team though, the one whose award dinner we attended last night, while the coach wants to win he has a bit of a different philosophy. First, to our surprise, no one, not a single swimmer, was cut from the team. He believes if you show up to his practice, and you’re willing to swim miles every day, you deserve to be on the team, whether you’re fast or not, whether you’ll earn the team points or not. Not only that, but he set quantitative goals for qualifying for the meet. You met those goals, he would put you in a meet. Your swimming would count. Lastly, he had each swimmer write personal goals for the year and he worked with each one to meet those goals from his top to his bottom. He appreciates the contribution of each and every swimmer on that team and they know it.
Last night, as we sat at the awards ceremony, the kids still sat in their separate groups, with their separate friends but no one group ridiculed or demeaned another. When each swimmer was recognized for an individual achievement, the entire team cheered; no one looked away or discounted anyone, even if they never scored points, or their point total was far less than the top swimmers. Each had their moment to shine. Lastly, when the seniors made their good-bye speeches, and we listened to them talk with affection and tears about the coach, we realized what a great impact this man had on these kids not just as swimmers but as people.
That first team called, asking Becky and Sammi to return. As it turned out, they could hardly field a team last summer. They went from the days when they used to have 40 or 50 kids on it to about 20. The coach’s desire to win, to be the best, had driven away every swimmer who wasn’t the best, who wasn’t a top contributor. It discouraged many from even trying out.
The swim team this year went undefeated and they were our county champs. Our coach was named Coach of the Year.
Many of the swimmers on this team were also the top swimmers on that earlier team.
It made me understand the difference community standards can make.