You don't HAVE to be Michael Phelps

If I'm counting correctly, this is H's fourth year swimming with the local swim club. I actually never thought he'd stick with it this long. He's improved so much, from those first few months when he flailed around looking more like someone who needed saving than someone who was swimming in races.

Just this fall, he was moved up from the novice group to the semi-competitive group. It means swimming 15 minutes longer per practice -- so one hour instead of 45 minutes. But his new group swims twice as many laps as the novice group does per practice. He's also trying to boost his number of practices per week from three to four. And he just moved up to the 11- & 12-year-old group for meets, which means he's just about the slowest of his age group in meet events.

It's kicking his butt and his self-confidence. H has never been fast. He has never had a qualifying (Q-) time for state championships. We try to stress to him that he's not, at this age, racing against everyone else. He's only trying to improve his own times, which he did at this past weekend's meet. He swam six events in two days and cut time in four of those six events.

As we were leaving the meet yesterday, he was grumbling about being slow and having to listen to his friends on the team talking about their Q-times. I hate for him to even see the listed Q-times for the events he raced. He's anywhere from 16 seconds to half a minute slower than a Q-time, depending on the event. Considering he shaved no more than 5 seconds off any individual race time, making the cut for the state meet seems a daunting task indeed.

In the car on the way home, he dejectedly muttered, "I think I'm a nerd. I'm really smart at school, but I suck at being an athlete."

Nearly broke my heart.

I asked him if he was even having fun at swim anymore. He said he'd have a lot more fun if he were better. Reminding him of how much better he is than when he was that 7-year-old, first-season swimmer and could barely freestyle one length of the pool doesn't seem to provide much encouragement. We emphasize that he just needs to try his best, to work hard, and he will see results.

It certainly doesn't help that he's the smallest, shortest guy in his age group. I'm afraid he probably also inherited some non-athlete genes from two parents who weren't exactly shining stars on sports teams growing up. I'm hoping for a wild growth spurt one of these days. In the meantime, I hope he sticks with it and doesn't let any snarky comments from his bigger, faster teammates (or the occasional asinine comment from a pressuring coach) discourage him.

Tim and I think it's actually healthy for H to be involved in activities in which he's not inherently talented. School comes easy for him. His assessment scores are stellar. In fifth grade, he reads at a high-school level, and his math comprehension is nearly that high as well. In his second year playing viola, he can sight-read music and amazes us with his skills; he loves playing in the orchestra.

Swimming competitively doesn't come easy for him. That's OK. He doesn't have to be, and surely won't ever be, the best at everything. That's certainly a life lesson worth learning.

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