day camp · speech · swimming

On Determination & Grit

When Isabelle was little — and words were beyond challenging to utter — I noticed she would keep practicing. Isabelle wanted to understood so she kept trying. To hear her now, you’d never know she was diagnosed with CAS at 27 months old. Even today, on the occasions when her mouth can’t say the words her brain is thinking, she perseveres.

Isabelle joined swim team this summer. It wasn’t a try-out swim team. While everyone wants to win, the coach assured me his goal for Isabelle was to help her become a stronger swimmer and to do her personal best at swim meets. Both of those goals were met when swim team ended on July 6th. She shaved time off her freestyle and backstroke times every time she raced!

On July 9th, Isabelle started day camp. I pushed her to take the deep water test since I knew she could:

  • Swim across the pool (from deep to shallow) without touching
  • Tread water for 15 seconds
  • Float for 15 seconds
  • What I didn’t know — until after the first time she failed the test — is that she didn’t pass because she didn’t keep her head down to breathe. As a seven-year-old kid, she doesn’t breathe properly when swimming freestyle. Rather than complain (Safety first!), I asked if she could swim backstroke across the pool. That request was denied. She’d have to swim freestyle and breathe properly (to the side rather than lifting her head) or she wouldn’t pass.
  • After she failed for the first time, last Thursday, I told Isabelle I was proud of her for trying and that she didn’t have to take it again. (After all, you can’t learn how to do side breathing overnight.) The next morning, Isabelle grabbed her swim team swim cap and told me she would try again.
  • And she did.
  • She didn’t pass again — even while wearing the swim cap.
  • I learned she didn’t pass for the second time when we were writing in her line-a-day notebook. She had been holding it in for about five hours. But when Isabelle told me, she didn’t seem sad. Rather, she seemed determined to try again. In fact, she requested a lesson with her swim coach (which I set up for this weekend).
  • Today, Isabelle didn’t pass for the third time. She told me she was going to try again tomorrow. She’s prepared to side-breathe as best as she can. Seeing as I know she will most likely not pass again, I wanted to talk to her about how she might need to try again and again and again before she will be given the green light to go into the deep water during free swim. So, I read her Ashley Spires incredible book at bedtime:
  • My favorite line — from Isabelle — when she saw the girl toss a broken prototype over her shoulder was, “I can’t throw away the pool.” No, she certainly can’t.
  • I don’t know if Isabelle will pass the deep water test — due to the side-breathing she hasn’t perfected — this summer. Taking a deep water test again and again, rather than giving up, is incredible. No matter what the final outcome, I am beyond proud of Isabelle’s determination to keep trying to pass the test.
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    slice of life · swimming

    The Problem with Participation Awards

    I wanted to give a couple of my students a second recognition award during the school year when I was a classroom teacher. I was met with resistance. I was asked if all of the students in my classroom had received an award. The answer was no. I was (politely) told everyone needed to receive an award before anyone could win a second recognition award. I seethed. Basically, I was being told that the kids who were working the hardest shouldn’t be recognized for their diligence until everyone’s ego was stoked, whether they deserved it or not. That didn’t sit well with me back then. Years later, I still don’t understand that line of thinking.


    Seeing as being on the swim team for the first time IS a big accomplishment, I encouraged Isabelle to hang the medal up in her room. She didn’t want to. I slid it over the headboard of her bed. After I did, she told me, “It looks good there.”

    Over the weekend, Isabelle, Marc, and I drove home from her swim banquet. Marc and I remarked about how proud we were of Isabelle for trying a new sport, being on a team for the first time, and doing her personal best each and every time she swam in a meet this summer. However, there wasn’t much coming at us from the backseat.

    After some small talk, I said, “You should be so proud of yourself, Isabelle. Are you proud of yourself?”

    “I didn’t win a medal or a trophy,” she replied flatly.

    “What do you mean? You got a medal.”

    Isabelle quickly pointed out that everyone who was new to the swim team got those medals. (She was correct.)¬†“I didn’t win a trophy like P.J.,” she said referring to a boy her age who received two trophies.

    “You’re right,” I replied. “You didn’t win any trophies.”

    “Why not?” she inquired.

    I explained how those trophies were for kids who finished in first, second, or third place in a swim race. I explained that even though she shaved time off every time she raced, she didn’t finish in the top three in any of her races. I explained that not everyone can win the races.

    Isabelle didn’t seem to care about the things I said. She was disappointed she didn’t go home with something three-dimensional and shiny.

    Here’s the thing. I AM MORE THAN OKAY that Isabelle didn’t walk away with a participation trophy. Here’s are a few reasons why:

    1. Isabelle saw right through the first-year recognition medal she won. She knew it wasn’t a real award. Maybe receiving a participation trophy would’ve helped in the moment, but she would’ve seen through anything unattached to a top-three finish.
    2. I was a terrible athlete in middle school. (Let’s be honest, I never excelled at anything besides Pilates and swimming.) I was on the “B Team” for both field hockey and softball. As a result, I never received an award¬†because I wasn’t any good at either sport. Perhaps if I had received a phony award, I would’ve kept participating instead of finding something I could excel at. Instead, I tried other things, like drama, student government, and newspaper. Eventually, I found something I enjoyed doing AND was good at. I’m sure the coaching staff was happy when I was no longer on their teams too!
    3. Isabelle has a fire in her belly ever since Saturday night. She never talked about winning all season. Now, she’s determined to win a race next year, which means she’s going to practice more this summer and before next year.

    Isabelle loves to swim, which is why I signed her up for swim team. Somehow, I think not receiving a participation trophy was a good thing. You see, because I knew she wasn’t going to come in a ranking position at any of the meets, I kept her focused on doing her personal best each time. She bought into that all season long. And that matters! But now that she knows there are trophies, I am confident she will work towards individual progress and contributing to the team’s overall score next swim season.

    We shall find out how this shakes out next summer!

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