I signed my guys up for swim team last year for a few reasons. I wanted them to get some exercise over the summer, to look like they knew what they were doing in the water (as only swim team kids do) and, most important, to make friends and be known by the larger pool community.
Their strokes are looking better. Their stamina has improved. The coaches and lifeguards know them and greet them by name. The younger two boys talk to anyone who shares their lane or swims with them on a relay. They look up to the good swimmers, referring to them with the highest regard, “he’s State,” which really means he is fast enough to swim in the A league championship at the end of the summer.
What I had forgotten from my own childhood was the difference between being “on” the team and “one of them.” This week, in their second year, I witnessed the transition for my oldest and most reserved son, and realized how special that particular series of events is in the life of a child.
First, he made a friend during practice. Together, they helped the coaches unhook the lane ropes. The head coach realized his breaststroke is legal and, making a big deal about it, convinced him to swim it in the next meet.
Simple things, yet out of the blue, he asked for a private lesson to work on his starts and turns. He lingered at the end of the lane ropes after practice all week waiting to take ownership of his new job.
At the meet, he earned a second place in his first breaststroke race. His new friend got the blue ribbon. My son, never the first to reach out, found the winner and gave him a high-five. “We got one-two! Good swim!”
Last year, when he was “on” the team, had I given him the opportunity to skip a meet, he would have seized it in a second. Now that he has felt the magic of becoming “one of them,” he does not want to let that feeling go.
“Guys, we’re flying home at midnight the night before your last meet,” I said, expecting groans and “do we have to swims?”
“Oh, we’re going!”
“But then we’ll have to be late for…”
“Mom, we have to be there. The team needs us.”
My boys may not be “State”, but they got their trophy when they became “one of the team.”