I believe in the importance of sports in a child’s life. I believe that participating in sports contributes to the mental, emotional, and physical well being of a child. And I believe that sports help develop essential character traits and values that can be used throughout life.
I also think that in today’s world of organized sports, some kids are over-scheduled, some parents are overzealous, and some programs are too demanding.
So where do you draw the line? How do you strike a balance? Between teamwork and individual achievement? Between healthy competition and toxic rivalry? Between the desire for your kids to stand out and get ahead and the need to let kids just be kids? Is a balanced perspective even possible today?
One look at the NDP swim program tells you it is. In fact, Coach Terri Byrd and her NDP swim team have proven that not only is balance possible, but that balance and success are not mutually exclusive. Consider these facts: Notre Dame won the National Catholic Championship this year, beating out 23 other schools. In the course of doing so, they set meet records in the 200 IM and the 200 and 400 freestyle relay. They came in a very close second place in the state IAAM Championships last weekend. In the regular season, their record was 9 and 0…a perfect season. And the entire team – all 47 of them – achieved all-American scholar status. That means, every member of the team maintains a 3.7 or better academic record. Proving that they are capable of excellence in and out of the pool.
Still, before Coach Byrd could focus on winning meets and breaking records, she first had to promote teamwork and turn adversaries into allies. See, many of the girls on the NDP team also participate in the club system. The club system is a highly structured, highly competitive program where those who participate swim 2 times a day, 11 months of the year. By comparison, Notre Dame’s swim season is 3 months. Many of the girls on the NDP team also swim against each other on competing club teams. And therein lies the problem. Coach Byrd had to break down those rivalries and inspire the girls to support each other. She had to remind them that competition isn’t hoping the other person does poorly, but making sure you do your best and that teamwork means working with – not against – each other. To reinforce those ideas, she starts off the season with a social event: a competitive but friendly game of pool laser tag. It’s a fun way to break down barriers and forge friendships. From there she works on building the team, bringing out each girl’s personal best, and inspiring champions. Now, as you watch the team practice in the NDP pool, it is impossible to tell who among them might be rivals in another setting. On this team, they are sisters. They bring out the best in each other. And they have the record to prove it.