Swim Team

When you’ve worked for a while as a recovery coach, I hope you look at all the recoverees you’ve had the privilege of coaching and envision a swim team.

My youngest son loves sports. He loves to play.  From my vantage point I think he loves basketball before all others. He started fairly late and played at a variety of levels.  I’ve witnessed excellent coaching and I’ve witnessed poor coaching. His latest bout with basketball ended with him leaving the team after just one game with his high school junior varsity. I hoped coaching prowess would be at a high level here; it was not.

My son thrives under certain conditions. He wilts under others. He is not unique among young scholar athletes.  His latest venture ended because the joy got sucked out of the game.  The coach worked very hard at the wrong things.

  1. The basketball program focused on winning, not player development.
  2. They rewarded players who fit their mold, their particular style of play. If you possessed a different skill set, you were excluded.
  3. The coach promoted a culture of correction and criticism (usually with a loud voice).

As I look back on my son’s experience with basketball, there are lessons to learn. In your role as a recovery coach, if you become aware of any of the following, it’s time for you to make a change or move out of the field.

  1. A narrow view of recovery. For example, if you believe abstinence is the only way, you have defined you version of “winning”. You believe if the recoveree does not use, then you have done your job.  There’s more to it though, isn’t there?  How is the recoveree developing?
  2. Beholden to one particular pathway of recovery (again, the narrow view). This excludes people. This occurs most often from recovery coaches with 12-Step experience or a certain faith perspective.
  3. Consistently telling people what to do.  This is a form of correction and criticism. It’s treating people like an object (see Bright Shiny Object for more). Where’s the encouragement?

Sandy and I both sensed our son’s displeasure. We parented (coached) him.  We asked good questions. We listened. We discussed options.  One option (out of many) surfaced – the swim team.  Our son hadn’t been in the pool competitively for six years, other interests had taken his time.  We allowed him the room to wrestle with his situation.

I attended what was to be his last game. I didn’t know it at the time.  He had some good moments. Yet when he mishandled a tough pass, the coach yanked him immediately and gestured that he needed stronger hands. I watched my son completely deflate.  To his credit, he checked himself. He contributed like an excellent teammate. He did not sulk.

I checked my own bitterness.

The next day, he announced he’d like to move on from basketball. It was not fun for him any longer. As his parents, we usually advocate for finishing what you started. We made an exception.  We supported the process he put himself through. We aligned with his decision.

To his credit, he handled the next steps maturely, respectfully and with dignity. He took responsibility. He courageously went and talked with the head of the basketball program on a Monday.  That same afternoon, he walked into the pool during practice and asked if he might join the team.  He was enthusiastically welcomed.  On Tuesday, he swam his first 50 Free in a meet.  To see him aggressively and confidently launch himself off the starting block… I was not without tears.

I love the swim team.  Swimming is pure.  It’s simple. The clock measures you.  There can be no misinterpretation. You are consistently and fairly timed. Your lowest time is your baseline.  Your goal is to improve from there.  Personal records are just as important as winning a race. Perhaps more so. Recently my son broke the minute mark for the 100 Free. His goal is to get under sixty seconds for the 100 Fly.  He has a plan.  And in some ways, it’s his recovery plan.

Everyone is welcome on the swim team.  There are no tryouts. Teammates willingly and enthusiastically support one another. I have seen the star swimmer come from behind on the last leg of the relay to snatch victory to thunderous cheering. I have seen a swimmer several laps behind struggle to finish the 500 to thunderous applause. Both are emotionally invigorating and inspiring. It’s about the effort. It’s about the progress.

On a swim team you have several options – freestyle, butterfly, breaststroke, backstroke and diving. Events are geared for sprinting, endurance or both. The swimmer has options.  The coach has options.  There are multiple pathways for swimmers to become integrated into the larger team.  This relates beautifully with recovery coaching.

Recovery coaches take a look at your team.

  1. Are people recovering in a variety of ways?
  2. Does everyone feel welcomed?
  3. Do they enthusiastically encourage and support one another? Do you?
  4. Is recovery progress apparent and measurable?
  5. Are achievements recognized with thunderous applause?

As I write this today, I could not be more proud of my son.  I sense he has chosen a pathway that works well for him.  A quiet confidence has returned. Dare I say he has found his swim team involvement fulfilling?

Finally, I noticed that if a swimmer is to successfully finish a particular race they have to do two things.

  1. Adhere to the specific stroke.
  2. Stay in their lane.
Phil Valentine
Phil Valentine

In 2015, I finished a thruhike of the entire Appalachian Trail, a trek of 2,189.2 miles. It took 189 days and 6 pairs of boots.  During that sacred time, my purpose in life became more precisely defined.  I am, simply, to coach recovery.  Recovery saved me from an early demise and brought purpose to my tattered life.  I have learned that I’m a coach to my very core. I am blessed to put the two together. I started work at the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR) in January 1999.  I became the Executive Director of this recovery community organization in 2004.  I have trained the CCAR Recovery Coach Academy© dozens of times and have a hand in modifying, improving and adapting various recovery coach curricula.  I’m old enough now to start considering my legacy. This is one way for me to share lessons learned in my recovery, in my role as Executive Director and a trainer. When I engage with others, I present the same messages repeatedly.  It’s time to write them down.

Phil “Right Click” Valentine
Recovery established 12.28.87

2 thoughts on “Swim Team”

  1. love the sports analogy!!
    and, love the swim team!! Mel Siebold used to coach, and he was in his 80’s. He loved the kids… loved my David.. pushed appropriately.. as you know, DG was never the top athlete on any team, or in his own home, and probably received 2nd or 3rd class status.. probably even from me… I have so many things I wish I had done, and said differently, but all I can do is look ahead. Miss you at tcc… glad Matthew is swimming!! God bless you all!!

  2. Phil it’s Guy, just signed up for the training. Would love to get together some time. I have so many amazing things to share with you. I hope all is well with Sandy and your children .

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