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I was headed to the stands to find my seat for finals when a mom stopped me. She noticed my shirt with the name of our club on the front. Her family was moving to Washington metro area and they were looking for a swim team. Her kid, like mine, was a serious swimmer—having worked hard to make it to this National Age Group Champ meet. She had noticed our team. She commented about the talented swimmers, the great times, the relays but then she got to what really mattered, “What about the coaching?”

This is a special meet. Not only is it Max’s first national level competition, but, it is his last meet as a “junior” level swimmer. When this one last race is over, he will transition from his current coaches to a senior level coach. This is his last dance with them.

Max has worked with these 2 men for almost 4 years. He has spent thousands of grinding hours (many of them before 8am) doing endless laps while they stood over the lane with a watch, countless minutes standing together after a race with a clipboard between them. Max and I did the math one night coming home from practice—With 6 multi-hour practices a week, and a year round meet schedule, over the last 4 years he has spent more waking hours with these men than any other adult except me.

Over the last 4 years they have guided him as an athlete, helping him make huge strides in his stroke, stamina and mental game. He transitioned from a kid who liked to swim into a serious athlete. But something else happened. Because in the years between 10 and 14 Max also transitioned from a little boy into a young man. And when you are making that kind of transition the people you spend time with matter.

Stepping back and reflecting on Max’s time with his swim team, and the man he is becoming it occurs to me that Max learned something more than butterfly and backstroke from his coaches. He has learned the building blocks of character and strength. He has learned something about becoming a man.

Show up. Day in. Day out. Ready to work—and usually 15-20 minutes early. Max learned that men show up when they are tired. They show up when they are bored. They show up even if they have a better offer. They show up at 4:45 am, 6am, right after a long hard day of school. They even show up on holidays. Men show up.
Set goals. Hard goals. Reach for the sky goals. Impossible goals. Then break down those goals and chip away at them.
Fail. Sometimes epically. Of course not on purpose but accept it will happen. Failure is a part of reaching for the goals. But failure is never the end of the story. There is always a lesson to be drawn, and another race. Each time you get up on the blocks is a time to try again. Even if you never hit the mark, something good (and even unexpected) emerges along the way.
Be flexible. When something isn’t working, get feedback. Ask for advice. Don’t be too proud to ask for help. Make tweaks. Try something new. Don’t give up. Figure it out.
Endure. Whether it is through a long hard set, a meet when every race falls apart, a month long slump or a personal hardship that rips the heart right out, strong people keep going, keep reaching for the wall. Breath by breath, day by day. If you can persist, eventually it all works itself out—often for the best.
Love what you do. It’s all an adventure –enjoy the whole ride. Get excited. Be passionate. Have fun. Be a little silly. Celebrate your successes. And when all else fails laugh.
Believe. Trust that everyone you work with will rise the occasion and met their goals. Remind them gently (and sometimes not so gently) when they have stopped working hard, but as long as they are working, trust the process.

She commented about the talented swimmers, the great times, the relays but then she got to what really mattered, “What about the coaching? Coaching matters.”

I looked over at my son. He was talking to his coach, getting ready to warm up. I saw how poised and confident he seemed and I knew that it was in part thanks to the example set by these men. “Yes,” I said. “It really does. It matters more than you could possibly know.”