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Benefits of Competitive Sports

This excellent article by the Swimming Director of Singapore Swimming Club explains the Benefits of Competitive Sports, in particular swimming.


SITUATION VACANT

Wanted - a well disciplined, well organised, hard working, focused person with excellent time-management skills. The selected person must be able to pay attention to detail, make sacrifices, follow instructions, work well within a team environment and be able to face a challenge.

We are all aware of the many benefits that swimming (and sport in general) offers our children. The health, safety and fitness issues are obvious and will stay with the swimmer for some years after they finish competing. However, the nature of our sport means that youngsters, in their formative years, need to spend considerable periods of time training in order to maximise their potential. Over this period of time, swimming goes some significant way towards shaping the character of the youngsters that take part. These ‘life skills’ are behaviour and attitude forming patterns that help individuals overcome every day challenges that are thrown at them.

When we regularly attend training sessions, there is a great deal more going on than just getting fitter and faster. If we look at the job advertisement and relate the characteristics that are needed to secure the position, with swimming, it quickly becomes clear that our sport has a great deal to offer.

The first characteristic that the employer requires is DISCIPLINE. Our sport is demanding and swimmers quickly realise that in order to improve, commitment and attendance must be high on their agenda. There is no longer a place in competitive swimming for the ‘one training session a week’ person. There are obvious health benefits but the youngster never gets the opportunity to advance sufficiently in the sport.

ORGANISATIONAL SKILLS are the second characteristic that the employer is looking for in a new recruit. If you forget your ‘togs’ when you leave for training, then there is little chance of you getting in the water. ‘Being prepared’ is everything. Failing to pack the correct clothes when you attend morning workout will have disastrous consequences. Forgetting something to eat will also have a knock-on effect. I personally hate to see Mums and Dads carrying their youngsters training bag. For me, one of the things that we are trying to teach our children is responsibility. The question we, as parents, must ask ourselves is, ‘At what age are we prepared to insist that our children take ownership?’

HARD WORKING – there is a direct correlation between the willingness to work hard, when asked, and improvement! There are no short cuts in our sport. Skill and perfect technique are important but the swimmer will only reach their full potential if they have the necessary work ethic. One of the frustrations of being a coach or a parent- is that physically gifted and talented swimmers do not always reach the level of success that they are capable of simply because they will not work hard enough.

FOCUSED OR GOAL ORIENTED – swimmers are some of the most goal oriented people about. They regularly set short and long term goals and quickly learn how to re-set them. They are well aware of their ranking within a competition and strive to improve their position.

TIME MANAGEMENT – due to the nature of our sport, the demands on training time are high. A lack of attendance usually translates to a lack of progress. This makes swimmers very busy people as they have to juggle school, training, homework and a whole host of other activities. The consequence of having a busy life is that they become good at meeting ‘deadlines’.

Ted.com Video Alert : Sport psychology - inside the mind of champion athletes: Martin Hagger at TEDxPerth

Martin Hagger is Professor of Psychology at Curtin University. His areas of expertise are social, health, sport and exercise psychology. He is involved in numerous research projects nationally and internationally with a focus on motivation and behaviour change. He is currently leading projects in drugs in sport, promoting physical activity and healthy diet, understanding the mechanisms of willpower and self-control, and reducing binge drinking and the prevalence of smoking.

At the highest level, athletes are well-matched in terms of their physical abilities, conditioning, and skill level. But often that is not enough to win and perform on the biggest of stages like the Olympic games. Developing strategies and techniques to get athletes minds in the best possible condition for optimal performance is increasingly important for sports teams and coaches.

Martin will provide an overview of the kinds of techniques that elite athletes use to prepare psychologically for their sport, give details of the scientific research into these techniques and how they work, and how the techniques might be used by competitive athetes and coaches to maximise performance.

ATTENTION TO DETAIL – our sport is technique dominated. The swimmer and coach are always on the lookout for improvements in stroke technique as they are only too aware that this will contribute to improvements in best times. In addition, improvements in training habits and particularly attitude, can quickly add up to big drops at the next swim meet.

ACCEPT CHALLENGES – swimmers accept new challenges every time they attend a training session. The coach regularly sets the work out at an intensity that will stretch the swimmer. Very often, the turn round times asked by the coach are challenging and the swimmer has to ‘dig deep’ in order to complete the set. The look of satisfaction on the face of the swimmer when they achieve these times is a sight to behold! Very often the coach has a better understanding of the capabilities of an athlete, than the athlete themselves! Every race becomes a challenge to the swimmer. How the swimmer deals with the situation helps to define them as an athlete …and as a person.

MAKE SACRIFICES – swimming gradually takes over the life of the whole family! The demands of training mean that swimmers are practising when their friends are ‘playing’. Whole catalogues of social events are sacrificed due to swimming-related commitments. Even the gratification of improved racing times is delayed until the next important meet comes along!

TAKING INSTRUCTION – the nature of training is that swimmers must develop the ability to listen and process information. Many coaches make the training group repeat the set again if it is not done correctly. The ability to process this information, often without the use of a white board, is good for both listening skills and ‘picturing’ what is required. When the coach encourages the swimmer to alter a certain aspect of stroke technique, they are often unsure of where things will go! A relationship based on trust and respect between the swimmer and coach is a crucial aspect of swimming.

TEAMWORK – although swimming is an individual sport, sharing a training lane with a number of other swimmers builds camaraderie. The lead swimmer in the lane is the one doing the real hard work, so an understanding of ‘taking turns’ is important. The selfish swimmer that simply sits at the back of the lane, drafting off everyone else, quickly earns a reputation! The team ethic within a training group, very often helps drag everyone through a tough session. The friendships developed in the pool very often last a life time. Shared experiences and the understanding of just how tough our sport is, appears to build bonds that later in life are taken to the work place. In my experience, the life skills learnt in the pool must not be underestimated. The dedication, work ethic and determination that swimming fosters will stay with our children forever. They may not all go on to represent Singapore in swimming but I am confident that the skills learnt will give them a huge advantage over their friends that have not experienced the discipline of our sport.

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