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During the summer of 2007, I worked at a swimming pool, coaching the swim team, giving swim lessons, and lifeguarding. Early on, I realized that this summer job would demand more from me, and in turn give back a lot more, than I had initially expected. By the time summer was over, I had discovered that this experience had had a profound impact upon my life, especially in providing me with confidence and insights into how to better relate to and work with other people.
During the twenty hours a week I worked as a lifeguard, I learned to be constantly aware of what was going on in and around the pool, to anticipate problems, and, whenever necessary, to be firm and assertive with swimmers of all ages in order to make sure that the pool remained safe. In addition, before anyone arrived at the pool, and after everyone had left, I was responsible for maintaining the equipment, the chemical balance and cleanliness, and the security of the pool.
What was especially rewarding, however, was the additional time I spent six days a week coaching the swim team in competition against other teams, and teaching swim lessons for kids who were five to eleven years of age. As I began my coaching experience, I had all sorts of great quotes in mind from various coaches of the past. Former football coach Eddie Robinson once said, “Leadership, like coaching, is fighting for the hearts and souls of men and getting them to believe in you.” Former Princeton basketball coach Pete Carill said, “The sterner the discipline, the greater the devotion,” and George Hallas, the oldest coach in NFL league history, stated, “What makes a good coach? Complete dedication.”
Taking my inspiration from these greats, I first felt it was important to teach the kids that they were all capable of going beyond the expectations of others in their performances. By the end of the summer, however, I had learned more about the importance of breaking these barriers than anyone else.
One five-year-old boy was the youngest member of the team and small for his age. No one on the team had high expectations for him, including myself. But right from the beginning he proved everyone wrong. Not only did he work hard, but he never complained. He never stopped in the middle of a lap to rest, as did some of the older swimmers, and he always followed instructions immediately on how to better his stroke. As a result, by the end of the season, nobody was surprised when he was awarded “The Most Inspirational Swimmer.”
Another example was seven-year-old boy. At the beginning of the summer he told me that he would not even try swimming backstroke because the stroke was hard and he was not very good at it. However, as his coach, I firmly insisted that he not give up, and after some practice and continued encouragement, not only did he never again complain about swimming backstroke, but he ended up becoming one of the best backstroke swimmers in his age bracket.
I am certain, however, that by the end of the swimming season, I had learned more than anyone else. I learned how important it is to always be patient, and yet firm in encouraging each team member to always try hard to do their best. I learned that each person is unique in how they learn and in how they are motivated, and that my response to them needs to be tailored accordingly. In turn, the team members learned to trust me as their coach and to grow in their own self-confidence. Although the summer proved to be hard and challenging, I found that I ended up learning a lot about myself–especially by applying to myself the very principles that I was laboring to instill in others.
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