A National Alliance for Youth Sports resource helping coaches, parents and administrators provide the best youth sports experiences for children.
Golden Advice: 3-time Olympian on embracing the joys of competing
By Greg Bach
Five-time Olympic gold medalist and six-time World Champion Nathan Adrian is well-known for being one of the world's fastest swimmers.
But you know what else he should be known for?
Having a fantastic outlook on competing, one that young athletes in all sports should be encouraged to embrace.
“I’ve always thrived on enjoying the thrill of the race,” says Adrian, a three-time Olympian. “You have to do your best to eliminate what the outcome may be and just enjoy the fact that you are competing. To this day I still live for races. I really enjoy that and that’s kind of how it has always worked for me.”
Think about that.
If young athletes are taught to enjoy the moment and cherish that they’re getting the chance to participate in a sport they love – instead of worrying about outcomes – it’ll likely free them up to perform better.
And actually enjoy more success.
It certainly works for Adrian – he won two gold medals and two bronze this summer in Rio.
Growing up in Bremerton, Wash., Adrian played a lot of different sports. His brother and sister swam competitively, and he quickly discovered a love of the water, too.
“Swimming is a great life lesson because you get out of it what you put into the sport,” he says.
He loved competing and he enjoyed seeing improvement. But Olympic aspirations never burdened him at a young age.
“It wasn’t like I was this amazing young swimmer that everyone was predicting would be going to multiple Olympics or anything like that,” he says. “At 13- and 14-years-old I was just excited to be swimming on a club team and meeting some new friends.”
He also benefited from parents who loved and supported, rather than pushed and pressured.
“They were incredible and they were very supportive,” Adrian says. “It was never something that they pushed. And to this day my parents probably don’t know the majority of my best times, which I really, really appreciate. Those are things where I feel I put enough pressure on myself to improve and be better so I didn’t need anything extra from my parents.”
FRAMING THE PROCESS
Too often young athletes (and most definitely their parents) become engrossed in outcomes, in the process losing focus on that all-important process.
“Even though I have world and Olympic medals under my belt there have absolutely been entire seasons where I didn’t even drop time and you can look at that on paper and say, ‘Wow, what a failure’ but that’s not how I framed it,” Adrian says. “I went through a lot of hard work and learning from my mistakes was a really important part of the overall process.”
And when you ask one of the world’s fastest swimmers what one of his favorite memories is, you know what comes to mind? It’s those early days, swimming with friends. Working hard. Competing. And loving every second of it.
“Those were absolutely the best days of my life bonding and spending time with my friends,” Adrian says. “There are really few things that will really bond you like going through a grueling season of working really hard to try and make yourself better in a sport. It was awesome. It was really fun and exciting to be a part of that. And to cap it off if you achieved your goals and you looked over at your buddy swimming a different event and they achieved their goals too it was just so special.”
Olympic champion swimmer Cullen Jones, who nearly drowned as a child, is heavily involved in the USA Swimming Foundation's "Make a Splash" initiative to save lives by providing kids opportunities to learn how to swim
Ruth Riley loved practicing and pursuing goals at every level of sports. Use the insights of this legendary Notre Dame player to craft practices that your young athletes love being a part of, too.
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