Group dynamics, self-confidence and frozen juice on a stick
A few mothers and I (all triathletes) decided it would be fun to get our 9-10 year-old daughters to attempt their first open water swim. All five girls are confident swimmers and three of them were on a local swim team this past season. We knew they could swim the distance (approximately a ¼ of a mile). But could they swim that distance in a lake; where there were no lines on the ground, or a wall to rest on between laps?
I explained the difference between swimming in a pool versus a lake, most notably the limited visibility and lake “stuff” of unknown origin. I told them that it didn’t have to be pretty, but finishing was all that mattered.
As is common in any group experience, one girl just took off immediately. While the other girls were just dipping their feet in the water, she was already in the water asking, “Can I go now?” She was fearless. Her confidence in the pool seemed to translate well to the open water. If she was nervous, she didn’t show it. It was tremendous to see her just start swimming and never look back or to one of the mothers for reassurance.
The other four girls did their share of screeching and whining. “Ick, something touched me!” or “The water is so brown, it smells really bad.” The mothers swam alongside them, encouraging the girls to focus on their stroke or look ahead at the buoy that they needed to reach.
At one point, the girls were bunched together and they were just chatting. It occurred to me that they had no idea where they were. They didn’t realize they were in the middle of the lake, treading water. They were just laughing and giggling and having a great time.
Then slowly, as if they suddenly remembered the task at hand, the girls just started moving forward.
Most used the freestyle stroke and plugged away until they reached the buoy. On the return trip the girls were not as chatty. While their breathing was more labored, their strokes were more focused. They kept moving forward until they reached the shore.
This experience made me think about my career coaching women to do Sprint distance triathlons. For the past six years, I’ve been preaching about the power of the group. I talk about how important it is to train for a goal with a group of like-minded women.
I firmly believe that a group pushes you more than solo training ever could. Sometimes when training alone, she might stop or not push herself as hard without the “others” helping her along. This dynamic helps each woman reach the starting line and cross the finish line a stronger and more confident person.
As I watched these young girls in their first open water experience, I realized that this dynamic was replayed every season with women thirty to forty years older – including the whining and screeching. And every season, these women persevere. Every season, the positive power of the group pushes these women to cross the finish line of their first triathlon.
I am certain that my daughter, despite her complete confidence and skill in a pool, would NEVER have attempted this challenge alone. I’m still not sure if she realizes what an amazing accomplishment this was. I remain hopeful that she’ll want to do it again and again, both with her friends and, if I’m lucky, with me.
For now, the Popsicle that awaited her at the finish was enough.