Parents should always want their kids to smell success. Sometimes though, the smell of success comes with tasting defeat.
When Olympic gold medalist swimmer Missy Franklin announced last week that she would be swimming a modified schedule for her swim team at Regis Jesuit High School in Colorado this season, many people were outraged. They called it an “unfair advantage.”
We all remember Missy Franklin as the sweetheart who won four medals during the London Olympics this summer. She’s a 17-year-old superstar who the media jumped all over during and after the Olympics.
Missy decided to swim an “abbreviated” schedule for her prep team because of this media attention. She doesn’t want to take away from her teammates’ accomplishments in the pool. But her teammates want her there. (Obviously, they want an Olympic gold medalist to swim for them. I realize this is a no-brainer). She’s been part of the team for many years and has friends on the team that want to share their senior season together. Remember, this is high school. Olympian or not, this Franklin kid is still just a kid.
During the Olympics, NBC showed video clips from Missy’s high school swim meets when she was a junior. She blew the competition away. Wasn’t that an “unfair advantage” last year, too? She was still in a class of her own, headed to the Olympics and far superior a swimmer to anyone else who was in the pool with her. Now that she has some hardware around her neck and a little media attention it’s an “unfair advantage?”
One article I read this week actually began by asking readers to imagine LeBron James slashing through the lane among 17-year-old defenders. Um, correct me if I am wrong, but he did that . . . when he was 17. LeBron’s high school games were televised, I saw him slashing through the lanes, making 17-year-old boys look like they never learned to play defense. Was that “fair?” Yes, he was in high school. He was just better than everyone else on the court.
He decided to turn professional after high school. Good move. Missy Franklin wants to be a kid, wants to swim for her high school for one more year and be around her friends. That’s her decision. Whether it’s “fair” or not is ridiculous.
We want our kids to face the best competition on the sports fields. We want them to be challenged in the classroom by their teachers, their classmates and their friends. Our kids may not win every game they play, they may not come out on top in every spelling bee they enter. Win or lose, we hope they develop character by competing.
My kid might say that she feels it’s “unfair” that she has to swim against Missy Franklin. I would spin it another way for her. You get to swim against one of the best swimmers in the country. You get to shake her hand and say “good race” after the event. I will be there at the end of the race to take your picture with her. You can say good luck to her because she’s going to the University of California next year and the next adventure in her life.
How many high school kids get to say they competed against an Olympian? How many 20-year-olds this past summer watched the track and field events and saw Keshia Baker win a gold medal? A lot. How many of them got to say “I ran against her when she was at Fairfield High”? That’s cool. I got to say “I met her when I was a sportswriter and she’s a very nice girl.”
Parents of swimmers who will be competing against Missy Franklin this swim season have the opportunity to teach their kids some valuable lessons. Teach them to go as hard as they can. Sure, they might not win. But try your hardest. What kind of character do you have? Are you already feeling defeated before you even step on the starting block or do you see this as an opportunity?
Fair doesn’t belong in sports. Sports is about being challenged, being pushed to become better and to go up against the best. If you want your kid to be the best, they have to go up against the best.
Angela Borchert is a freelance writer who lives in Vacaville. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.