I learned early lessons about teamwork in summers of faded bathing suits, swim caps, bare feet, crushed ice, and tan lines.
The summer I turned nine, my family lived in Colonial Heights, Virginia, in a neighborhood that I can still walk through in my mind, although we only stayed a few years. Only a short walk or bike ride from our home, across a big black-topped parking lot: the swim club.
On the fence outside the swim club, banners announced the success of the club's team. For years, I can't remember how many, the team from our neighborhood club had won the local championship.
Even before the pool opened, long before the end of school, being a member of the team meant daily practices. Not in the pool practices — but grueling workouts of sit-ups, push-ups, jumping jacks. Once the summer started, being a member of the team meant showing up at the pool early, by 8 am, for more exercise both in and out of the pool. We swam so many laps I lost count, then we swam more.
I never set any records or brought home any first place ribbons, but I loved being a part of that team.
Being a part of a team allows you to accomplish more than you would alone. At age 9, I was not a star athlete, nor would I ever be. But as a member of the Sherwood Hills Swim Club, I was a champion. I got to share in the success of my teammates, enjoy our victory. One of those early teammates later became an Olympic medalist. When I saw her name in USA Today, I relived the thrill of watching and cheering for my teammates.
Every successful team has a strong coach. Our coach motivated the team with strict disciple and high expectations. To be honest, I was a bit afraid of her. Yet she had a way of attracting top talent, even from beyond the boundaries of our neighborhood. She provided structure and training that produced great results, year after year.
Being a member of a great team requires sacrifice. Each year, when the team resumed its practices, I gave up afternoons playing outside with friends. Instead of lounging around on leisurely summer mornings, I raced to the pool to make it to practice on time.
Team relationships can be a source of frustration and joy. My pre-teen friends and I brought our share of gossip and its resulting drama to the team. Yet, somehow, we pulled together on Thursday nights during meets. We shared Jello from the package for a quick energy boost before a race. We huddled together to stay warm while waiting to get back in the pool for another heat. We cheered for each other until we could hardly speak. We huddled into booths for pizza at the end of the night.
Those days of faded bathing suits and tan lines happened nearly 30 years ago, but their lessons endure.
Join the conversation!
What is the first team experience you remember?
What lessons did you learn from that team experience?