Treat swimmers like adults and they might just grow up
When it came out that some of the swimmers had been acting up at the Olympics, playing pranks on each other and allegedly experimenting with Stilnox at the most inappropriate of times, and that there was a hostile rift between some members of the swim team, it became obvious that things need to change.
The report that some swimmers may have been acting like children was no shock. Especially for the young members of the team, swimming is a sport that does not give you much of a chance to grow up like most people do.
It starts with the wake up calls from Mum or Dad. It’s too early in the morning to respond to an alarm, a gentle nudge and some softly spoken words are uttered to get you out of bed for your morning swimming session.
They’ll pack your bags. Make your lunch. Drive you around. Wrap you up in a towel. Anything for the kids who focus every aspect of their lives on trying to reach their dreams. But alas, they are not kids. They may have fantasised about that moment of standing on the medal dais at the Olympics as a child, but they are young adults, fully capable of looking after themselves.
As a swimmer, you are wrapped in cotton wool throughout the years that you compete. I’ve seen first hand the kind of royal treatment that is given to elite swimmers as if they cannot do anything but train and race.
It’s the ultimate excuse not to grow up. A sport that is so demanding and time consuming as swimming gives you reason not to do just about anything. From study, to going out with friends to doing the washing up, being a swimmer excuses you from all.
There is no off-season for swimmers. If you train throughout your teenage years, you are never really given a proper slice of life to mature, to make the mistakes that your non-swimmer friends are making. Your lives are, ultimately, not that different from when you were children. Having been a swimmer myself, I remember my life being turned upside down when I quit the sport, faced with new experiences and responsibilities that I previously hadn’t had to take.
Too many swimmers are so often treated like princes and princesses by their parents, who are both so proud and so afraid of destroying their kids’ dreams that they’ll do just about anything to keep them happy.
Then there are the coaches who convince you that there is nothing else in life. That your success in the sport is of utmost importance and that commitment comes first, even if it means missing out on study or a normal social life.
And finally, there is Swimming Australia, who drill a sense of elitism into swimmers from as young as 12 years old when they first attend the Australian Age Championships. To compete, you must qualify as an individual. And if you don’t, you hope to be chosen to compete with a relay team. But they’ll never let you forget it. If you only qualify for a relay, you are given a competitor’s pass that is a different colour to those of the individual swimmers. That rift has already been established.
So it was no surprise when it was announced that Ian Thorpe was being given $100k to make his comeback to the pool. And that others such as Melanie Schlanger are unhappy about their vastly lower income for the same amount of work, because there is a hierarchy in swimming that is instilled from when you first start to compete.
And these Olympics presented an issue from the outset. When people such as Ian Thorpe, Libby Trickett and Geoff Huegill announced they would be making a comeback, young swimmers around Australia, who thought that it was finally their time, were faced with the threat of ghosts of past Olympics.
The elitism within the team is very clear and needs to change. Although it is an individual sport, they should be treated like a football team, where they are equal and where they understand that each of their actions affects every individual.
The Australian Swim Team has managers and organisers looking after swimmers’ every need. Treating them like royalty just as their parents would have throughout their younger years. But instead of being given the royal treatment, swimmers should be held accountable for their own actions, and given a sense of responsibility.
It shouldn’t just happen at the Olympics either. It should be given to them from the early days of their careers. It should start with young swimmers packing their own bags, making their own food and getting themselves out of bed in the mornings, just as everyone else has to.
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