Olympic great Missy Franklin on the value of always trying your best
By Greg Bach
Missy Franklin’s rise through the ranks of junior swimming to Olympic champion happened incredibly fast.
At the age of 17 she snagged four gold medals at the 2012 Summer Games and won gold again last summer in Rio.
But her journey from the swimming pools of her youth to the world stage was always accompanied by a healthy perspective on what competing is all about.
“In swimming, we tend to put a lot of internal pressure on ourselves but it’s important that we remember that trying your best is ultimately the best that you can do,” says Franklin. “You won’t always swim a best time or have a great race but if you can say that you tried your hardest in that moment, you should be proud of yourself.”
A great mindset for young athletes in any sport to embrace.
And one that coaches should be teaching every chance they get, as well.
FINDING FUEL IN FAILURE
All athletes, from beginners to world class, encounter failure and disappointment.
Franklin certainly isn’t immune to losing races or turning in times that are slower than she had hoped.
But she learned from those experiences, and became a better athlete because of those bumps along the way.
Coaches of young athletes need to help them navigate through their disappointments and use those experiences as tools for learning and growth.
“Every athlete and competitor has experienced disappointment in their career at one point or another,” she says. “I don’t believe in a perfect career. There were countless races growing up where I didn’t perform as I had hoped and I consider these races to be the most important because they are the races that I learned the most from.”
MAKE A SPLASH
By the age of 5 her parents had enrolled her in swim lessons.
And her love for the water was born.
“My mom was never comfortable around water and she enrolled me in swim lessons at a very young age because she didn’t want to pass down that fear to me,” Franklin says. “She knew that it would be an important life skill for me to have for the rest of my life which is why I’m committed to helping the USA Swimming Foundation Make a Splash initiative educate parents and reduce the risk of drowning for their children by getting more kids in swim lessons.”
Since 2007 Make a Splash has given nearly 5 million children the gift of free or low-cost swim lessons. Make a Splash works to provide every child in America with the opportunity to learn to swim – regardless of race, gender or financial circumstances.
Drownings occur every day across the country and the numbers are startling: 64 percent of African American children, 45 percent of Hispanic children, and 40 percent of Caucasian children have no or low swimming ability, putting them at risk for drowning.
A new study regarding swimming ability amongst America's youth conducted by the University of Memphis and University of Nevada-Las Vegas found a 5-10 percent improvement in overall swimming ability compared to 2010; but a concerning finding was that 87 percent of swimmers with no or low ability plan to go to a swimming facility this summer at least once and 34 percent plan to swim 10 or more times this summer.
“Anytime you can spend quality time with a child and help them with an important life skill like swimming it’s really meaningful,” Franklin says. “I love spending time with young kids and sharing my love of the water with them. But some of the conversations I’ve had with parents have really meant a lot, especially when they talk about how their child was afraid of the water to start but now they can barely get them out of the pool.”
Franklin has competed worldwide.
She’s won a lot of races and enjoyed incredible success that most can only dream about.
And that love of swimming, and competing, was forged early on in her youth.
She swam. She had fun. She enjoyed making friends.
There wasn’t pressure to win every race. Or set records every time she got in the pool.
“My parents are extremely loving and supportive and I’ve always known that no matter how I swim, they’ll always love and support me,” Franklin says. “After races, I’d always talk to my coach about what I did and get feedback on things I could work on but it ended there. When I got in the car for the ride home I was just ‘Missy’ and not ‘Missy the swimmer.’ My parents and I didn’t talk about race specifics and I think that only helped me to grow to love the sport on my own terms.”
So when she peeks back at her childhood years, it puts a smile on her face thanks to memories like these:
“One of my favorite memories from my youth swimming days is swimming on my summer club team, the Heritage Green Gators,” Franklin says. “Summer club swimming is an amazing way to make new friends in your community. We had these giant white and green striped tents that we would put up and spent all day in the sun playing games, eating snacks and, of course, swimming.”
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