By Greg Bach
Swimming great Misty Hyman’s journey to the Olympic podium began in the most unlikely of spots as a child: in a doctor’s office in Arizona.
Diagnosed with asthma at a young age, her doctor informed her mom that swimming was the best sport for kids with asthma. So, they signed her up for the summer swim program through the local parks and recreation department.
“At first it was tough because I wasn’t very strong and I wasn’t very healthy,” says Hyman, who won gold in the 200-meter butterfly at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. “But I stuck it out and got healthier and stronger, and I started to realize that I really loved being in the water. After a couple of summers, there was just something about being in a pool that made me feel like I could defy gravity and fly like Peter Pan or Wonder Woman, and I have loved it ever since.”
She became a fantastic junior swimmer, won numerous national titles, and in 1996 found herself competing at the United States Swimming Trials for a spot on the U.S. team that would compete in the Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
It’s here that she missed out on a spot by three one-hundredths of a second.
So she knows all about adversity.
And conquering it.
Four years later she delivered one of the most memorable performances in Olympic swimming history, where she out-dueled Australia’s Susie O’Neill, nicknamed Madame Butterfly for her long-time dominance in the event, to grab gold and set an American record while doing so.
“My advice to young swimmers is adversity happens, and there are always opportunities to grow and get better,” Hyman says. “Even if it’s hard to see at the time.”
A COACHING MESSAGE TO GRAB ONTO
These days Hyman is heavily involved in coaching swimmers, both in Arizona and in clinics around the country, as well as delivering motivational talks to a variety of audiences.
And her approach to coaching is one that those who work with young athletes in all sports can learn from and apply to their interactions with young athletes.
“I really enjoy working with each swimmer individually, and I think of coaching as a dialogue,” Hyman says. “It’s a two-way street. I may have an idea of what I can help that swimmer with, but I really want to hear their input on what they’re feeling and thinking about and what they want to work on. And so it ends up being this beautiful dance between the athlete and the coach, working through it together to get to somewhere new.”
Hyman connects with her athletes by stressing the fun factor, but along with that letting them know that fun comes in a variety of forms, too.
“It’s empowering the athletes to learn and to grow themselves,” she says. “I think for a lot of young athletes, if they care about what they are doing, and they enjoy what they are doing, that part is fun. Sometimes that’s a byproduct of getting into that dialogue and that dance and for them to discover what they are capable of, but I do put a priority on making sure that what we are doing is fun. It’s not meant to be torture.”
She also makes a point of teaching young swimmers how to gracefully accept challenges that can lead to improved performances.
“Sometimes we have to do things that are difficult and challenging in order to get where we want to go, but I try to help them learn to embrace that,” she says. “There is a fun in working hard and being uncomfortable, and there is a certain kind of fun that comes from working so hard that you are exhausted at the end. There is a fun in focusing on a technical change that you try over and over again, and it takes you hundreds of tries to get it right, but you eventually do. I attempt to pass on the joy of that process to them, that even though it’s not playing sharks and minnows in the pool, there is a satisfaction that comes out of working toward a goal and learning about yourself.”
To learn more about Misty: http://mistyhyman.com/
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