Thursday, June 30, 2011

How a Swim Meet Provides an Insight into Capitalism

For the third time in recent weeks (and for the "umpteenth" time in the last 5 years), we are at a swim meet with our four kids. This weekend is an "away meet" which requires travel, lodging, eating meals at restaurants, etc. We are not alone; thirty six teams in total are participating. As a former athlete, I can tell you that swimming is a grueling sport. Practices are almost year round, with summer practices usually starting at sunrise. Practice is usually 2 hours per day, 6 time a week. Swimming, like many other sports is full of sacrifices. Parents sacrifice time and money. Time is required taking swimmers to and from practice and volunteering at swim meets. The kids sacrifice as well. They sacrifice time with friends who don't swim, they spend most of their non swimming time doing homework and vacations are limited due to conflicts with swim meets. Parents sacrifice financially. Financial costs include fees to join the club, fees to swim in meets, money for equipment, money for swim suits, travel, hotels, food away from home, etc. Why do we as parents do it? First, the kids love to swim. Second, we want them to do some sport for their physical fitness. We also like the fact that they are surrounded by other kids who are "goal oriented." The kids love practice (go figure), they love meets, and they love the friends they have made.

Now, how does this have anything to do with capitalism? Swimming is all about results. For our kids, we measure our kids results by whether they are improving their times from meet to meet. At some point in time, certain time standards are important. Qualifying for State, Zone, or National meets require achievement of certain time standards. Knowing this, swimmers push themselves in practice to develop the techniques and endurance they need to try and achieve the needed time standards. Now, as with any endeavor, not all swimmers are created equal. Some are predisposed to success due to body type. Some get superior instruction. Some have parents who were swimmers who can help their children’s development. There are swimmers that are unlikely to ever develop into successful participants but they work very hard nonetheless. Our kids have enjoyed limited success as swimmers, and they earned it. Nobody gets preferential treatment on the basis of race, religion, income, education, party affiliation, etc. You either have the skill and related performance or you will not enjoy the rewards (post season meets, college scholarships, etc). Imagine if these rules applied to corporate employees and CEO's! Swimming, like many sports is the ultimate in "pay" for performance. The performance swimmers seek is black and white. Success is defined by times. If only CEO performance was so clear and clean. Many corporate employee and CEO compensation packages are focused on metrics that if achieved, may or may not reward customers or, more importantly the shareholders of the business.

For those swimmers who enjoy little to limited success in swimming, all is not lost. I believe that all swimmers have learned life lessons. They know that if you want something, you need to work hard for it. There are no hand-outs, no bailouts, no "performance redistribution." It is interesting, given the current socioeconomic environment that swimmers respect and want to emulate those who enjoy the most success. These swimmers serve as an incentive to others to work harder to improve you performance. Contrast this with the current demonizing of the successful by the media and the career politicians. Some deserve this treatment, but I would argue that the vast majority are like swimmers. They have worked for a very long time to be good at what they do for a living. They deliver economic value to their employer, their clients, their customers. The compensation they earn is a direct reflection of the value they add for their constituents. Now if only those who demonize these folks could take a lesson from the swimmers and use those feelings as motivation to improve their lot in life. Maybe it's easier to bitch and moan than to expend the effort to make yourself more valuable to your employer, clients and customers.

Sadly, the folks in Washington are making it a lot easier to take the easy way out. What this means is that these folks will be locked into a life watching others succeed. I have always wondered if the career politicians really want the "less fortunate" to find their way and care for themselves. I generally think that they do not. I remember a quote that says "Those who rob Peter to Pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul." Job #1 for career politicians is to get elected. Job #2 is to get re-elected. As such, the "Pauls" of this country will always be dependent on handouts from the government. If only they had been a swimmer they would know a better way out.


  1. When we moved to Medina almost two years ago, I was thrilled that the city had an indoor pool. I was morbidly obese and had begun swimming in the pool at our hotel, and what a difference that made! We joined the rec center 18 months ago- since then I have been using the pool on average three times a week and undergone a gastric bypass this past March. Last year, I had caught the attention of several life guards due to my length of time and my workouts in the pool. They suggested that I join the US Masters team, which I did. Both coaches told me that I had the worst form that either had ever seen- Today, a year later, I am 80 lbs lighter and still swimming. My technique has improved and I have found an exercise that I have stuck with for more than a month! While I had only told one coach and another swimmer of my upcoming surgery, upon my return to the pool for my individual "training" and then for the weekly Masters practice, everyone knew about the surgery and were enthusiastic about what I had done. (which was nothing except almost eat myself to death) One coach asks, at the top of his lungs, how much I have lost and how much I still have to go. I have received nothing but support from the lifeguards and my team mates and coaches. The responses were nothing like I had experienced while running track in high school. (I just wish the Masters magazine had kept out of the so called "gay" marriage debate)

    Moving to Ohio saved my life and this blog has been a God send- thanks for the work that you do- This blog helped turn Ohio back to red!

  2. Congrats Agnes. Keep swimming. The rest of your life starts today!

  3. Agnes, thank you for the kind comments.

    And I agree, as a former Medina County resident, the Medina rec center is a beautiful facility. I wish we had something like it in southern Lorain County.

  4. Do you think it's funny that you used a sport that is almost never available to inner city and rural Ohio children as an analogy for the strengths of capitalism?

    Is the point you were trying to make that if you were born white/suburban/middle class and work hard you will be greeted with success but if you're not those things you won't even be able to participate?

    *Side note: Agnes - congrats on reclaiming your life and taking the positive steps necessary to better yourself. Best of luck on your continued journey.

  5. Do you think it's funny that you used a sport that is almost never available to inner city and rural Ohio children as an analogy for the strengths of capitalism?


    Only a liberal could turn a personal story of the rewards of hard work into some sort of class warfare attack.

    Where do these idiots come from?

  6. Anonymous, My wife tells me that my philosophy of "People, they're the worst" is wrong. You make me feel better about that philosophy. As if white kids raised in the suburbs don't have to work hard to succeed.

  7. I may be pointing out the obvious to Anonymous, but the rewards of hard work are not limited to swimming. Inner-City and rural kids can learn the sam lesson from Football, Basketball, Baseball, Track & Field, etc.

  8. Im as liberal as it gets, and anons argument is beyond stupid...

  9. @Duke - if you read my comment you'll see that I wrote, "if you were born white/suburban/middle class AND work hard you will be greeted with success..." (capitalization added in this post).I never claimed that sucessful folks didn't have to work hard. You made that assumption based on the fact that you perceived me to be liberal and, thus, some sort of class-ist.

    As someone who grew up in rural Ohio, I actually did learn many values by playing football, basketball, baseball, and track. I found the swim team analogy somewhat unrelateable (as I would have if the author would have chosen lacrosse, sailing, or ice hockey) and wanted to pose the question. Perhaps I was a bit sensational in the wording of my questions but I thought it would open up the board to further conversation. Instead I was insulted. Well done, team.

    Anyhow, would any of you argue that hard work is the only variable that decides sucess?

    *Side note: I spent a great deal of time in the swimming pool (definitely not 'working hard') this holiday weekend and loved every minute of it. Happy belated Independence Day to you all. While I don't appreciate your approach, I do appreciate your civic engagement.


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