Blog guest: Dr Mariana Tisma
Dr Mariana Tisma, sports psychologist, CESAP – Centre for contemporary psychology, has been dealing with mental training of athletes with the purpose of psycho-diagnostics and psychologic preparation for almost two decades. She has successfully cooperated with more than 200 young athletes since 2002. She has selflessly shared her rich experience with many members of the Serbian national team and prepared them for: Olympic Games 2008 (wrestling), Olympic Games 2012 (Serbian Athletic Association), Paralympic Games 2012 (table tennis national team).
Now, as a Swimming Dad #Blog guest, both as a psychologist and as a parent of two boys, she discusses how swimming can strengthen children’s character, and help them throughout their life, but also how “healthy” are the top-level sports nowadays.
Why is swimming good for children?
Generally speaking, both children and the adults benefit from doing sports. The younger ones can learn more about cooperation, good working habits, persistency, and how to adequately deal with challenges. When they start with competitions, they gain experience in how to be a fair-player, how to deal with victories but also losses, to keep on going even in the most difficult situation because persistency and staying focused lead to improvements and personal records. Sports help you develop good feeling about yourself and your body, which is really important during puberty. Also, any physical activity increases the level of our happiness hormone and makes us feel good. Swimming has its specific advantages. It’s a fantastic basic sport as it helps us develop all our muscles, it affects our spine in a positive way, as well as our circulatory system.
Swimming is also sport of choice when dealing with osteoporosis, and many other similar illnesses. Actually, you’ve mentioned a lot of them in your blogs. What I would really like to point out is that recreational swimming can help us deal with stress. The main advantage of swimming is that it happens in the water. Many researchers mention this beneficial effect of water on our bodies and psyche. Water relaxes both our body and soul. Repetitive actions (those we do on a regular basis) also reduce the stress level and help us feel more relaxed.
Does swimming and sports strengthen your character, and do they help you in the future? Sports do have a very positive effect on our character. Swimming has this advantage of being both an individual but also a group sport. Sometimes the swimmers compete on their own but also, they can be a part of a relay, so they need to have both the individual and collective responsibility for their end results. During trainings there is no direct interaction between the swimmers, in terms of them achieving collective results. But what’s important is to develop a good team spirit which helps them become more tolerant and cooperative. As they swim in 25m or 50m long lanes, sometimes they swim more than 6 or 7km during one training session, in this way they learn how to deal with boredom, develop self-discipline, become more persistent, and stay focused despite different distractions.
How important is it for children to swim, even recreationally, from a very early age? From all the things I’ve mentioned so far, I believe it is very important for the kids to start swimming from early days. They love water. They feel happy and joyful when they are in touch with it. Swimming can be especially helpful between the age of 4 to 6, when children can be prone to experiencing fear of water. At this age, they start developing fears from the unknown, loss of control, start thinking about life and death. Then they can feel unsafe if they cannot touch the ground with their feet. When parents or their coaches are patient enough, they can help them overcome these fears while playing in the water or by taking swimming lessons. Children need a proof that they are safe and that everything will be alright. Especially if you include the parents in these games or lessons, the benefits are numerous. They can overcome fear more easily, but also, they develop, or fortify the closeness and trust with their parents. Children feel assured that they can rely on their parents in difficult times, or when they feel scared. This type of relationship is a good foundation for developing trust in yourself and other people in the future. Furthermore, they learn that to overcome the fear of the unknown they need to explore and get to know the thing they fear of.
How “healthy” are the top-level sports these days? Top-level sports are amazing. They bring affirmation, reputation and certain status in the society. It is amazing to be on top of the world after so many hours spent in trainings, numerous ups and downs, injuries, while your friends lead carefree and relaxed lives. That requires many sacrifices, making hard decisions, hundreds of hours spent doing the same thing over and over again, but also taking a lot of risk as only few manage to reach the top.
However, what is important is the fact that until the age of ten, children are not mature enough to deal with all the challenges of winning and losing a game. They like to demonstrate their skills, to compare themselves with the others when they feel they are good at something, but until they are ten, they should only take part in friendly matches or competitions.
It is also very important that during training sessions, no matter what the level of competition is, we focus on internal motivation (enjoying what they do), self- actualisation (desire to improve and be better than you were yesterday), and not on the end result. Of course we all feel motivated to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games, but that should be our long-term goal that we will achieve as a consequence of our constant maximal commitment during each training session or any competition. It is important to remain dedicated and enjoy the moment. If we see things in this way, top-level sport is the activity that improves our personal development and contributes to the mental health of an athlete.
However, if your question is related to the old Latin proverb “A healthy mind in a healthy body”, then I would always give advantage to life-long recreational sports over top-level sports.