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Think Middle School Friendships Can't be Great? Think Again.

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My daughter says swimming is in her blood and she’s right. She also says it’s in her soul. Again, at 10, she’s exactly right. She comes from a long line of swimmers but for her, it’s different. My husband very intuitively knows when she needs some time in the water and swimming is usually exactly what she needs.

She’s a good swimmer with a hugely successful summer behind her. Summer league was filled with personal bests, winning heat after heat, and being part of an undefeated relay team. They were the team, and she was sometimes the swimmer, to beat.

This year she’s trying something new: middle school swimming. I could tell quickly that this is an entirely different animal. Competition is stronger, races are longer, the times to beat are faster. Way faster. Brian and I were fully aware that she may face challenges this year. She may win, she may not win. She may not ever win, but our focus remains on the experience. The joy of winning is often paired with the agony of defeat and that’s life. Learning how to win is easy, the gift is in learning how to lose. No matter what happens, undoubtedly, she will come through this a stronger swimmer and a stronger person. Win or lose.

She was on the blocks for her very first middle school race and Brian and I watched poolside. My heart was pounding. She dove in and experienced every swimmer’s worst nightmare. Her goggles rolled down her face and she swam the first lap with them across her mouth. I watched her reach the opposite edge of the pool, miss her flip turn, gasp through tears, and trail the race with goggles in hand.

My heart sank for her.

I wanted to rush over to her and slather on the encouragement for next time. I would talk her through what happened in an attempt to figure out what went wrong. We would figure out the goggle issue, and pump her up for the next race. I’d try my hardest to help her put the past behind her and from there focus on the future.

That’s exactly what she needs, right? It wasn't.

Before we could find her, fate intervened. She was intercepted poolside by her friend and fellow teammate, who is also swimming middle school for the first time. She ran up to her with arms outstretched and hugged her, exclaiming, “Audrey! You came in 7th place! Congratulations! You finished! We both finished!”

There were no condolences. No encouragement to do better next time. No suggestions on how to improve the race. Instead, she happily and intentionally helped Audrey focus on what was most important: she finished. The celebration was focused on finishing the race ­– which is an accomplishment in itself. Place didn’t matter, but completion did. And that’s certainly a reason to celebrate.

That was exactly what she needed.

I hear all too often how middle school friendships can be so challenging and difficult; girls tearing each other down instead of building one another up. What happened poolside is clearly the gold standard of what it means to be a great friend. If we experience this life with even just one friend like this, I surmise that we have lived a pretty great life. The small successes, the moments of bravery, the accomplishment of completion all matter. In fact, sometimes that may be all that matters. Keep the people in your life who help you see the joy in that.

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