How to Help Your Child Develop an Athlete Mindset & Go After Big Dreams: Mom of World Champion Swimmer Shares Top Tips

The life lessons kids glean from sports empower them to achieve Extraordinary Results! Just ask Katy Murphy, whose little fish went on to become a World Champion Swimmer and Olympic athlete (you might know him as Ryan Murphy).

Although Ryan excelled at playing many different sports, he fell in love with swimming at an early age.

“When he started a recreational summer league swim team in 2000, there was something very special,” Katy said. “In fact, the summer league swim coach called me at the end of the season, explaining to me that Ryan had a natural talent in the water.”

That same summer, athletes from around the world gathered to compete in Sydney, Australia, giving young Ryan a glimpse into what his future could - and would! - hold. As he huddled around the TV with his family to watch swimmers take their place on the starting block, he began to dream - maybe one day he could be a champion swimmer and set world records, too!

READ MORE: World Champion Swimmer Ryan Murphy Dives Into Dreaming Big & Going After Your Goals

By the age of eight, Ryan knew that’s exactly what he wanted to do. Thirteen years, and countless hours of hard work later, Ryan’s dream came true when he made his Rio debut. That year, he took first place in the 100 and 200-meter backstroke and the 4×100 meter medley relay, and set a new world record!

This year, he’s getting ready to do it all again! After his stellar performance at swim trials, Ryan is heading to Tokyo to defend his record and represent his country in the games, this time as a team captain.

READ MORE: Here's How You Can Write to Ryan and Win Big, Too!

While Ryan certainly makes competitive swimming look easy, it can be hard to remember that he was a beginner once, too! Although he had natural athletic talent, his mom says it’s his passion, dedication and competitive drive that really fueled his path to success.

“Ryan began competing at local meets at age five and advanced through age groups quickly,” she shared. “He was never complacent. If he achieved a personal goal time, he got right in the pool the next day for practice and started working toward his next goal. Ryan was, and still is, excellent at re-setting.”

Developing an athlete mindset was especially important as Ryan aged up. While he wasn’t easily intimidated, and was never afraid of competition, both Ryan and his mom have been open about sharing the strides he made when it came to overcoming his nerves. One memory in particular stands out to Katy as a significant turning point in Ryan’s growth as an aspiring young swimmer.

“When Ryan was younger, he struggled with nerves and had a weak stomach,” she shared. “We were at a travel meet in Savannah, GA, when Ryan felt his nerves and got sick. The official would not let him swim. That was an eye opener for Ryan because he was more upset that he couldn’t race than he was about how he felt physically. We had a LONG talk about if swimming was fun for him and why he got so nervous. After that incident, Ryan’s sister, Shannon, and two other girls on his swim team decorated a bucket for him with phrases like “Ryan, don’t be nervous”, “We love you” and “Puke here” with an arrow pointing downward. Believe it or not, the bucket helped so much! Since that moment, I’ve watched him grow in maturity and learn how to control his nerves as he became a student of the sport.”

When it comes to developing an athlete mindset, Katy believes it’s important for parents to help their children realize that challenges are part of the process. Teaching them to view those moments as opportunities to learn and grow is a great strategy to help them handle setbacks and overcome the feeling of self-doubt or the fear of failure.

“It’s important for children to realize that growth comes from failure,” she said. “It’s also important that parents praise children for the accomplishments they make. Swimming is a unique sport. It’s very individual, and the clock defines improvement. But, when a child is young, he or she should be taught that the goal is to improve his or her personal best time. And, when a child has a disappointing race, parents need to find something good about it, whether that’s the start, the stroke technique, the turn or the finish. It’s essential that parents explain that some races won’t go as planned, and that’s a good thing because it is an opportunity to learn.”

In addition to helping kids manage their mindset and develop a healthy competitive drive, Katy also believes that sports can help teach kids other important life skills, like time management, a strong work ethic and the ability to work well with others and collaborate as part of a team.

“The competitive drive, which is developed through athletics, continues in all facets of life,” she said. “As Ryan became older, he showed discipline with both school and sports. Today, he’s a very hardworking, honorable and responsible adult.”

Your child’s potential is in there, too. Sometimes you just need to add water!

What big dreams does your child have? Whether they want to win the spelling bee, become a doctor or a professional athlete like our swim buddy Ryan Murphy, we’re here to give them the confidence to take that first step, work hard and make big waves in life!

Here’s how you can, too! Between now and August 31, we’re hosting a special giveaway that encourages kids to believe in and achieve their dreams. When you download our Dream Cloud to decorate with your kids at home and share it on social media using #DreamBigLittleFish, they’ll automatically be entered for the chance to win prizes that can help them actualize their dreams.

To parents and children everywhere, keep dreaming, believing and achieving—the possibilities are endless!

At Goldfish, we believe in making a BIG deal about ALL of life’s accomplishments, because every little dose of achievement adds up to big self-esteem! Stop by your local Goldfish Swim School today to learn how we use the Science of SwimPlay® to help kids build important life skills they’ll use in the pool, and beyond! And, if your little fish dreams of becoming a champion like Ryan Murphy, our Swim Force team is a great way to help them dip a toe into competitive swimming.

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