This week we bring you an interview with author Elli Overton, a three-time Australian Olympian, mother of two beautiful boys, Summer league swim team coach, swim instructor and SwimTopia Account Manager based in Austin, Texas. We talk to Elli about her new book, Jay’s Swimming Journey, her experience as an Olympian and growing up as a competitive swimmer in Australia.
SwimTopia: Elli, you are quite an accomplished athlete. What is it like to be introduced as a three-time Olympian and former World champion?
Elli: Well, World “Short Course” Champion, I got a bronze at World Championships :). Interesting question because I really struggled with being introduced as an Olympian over the years. I tend to get asked immediately if I won a medal at the Olympics and I have to so no. I always felt like I was disappointing people with that answer. I also used to think that if people knew about my swimming first they would make generalizations about who I am and what kind of person I am instead of getting to know the ‘real’ me. Working back in swimming (after 12 years away from the sport) has really helped me overcome those issues and be proud of who I am and what I have done. I can finally appreciate what it means and the value of my achievements.
SwimTopia: At what age did you start swimming? How were you first introduced to the sport?
Elli: My parents took me to swim lessons when I was 2 because I kept making my way into our backyard pool unsupervised! When I was 6 I took a week long swim program that taught me the strokes and I decided to join the team after that because I loved it and appeared to be a natural.
SwimTopia: At what point did it click for you that swimming in the Olympics was a realistic goal?
Elli: It wasn’t until I was 16 and had made my first Australian Team to the World Championships that I really thought I could swim at the Olympics. I think I had thought about it when I was younger but in a dreamy, “that sounds nice but isn’t realistic” kind of way. When I was 15 a coach friend of my own swim coach said “Elli, you know if you really wanted to, you could make the Australian team at the next national selection trials” and for some reason it struck me as realistic. I didn’t make the team he was referring to, but I made the very next one (to World Championships). The Olympics was the following year and I finally realized that that was my next real goal.
SwimTopia: In the Author’s notes of your new book, Jay’s Swimming Journey, you mention struggling with the disappointment of not winning an Olympic medal. What helped you get past that disappointment?
Elli: Well sometimes in those moments when I go back in time I still think “could-a, would-a, should-a” (Australian for “could have, would have, should have”)… But I think that working in swimming is what has really made the difference. I finally see that what I did achieve is amazing, that people often only get to dream of going as far in their sporting careers as I did. I find it so rewarding to be able to share my knowledge and experience with others and watch them become better swimmers in the process, I don’t need a medal to be able to do that. I just need the lessons I learned in the process of chasing one. So working in swimming has given me a new appreciation of what I have done and a new outlet to keep using the skills I honed as an Olympian, and keep doing something I love.
SwimTopia: How did you come to be the head coach of a Summer League swim team in Austin, Texas?
Elli: A little way into my son’s kindergarten year at his elementary school the word got out that I was a swimmer. One of the mom’s in my son’s class had kids on the summer league team and told me they were looking for a coach. At the time I was in the process of looking to re-enter the work force after being a stay at home mom, but I was looking for a “real” job… Well, I got one and I lasted 50 days! A “real” job wasn’t for me! By the spring I had decided to work in a field I loved and had expertise in instead and I decided to start providing private swim instruction to adults. When the summer league team officially approached me in March I was in a different mind set and ready to take on 200 kids aged 5-18. It is quite different to giving adults private instruction, but allows me to do both!
SwimTopia: What are the biggest differences you see between youth swimming in the United States today and your experience growing up as a competitive swimmer in Australia?
Elli: Swimming in Australia is VERY different to swimming in America. We don’t have anything like “summer league” there and we don’t have collegiate swimming either. All swimming in Australia is club based, like year round programs in America, but here you have these other outlets for swimming through summer league, high school and college. I think that swimming here is much more team oriented, where as in Australia, even with club “teams”, “team” means very little and it is truly an individual sport. I love that kids can do swimming here on a part time, recreational, level through summer league. In Australia you swim year round or not at all. The US summer system gives more kids a chance to love the sport and become proficient at it, without needing to make it “everything”.
SwimTopia: And now you’ve written and self-published a fantastic new children’s book, Jay’s Swimming Journey. What prompted you to write this book?
Elli: Coaching 200 kids last year really made me think about what messages I wanted the children to take away from their time swimming. What were the most important lessons I had learned as an athlete and how could I help them learn those lessons without learning them the “hard” way? I tried day in and day out to get the message across to the younger kids on the team that is was more important to me that they swim correctly and legally than that they race in practice or go first in their lane. I knew from my own swimming that whenever I thought too much about what the other kids were doing around me that it detracted from my own performance. I learned that thinking about someone else didn’t help ME swim faster. I felt it was hard to get these messages to penetrate as a coach when I was telling them to the kids at the end of a long school day, when they were put in the pool with a big group of friends! It was not the most conducive environment for concentrating! I wanted to write the book so that parents could read it to their kids in the quiet of their own homes in the hope my messages would have more of an impact.
SwimTopia: What lessons does Jay learn on his swimming journey?
Elli: Jay sees big improvement over the season by paying attention to himself and to his coach. He is not worried about other kids pushing in front of him in practice and maintains his focus on himself. He and his parents are proud of him for improving, and for coming third in the end. He enjoys his swimming and learns it isn’t all about winning, it’s about getting the most out of himself and enjoying his success.
SwimTopia: Do you think reading Jay’s Swimming Journey will help kids be better swimmers?
Elli: I truly hope so. I hope it helps them to think more about themselves and what they are doing every day in practice and worry less about where they are placing and whether they are winning. If they are thinking about themselves and concentrating in practice every day they are bound to improve! I hope it helps them be better champions.
SwimTopia: How have the swimmers and parents on your team responded to the book? Is everyone looking for their cameo between the pages?
Elli: I am so lucky to work with such an amazing and supportive group of parents. People on my team were excited to have a book written for “their” kids. After reading it to them at practice one of my 8 yr olds said “that wasn’t too bad”, so I will take that as a compliment! I have had parents send me pics of their kids reading it, and I love to see it being enjoyed. One parent asked “which of the kids on the team is Jay?” to which I had to laugh! I do have one or two kids that really concentrate like Jay, but most of the kids have one or more elements of the anti-hero rather than Jay 🙂
SwimTopia: I love that you had this idea for a book and then willed it in being. What was the hardest part of going from concept to that magical moment when you were holding a finished book in your hands?
Elli: I think the hardest part was making the commitment to spend the money it was going to take to illustrate and publish it. The story just came to me one night and as I showed it to some close friends and one of my assistant coaches it gradually took more and more shape. It was challenging to find the illustrator and research how to publish and what my options were but then came the time to bite the bullet and decide “is it worth it to spend the money to make this a reality?” I decided it was and I am so glad I did! After I made that decision my assistant coach mentioned Kickstarter so after researching that I decided to start a campaign. With the out pouring of support from family, friends and parents on my team, it pretty much made my financial worries non-existent!
SwimTopia: In addition to coaching, you also introduce new teams to SwimTopia as a SwimTopia Account Manager. Through that position you get to interact with all sorts of teams from around the country. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from that experience?
Elli: I started as an account manager for SwimTopia after using it with my own swim team. I saw first hand how useful it was and how easy it made my life as a coach. I enjoy reaching out to other teams that don’t already use SwimTopia because I know that they will be happy with it and that it will truly make managing their swim team a whole lot easier! I have learned that there are so many people out there like me and my volunteer parents that are looking to make their swim team management easier and more fun and that getting to know them and their needs can help make SwimTopia an even better product.
About Jay’s Swimming Journey
Jay’s Swimming Journey is the tale of a little boy who listened to his coach, focused on himself, had fun swimming, and showed great improvement as a result. Jay’s Swimming Journey demonstrates the benefit of making the most of every day in practice.