How Instagram helped me (and Penn Swimming fans) through a weekend of highs and lows

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Last Wednesday night kicked off the Women’s Ivy League Swimming Championships.  The swim season starts in September and we train 8-9 times a week throughout the year until this meet.  Swimming is a unique sport in the we don’t get the opportunity to “peak” until the end of the year, and usually athletes don’t get to see the rewards of training until a gradual reduction in training (taper) leading up to championships.  The uncertainty of the outcome leads to some serious anxiety and pressure that is felt by teammates and coaches before the meet starts.

The meet started off with two relay events, and continued with three more days of preliminary and final sessions.  The first swims of a meet are of upmost importance as they set the tone of how the rest of the meet is going to go.  Poor swims and results in the first races are especially hard to bounce back from.  Additionally, relay events are worth twice as much as an individual race, and they represent the best of “team” in an individual sport.  All this being said, you can imagine how devastating it was to team morale when five minutes after the Women’s 800 Freestyle Relay, the officials came over to let us know that the third girl had false started on the relay and Penn had been disqualified—we lost half of our points in the first night of competition.

Looking over at our bench I felt defeated.  The girls were upset, and nobody said too much.  Endless thoughts went through my head, moments like these sometimes don’t even feel real.  As if reading my mind, my boss (and the Head Coach) looked at me and said he felt like he was living in a nightmare.  After we all processed the DQ, I reminded myself that we had to stay positive, and tomorrow was a new day.  The coaching staff didn’t get much sleep that night, and we started off day 2 in 8th place.  Our girls stepped up big in the next preliminary session and after many texts from alumni, fans, and recruits asking how we were doing, I felt compelled to share our story on social media, so I posted the following:

To be totally honest, before this class, I saw updating our Instagram account as just another check box on my “to do” list, and a distraction from being engaged in what was going on in real time at a meet.  But taking into account what I have learned so far through this course, I knew I had the ability to engage a group through social media using story telling and emotional content.  I felt like I could use social media to immediately convey the team’s status to recruits, alumni, and fans who were following the meet results.  In addition, I felt a powerful message could be sent to all the women on the team t0 help to unite them and stay resilient after a setback.  In a way, Instagram helped me to cope with the highs and lows of the meet, and share the experience.

I just started the account this fall, so we only have 21 posts, but I updated it 8 times throughout the meet and the girls commented that they loved the updates.  I know the account is very much a work in progress–we only have 128 followers as of today, but all of our top liked photos were from the meet this weekend, and I watched our followers continue to grow.  I am really excited to continue to grow the account, as I no longer see this as just another thing to add to my to do list, but a powerful tool to drive unity and engagement.  In case you’re curious, Penn finished 4th in the meet, just behind Princeton who finished third, but I’m thankful I was able to use social media to share the journey.

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2 Responses to How Instagram helped me (and Penn Swimming fans) through a weekend of highs and lows

  1. sydhavely says:

    Congratulations to you and the Penn Women’s Swimming Team. Resilience personified in their individual and group effort, for sure. As you say, very hard to come back after a DQ and they did–with a lot of encouragement from you, the head coach, and the women themselves. Instagram can be a great tool. You took the power of visual storytelling and embedded it with one of the strongest emotions we have–to overcome adversity. Again, congratulations.

  2. I loved your post. I can relate to your story because I was a swimmer in high school and have a similar story. During one of our invitationals, our medley was disqualified because I had false started. Of course, my team members and coach were upset and mostly quiet for the rest of the day. I felt so horrible about it. Your girls are lucky to have such a supportive coach. Keep up your Instagram game!

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