As is the case with many of my fellow swimmers, during my teenage years I developed an interest in coaching. Apparently training nine times a week just wasn’t enough pool time for me, and so I decided to take on a position coaching young children who were just beginning their swim careers. Six years later I realize that my role as a part-time coach has had a uniquely positive impact on my progression as an athlete. You see, we tend to forget how exciting the sport is until we are surrounded by a bunch of children for whom everything about swimming is novel. And while this enthusiasm and interest is extremely promising for the future of the sport, it has also over the years provided me with a wide array of completely ridiculous stories…
My community has a wildly successful summer league, whereby children are able to compete in all four of the water sports (swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, and water polo). During my first summer as a swim team coach for one of these local pools, I had a young girl of six years old in my group who was extremely eager to participate in her first ever competition. She was so prepared to race, in fact, that when the starting gun backfired and the referee called for the swimmers to step off of the blocks, she instead jumped into the water. Amid parents, coaches, and her team mates all waving her down to stop, she instead continued, even going so far as to swim under the false start rope. She was so determined to finish that, when one of my fellow coaches threw a kick board the young girl’s way in order to get her attention, she instead happily picked it up and finished the race as though it were a kick set. Despite the hassle and delay her mix up had caused, it proved to be worth it just to watch her excitedly touch the wall, and to see how proud she was of her accomplishment.
Also in my summer league, though a few years later, I coached a pair of twin brothers. They were identical down to the bathing suits and goggles that they wore, and were indistinguishable to myself and the other coaches. One competition, unbeknownst to any of us, one of the brothers had eaten too much candy (rookie mistake!) and was feeling ill. Instead of telling us, he and his brother created a plan whereby his twin would swim his races in his place. The league has a strict set of guidelines which only allow for each athlete to compete twice, and we had separated the twins so that they each swam two of the four strokes without any overlap. It was only until directly after the fourth event, right after coming out of the water and while he was receiving a participation ribbon, that the boy excitedly (and very loudly, I might add) told his friends that this was his fourth ribbon of the day. Needless to say I quickly ushered him away from the surrounding officials in order to have a word with him and his brother. But while they had completely disregarded the rules, I couldn’t help but laugh about the fact that the boy had been so thrilled to have been able to compete in extra events. Still, I recommended to the parents that they purchase different coloured swim suits in order to avoid further similar mix-ups.
My final story comes from the winter club that I coach for, with a group of boys who, at ten years old, were slightly older than the age range I typically have. Leading up to an important competition, we had been working with the kids on breathing control while they swam. Another coach on my staff had explained the importance of having a strong lung capacity, pointing to the fact that some of the best sprinters in the world don’t even take a single a breath in a 50 metre race. We were intent on them working on this skill during training and applying it to the their races, but this group of boys chose to try to get a bit more practice time in. The day of the meet, about twenty minutes before their relay race was scheduled to start, they had a competition of their own in the boys’ locker room – to see who could hold their breath for the longest. While the intentions to work on this skill were well placed, it was unfortunately poorly executed, since all four boys proved to be very competitive. Each eager to be the winner of the contest, they held their breaths for so long that one of the boys momentarily passed out, falling and hitting his head on a nearby railing. Thankfully he walked away with just a small bump on his head and a bruised ego at having lost. Myself and other members of my coaching staff were again struck by how eager children were to learn skills pertinent to the sport, though we made sure to address to our group of young swimmers the importance of knowing how to properly and safely apply these.