I have three kids who swim competitively year round. My own swimming career can best be summed up as “hanging out at the neighborhood pool with my best friends Acne and Helmet Hair”. I can’t do all of the strokes. All of my children, even the 3 year old, can beat me across the length of the pool. I intend to do something about that at some point, but that point is not today.
I spend a lot of time at the various pools in our town, both indoor and outdoor, usually in a deck chair surfing Reddit while someone else coaches my kids. I know I’m lucky– my Facebook feed is full of my friends juggling 2-3 kids and 3-5 sports– all I can say is “there but for the Grace of God go I.” We had a brief flirtation with soccer, but fortunately that’s behind us and I can get back to working on my tan.
In summary: I have no personal experience with competitive swimming and I am at the pool all the time. I am also a
recovering joiner and have a hard time saying no to people.
It should not surprise anyone that I am now a swim meet official.
…The same thing we do every day, Pinky
Swimmers and their parents are some of the most manically focused people you will ever meet. Not drowning is not something that comes naturally to the human body, so it takes a lot of effort to get really really fast at not drowning. Races and cuts are decided by hundredths of a second. Plateaus of performance are common. All of this attracts and molds people who are extremely goal-focused and detail-oriented.
By comparison, I like to run. I am not particularly good at it, but I’ve voluntarily gone for a run in freezing rain and enjoyed it, so that means I have suffered enough brain damage to consider myself “a runner”. Running is what people do when they also want to be good at something else– in my case it’s feeding my family. Lots of people are really good at running. Some people even say we are “Born to Run“. Running is objectively less hard than not drowning.
This is what Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time, manages to accomplish when he’s not swimming:
Easy Job Hard Job
My first stop on the road to Can’t-Leave-Well-Enough-Alonesville is what’s called a “Stroke and Turn” judge. Despite the innuendo, it has nothing to do with what happens when the kids have gone to bed and mommy has had some Riesling to loosen up a bit.
The job of the Stroke and Turn judge is to watch the swimmers in the assigned lanes and wait for them to mess up. This means watching for proper arm and leg movements and making sure that walls are touched
inappropriately. It requires keen vision and concentration.
I possess neither.
The one part of Stroke and Turn Judge that everyone focuses on and claim they could “never do” is issue a Disqualification. I don’t understand this, because making kids cry is about the easiest thing in the world for a parent to do. They will cry about literally anything, including correcting them on their frequent abuse of the word “literally”.
“That sounds like #87.”
“Is that Brother stole the remote, covered me with a blanket, and sat on me?”
“No you’re thinking of #78. #87 is ‘Brother stole the remote, briefly started to suffocate me with a couch cushion, and then got distracted by my bowl of Cheezits, inadvertently sparing my life.’ Finish your Riesling, dear, I’ll go check on them. Want another while I’m up?”
In fact, it happens so frequently around here that I am a connoisseur of crying. If crying was Iron Chef, I would be Crazy Pepper-biting Guy.
It’s 5 O’Clock (in the morning) Somewhere
I don’t like to watch sports, I’d rather play them. If I must, a little bit of liquid courage allows me to suspend reality just enough that I can kinda sorta pretend that it’s me out there, and I could have done that if only I had practiced more.
The problem with swimming as a sport from a spectator’s perspective is that tailgating at 5AM is a horrible idea. Nearly every other sport has the courtesy to schedule their events to allow their fans to get appropriately insensible before hand. Football, baseball, hockey… these all take place at less liver-maiming hours. Swimming? All day, multi-day events going from before dawn to after dark. Professional swimming never became popular on TV until the “tape delay” was invented. It’s a fact, look it up.
For the parent of a swimmer, signing your kid up for a swim meet is signing away your weekend. When it’s over, I am more tired than my kids are. My post swim-meet ritual involves a hot water bottle on the forehead and a CD of whale noises that I got during one of my “experimental phases” in college.
Seeing as how I was committed to these marathon mornings already, I have been struggling with ways to keep myself entertained that don’t involve ridiculous levels of either friendliness or energy. I haven’t yet figured out how to fit in a nap between the 8:30 AM hotdog-and-donut-from-concessions second breakfast and the 10:30 insulin crash and still watch my kids swim. Then I was cornered by one of my friends.
“Are you going to take the Officiating class next Monday night?”What a fabulous idea! You can help the team. Don’t be stupid. Then I’d have to do it all the time. It’s either that or concessions. Ew, I don’t want to do concessions. No you don’t. What could you aspire to be at concessions? Head Donut-Hander-To-er? With officiating, you could be Official. Oooh, I like the sound of that. Are you sure? Sure I’m sure. It’s right there in the name. Okay I’m sold. How bad can it be?
“Um, yes, I was thinking about it.”
“Great, I’ll see you there.”
It was a hard sell, I couldn’t resist.
After the hard sell from my friend, I sat in a two hour class and emerged with a t-shirt with the word “OFFICIAL” emblazoned on the back, so I guess I am good to go. The standards are pretty low for neighborhood recreation league swimming.
The funny part is that before my kids started swimming all year I thought neighborhood swim league was a Big Deal. I could not have been more wrong. Neighborhood swimming only seems like a big deal until you get involved in a USA Swimming club and you realize that you knew nothing about Real Swimming. Before you know it, you are stalking the length of the pool yelling “DON’T BREATH! WHY ARE YOU BREATHING SO MUCH!!!” while the other moms google the phone number for “child protective services” on their smartphones.
“CPS can I help you?“
“There is a lady here screaming at her children not to breathe! I think she’s on drugs!“
“Ma’am what is she wearing?“
“A T-shirt with some kind of writing… it says ‘Aquatics Club’ on the back… oh no she’s coming this way help me!“
“It’s okay ma’am, she’s a swim mom, just don’t put on goggles or ask her to find your towel and you should be fine.“
“I… I’m scared!“
“Ma’am, do you have any Riesling?“
This post is dedicated to all of the volunteers, official or otherwise, who make youth sports happen. Even if your kids don’t recognize you, I do. And I’m calling 911 because I saw you on a Wanted poster.