Great post and 100% accurate. 🙂 Check out the whole thing!
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.
One little boy is a lot like a slinky with caffeine jitters. Two or more little boys is like watching a bizarro-world NASCAR race where all the drivers are drunk and everyone in the stands is completely terrified. Crashes are a foregone conclusion, you just hope you can get there in time with the fire extinguisher.
If we survive, we grow up to say things like “Dude, hold my beer! I want to try that!”
Let’s just say that biologically speaking, it’s a good thing I don’t have a womb.
The Pokey Little Puppy
When I was a little boy my favorite book was The Pokey Little Puppy. As a dad I rediscovered the book thanks in part to my mom (hi mom!) and read it to my kids. One part has always stuck out in my mind.
“What is he doing?” the four little puppies asked one another. And down they went to see, roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble, till they came to the green grass; and there they stopped short.
I always thought I liked the book because I was always kinda late to everything. I now get why I like this book.
This book is really an owner’s manual for little boys. In fact, this is the essence of little boys: curiosity, and then a blurry bobble of arms and legs and spontaneous collisions.
Also, schemes involving desserts.
My daughter is no less curious or active, but she was in a pink tutu from her second trimester in utero until age 7 (second child, only daughter, lots of ruffle-butt dresses). She has developed a certain grace, comfort, and familiarity with her appendages that her male siblings seem to lack.
She can also rip one that will peel the paint off the walls seemingly on command.
A little over a month ago, I got the email that as a dad I most fear:
I am writing to inform you that we don’t have enough coaches for our U6 Boys soccer, and so your son cannot be placed on a team. If you want to volunteer to coach, please reply to this email.
I dodged this bullet six years ago when my first son started playing soccer. At the time, though, I was incredibly excited. My good fortune only became apparent later.
In fact, I actually LIKE soccer. I like watching professional soccer more than watching any other sport on TV (although that’s a low bar). I used to play soccer as a kid. I would have played soccer in high school, except the summer after 8th grade this kid Joey gave me a nipple twist at the pool, and when I found out he was trying out for JV soccer I changed my mind and went to band camp instead.
Screw you Joey, I hope you have chronic Irritable Bowel Syndrome and high cholestrol.
My son’s first spring season went okay, and he seemed to like it enough that we signed him up for soccer in the fall. I was a little frustrated with the coaching at the time, and I thought I could do better …so I signed up to coach.
I dove into learning everything I could about coaching youth soccer. For months, I studied videos and read books. Then one day in August he came to me.
“Daddy, I think I want to concentrate on swimming and not do soccer any more.”
“Oh, um, okay. I thought you liked soccer. Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I really like swimming a lot. Soccer is fun, too, though. We can still kick the ball around if you want.”
Good kid that one, throwing me a bone there. “Oh, okay. If you’re sure. We’ll take you out for the fall then.”
That’s how I became a swim dad instead of a soccer dad.
Let me tell you though… So. Much. Better.
As a soccer dad, I was prepared to take on the responsibilities of coaching. That means committing to 2-3 practices a week, plus a good chunk of my weekend for games. I’d have to be out there in the rain, or hot, trying not to just motivate my own kid, but little Tommy the grass picker and Justin-keep-your-body-to-yourself.
There are snack rotations and balls and nets.
There are drills and trophies and patches.
I’m allergic to grass.
As a swim dad, my responsibilities are:
- Carpool to/from pool on my assigned night
- 1 weekend a month, sit in a fairly climate-controlled gym or pool and read my Kindle for several hours, while occasionally looking up to see if it’s our event yet
- Invent things to text to my wife to make it sound like I’m paying more attention at the meet than I actually am
- Fulfill team’s volunteer hour requirements by yelling at children in an administrative capacity
Overall, way less effort involved in swimming than in soccer. At least for me.
Then, six years later, the bill comes due.
Son assembly required
Son number one is, in too many painfully obvious ways, a shorter, better looking version of me. He also reads this blog. Which reminds me, please excuse me for one second…
Son, go put your laundry away before you scroll down.
What did I just write? Laundry. Now. You don’t have to fold it– just get it out of the basket so your sainted mother can keep the circle of laundry going. Go. We’ll all just sit here, clicking reload, and wait for you to finish.
That’s better, thank you.
Did I just parent via blog post? Yes, yes I did.
SUCK IT TECHNOLOGY HATERS.
Son number two is definitely a very different child than son number one. First, he has the advantage of a September birthday, which means that he’s one of the bigger kids in his grade. Second, he’s a middle child, fairly easy going, and motivated predominately by Cheezits. It’s not so much that he’s a mystery to me, but he definitely has his own playbook and I have to work a little harder to figure out what he wants. This was the child who one morning, at age 2 and a half, we found sitting in the living room, staring at the blank TV, contentedly eating a frozen waffle. He’s slightly suspicious of having me coach the team, because in his experience Daddy likes to have him empty the trash cans, not coach soccer.
Our first practice is at the beginning of April. It’s still cold, the field is damp, and there’s a constant 60 mile an hour wind blowing down from Ottawa that is making me profoundly regret wearing shorts. There are 9 kids, including my own, staring at me suspiciously, as if they are expecting me to start making them do push-ups. I have a clipboard with a lesson plan on it from the league for an age-appropriate practice for 6 year old boys with little to no soccer experience. Glancing down at the notes, I take a quick breath.
WTHeck is this? They want me to do what? I should I have looked more closely at this before this morning. This is lame, the kids are going to hate this. Oh well, here goes nothing…deep breath, big smile…
“Okay soccer players! We’re going to play some games today. Who knows how to play red light green light?”
Inwardly I cringed. And then they cheered.
We played red light green light– first without the ball, then with the ball. They were all so into it, they wanted to play it again, and again, and again. As I watched them lurch forward, fall over, giggle, grin, and fall over again, I was struck by a thought.
Puppies. I’m coaching puppies. Roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble. Puppies.
This is pretty awesome.
I kinda sorta hope son number 2 eventually decides to go for swimming over soccer. He’s good at it, we’ve got a really good car-pool right now, and it’s ALL about the car pool. If he decides to stick with soccer, though, I think I’m up for it.
I have an instruction manual.
It involves desserts.
Special thanks to son number one for telling me to get off my hiney and write some more.