“Ready… GO!” The blonde, freckled, 30-something coach is barefoot on the pool deck, his chinos rolled above his ankles. He wears a button down shirt and a dress watch, and his pant legs are wet, despite his precautions.
“Ready… GO!” He watches a stopwatch, watches the deck clock, watches his yellow capped, mirror-goggled swimmers race to the wall. They are four and five to a lane, their long, fast bodies occupying every square inch of surface water. “Ready… GO!” His voice booms over the racket of water splashing, cuts through the warm, thick, chlorinated air of the small aquatic center. The swimmers come into the wall quickly, one after another, and soak his cuffs as their feet rocket out of the water in flip turns. They glide underwater down the other side of the lane, then emerge, one after another, arms slapping the water, kicks rumbling.
Another coach, also dressed in work clothes, with bare feet and rolled cuffs, a polo and stylish, rectangle-framed glasses, manages the other three lanes of swimmers. “Ready… GO!” The noise of splashing is deafening. The entire pool rocks and churns, as if it were filled with sharks instead of swimmers. Sharks in a feeding frenzy, slapping the surface with their tails, rolling and snarling and frothing the water into a two foot chop.
Our seven year old daughter pays no attention. She scans the pool deck, looking for her coach. “Mom, I think I see people from my group over there. Should I go over?” I nod to her and pat her arm encouragingly, then watch her little gymnast body, now clad in a racerback swimsuit, hot pink goggles dangling from her hand, as she strides to the other end of the pool.
“Ready… GO!” The amount of energy contained in these six lanes makes me want to leap from my seat and do a thousand jumping jacks, or ride a bike up a mountain, or bench press 200 pounds. These swimmers are driven, powerful, disciplined with their swim caps and dark goggles and sleek bodies. They work together like a machine, one swimmer three feet in front of the next, breathe, stroke stroke, breathe, stroke stroke, flip at the wall, down the other side.
I am impressed. I want this for our daughter. But we must tread carefully here. She is a natural athlete, lithe and flexible and very strong. When her gymnastics coach invited her to join the pre-competitive team, we were thrilled, she was thrilled, and we signed her up. Only it was too intense for her. Her body was ready, but her psyche was not, and she came to dislike gymnastics, even though she had a natural talent for it. We don’t want to push her again.
“Good job! Good job!” The blonde coach is clapping, his rolled cuffs drenched by every athlete who makes a final lunge for the wall. With each “good job” a splash cycle disappears. The pool begins to calm. Swimmers pant, look over at the clock, up at their coach. The deafening roar quiets to a distinct splish here, a sploshing kick there, until there is just the swishing sound of water calming itself through the lane lines, lapping against the side of the pool. A sucking sound as each teenaged swimmer pulls herself out.
When our daughter gets in, I see her round cheeks and neon pink goggles as she hangs on the wall at the end of her lane. I smile and wave, and then laugh to myself, remembering the day we bought her the goggles. She wore them on the couch while we read together, on the floor while she played UNO with her brother. Three inches of clear strap flapped by her ears every time she turned her head. She was excited to transition from swim lessons to swim practice.
Her group’s laps begin, and the sound is like mullet jumping. Little splashes made with little arms. They are still five to a lane, but there are huge gaps between their tiny bodies. I see her bright pink eyewear, the three inches of strap flapping when she turns her head to breathe. I can distinguish her personal splash echoing in the acoustics of the aquatic center, making its way across the water to my heart.
Their coach speaks quietly to them when they reach the end of the pool. His jeans are rolled down, dry. Sunglasses hang around his neck from a neoprene strap. Sometimes he crouches down to talk, forearms on knees, clasping his hands or gesturing. Chatting with them while they catch their breath. When they are on their way again, he walks casually to the other end of the pool to meet them at the other side.
At the end of practice, our daughter grins as her wet little feet slap towards me on the painted deck. I smile, too. Then, tempering my enthusiasm, trying hard not to show my eagerness, I very carefully ask, “How was it baby? Did you have fun?”
I wrote this in response to the Daily Post writing challenge, the Devil is in the Details. For this post, the first three paragraphs describe the day’s writing space.
9 thoughts on “Try not to push”
You are an excellent writer, Andrea! Vivid imagery. You capture the thoughts of a mother watching her child very well. Nice job. Can’t wait to read the next one!
Thank you Cindy! That’s a big compliment from another mother 🙂
Bravo. i was a swimmer from the time I could walk and I would have given anything for a coach like you describe. Fun. It should be fun!
Thank you for saying that – we are doing our best to make sure it’s fun for her.
I really enjoyed this – there were some lovely descriptions which really brought the scene to life. Looking forward to reading more 🙂
I could smell the chlorine! You paint a clear picture with your writing. And as a parent I really appreciate the message. Finding that fine line between supportive and pushy…
Swim fishy swim! My son is finishing up swim season here…he goes to districts next week then were done for the season…He has finally found a sport he enjoys. That is the most important part…that he ENJOYS it. I remember when he swam his very first event….I almost cried. and then the victory of finishing his first 500m….again, holding back tears….makes my heart swell so when i read what you wrote here, I could feel your heart swelling too 🙂
Loved this post, Andrea! Mental stamina is such an important factor in competitive sport, isn’t it?
Going through the same thing with my son who won best all around gymnast in his age category at his last competition. He’s been encouraged by the head coach to put more hours in at the gym, but he tells me that he doesn’t want to train with the head coach; “It feels like WORK when I train with him!” He won his gold medal and now he says he’s done competing — my son wants to learn more tumbling and trampoline, for the fun (& joy!) of it. And he wants to have time to spend with his friends, and train for school sports.
Sometimes it’s difficult to know when to push our kids, and when to let them take the lead. Sounds like you’ve got a good sense of what your daughter needs from you. Keep having fun at the pool!
Comments are closed.