Possessing a shyness that I fear is interpreted as aloofness, my socializing skills are about equal to my swimming skills. This led to much standing in the background and observing. Foremost, I watched my son--who before the season started had never swum a whole lap--crank out first 10, then 12 and 14, and ultimately close to 20 laps in practice. Plus I saw him swim three different strokes--freestyle, backstroke and the ever-challenging butterfly--in meets.
I also found myself observing parents and learning some things along the way. "Pull!", it turns out, is the proper shouted instruction during the breaststroke, and "Good swim!" is the post-race greeting of choice. I applaud all of the parent volunteers, and I applaud a little louder the parents who cheer for all kids, not just their own. I hold in highest esteem those who clap from the beginning of a race until the bitter end, which sometimes is 30 seconds or more after the heat winner has touched the wall. And only occasionally did I hear, "Go! Go! Go!" sound more like a command than encouragement, and I'm willing to write that off to the heat of the moment.
All of that is encouraging because in only a couple years as a parent-spectator and parent-coach, I've observed plenty of puzzling behavior. My favorite example comes from the 6-and-under basketball team I coached this past winter, where the opposing coach instructed his two tallest guys, a pair of 6-year-olds, to double-team at half court the player who was dribbling the ball up for my team. The ball-handler in question had turned 4 just the week before and reached 2 and 1/2 feet tall only when her hair was sticking up.
At the risk of making Vince Lombardi turn over in his grave, Bob Knight cuss, and a significant percentage of the population exclaim, "There! That's exactly what's making this country soft," I suggest turning off the scoreboards until the players are 10. In swimming, emphasize to the youngsters that they're competing against themselves and the clock, not each other. We've got ourselves a world where children are forced to grow up too quickly as it is. Why not make the playing fields and pools places where kids can stay kids a little while longer--at least until they hit double digits, for crying out loud. (To sidestep a charge of being holier than thou and to show that my competitive juices haven't run completely dry, I will confess that my first thought after the double-teaming incident was to challenge the other coach to a game of full-court one-on-one. I successfully fought the urge.)
My favorite moment of the swim season--other than every single time my son, flush with the spirit of accomplishment, touched the wall--occurred in a girls' 15-18 backstroke race.
After making the last turn, a young lady was sixth in a six-swimmer heat. As a teammate stood at the end of the lane and cheered her on, the girl looked at him and unleashed a gigantic smile, as wonderfully pure a sports moment as you're likely to see. It hit me that perhaps "Smile!" should be the recommended cheer.