Parents sometimes ask me what Mr. Coach looks for when he recruits a potential collegiate athlete. Talk about your loaded questions. But sometimes, depending on how manic the gleam is in those parents’ eyes, I will actually tell them.
1. The Ability to Fly Solo: I can still remember the day when Mr. Coach came home so excited about a visiting recruit he couldn’t stop grinning. "Are her times that good?" I asked him. "They’re very good," he replied, "but even better – she came alone." "What do you mean she came alone?" I asked him, knowing the girl was from the other side of the time zone. "I mean, she got on a plane by herself, she got here to campus by herself and she is visiting by herself," he cackled with glee. "Is she an orphan?" I said. "No," he shook his head, "she’s just mature."
And therein lies the glamorous allure of that particular recruit (who did indeed come to swim for Mr. Coach, did very well in school and sports, was a phenomenal babysitter and has kept in touch all these years and is probably reading this right now, knowing that I’m talking about her. Hi, Em!). She was mature enough to make a decision like this for herself. And her parents knew that.
Now, granted, you can’t blame parents for coming along on most recruit visits. Safety alone often makes that necessary. Plus if the parents know they’ll be paying for any portion of their child’s college education, they have every right to check out the money pit into which they’ll be shoveling the Benjamins.
But when Fauntleroy shows up with Mommy and Daddy, and then Mommy and Daddy do all the talking while Fauntleroy sits quietly in the corner, Mr. Coach knows exactly where Fauntleroy’s going to be during his first weekend at Money Pit U if he comes there. He’s going to be in the emergency room getting his stomach pumped because Fauntleroy’s first taste of freedom is going to come in a six-pack. Possibly two or three of them. So parents, either raise your kids to travel alone or let them do the talking when you visit.
2. A Big Oxygen Intake Unit: The big hands-and-feet thing is a given in the swimming world. Those are the paddles and fins. But, from years of careful observation, Mr. Coach has added another body part to his list of desirable traits in recruits: Big noses. Whether the larger-than-average size comes from length or width or distance off the face doesn’t matter. Most excellent athletes, no matter what the sport, seem to have larger-than-average honkers. (If you don’t believe me, just go look at the athlete photos on the NBC Olympics Web site.) So, moral to the recruiting story here – don’t get a nose job.
3. A Sense of Humor: Most swim coaches have a sense of humor (or think they do). So it helps if the athletes have a sense of humor, too, because they’re going to be captive to their coach’s dumb jokes if they come to swim for him or her. When recruiting, Mr. Coach may throw a line out from a Monty Python or Mel Brooks movie, just to see if the recruits respond. If they do, then that’s golden. If they don’t respond but their parents do, then there’s hope. So brush up on your classic comedy films. It can only improve the overall quality of your life.