Earlier this fall, Mr. Coach had to get the assistant coaches for the USS club that we manage certified. Part of the certification process is to pass a multiple-choice test with questions about a variety of "what if" situations that a coach might face. One of the questions he was telling me about involved what a coach would do if the air quality was really bad inside a natatorium. The point of his sharing was to say that the correct test answer was "stop the practice," while the real life answer was "open the doors and turn on the industrial fans."
But that begged a couple of questions from me.
"How would you know the air quality was bad enough?" I asked Mr. Coach. "Do you have some sort of instrument to measure air quality?"
"Oh no," he replied. "You just look at certain kids. Some of them start turning funny colors and other ones start reaching for their inhalers."
I was horrified.
"You mean they’re barometers then?" I asked.
"Well, yeah," he said. "We’ve also got a few whose shoulders can tell you when the weather’s about to change. Remember Erin from the college team? Her shoulders could tell us exactly 24 hours in advance when rain was coming."
"What about water quality, like when there’s too much chlorine?" I asked. "Do you have barometer kids for that or do you just wait for the swim suits to disintegrate?"
"Oh no," Mr. Coach said. "Anybody can tell that when their teeth start to buzz."
I suppose that being able to read barometers is one of the perks of experience in the swimming world. And if you want to get serious about this, there are plenty of other barometers to be found around a pool.
Eyeliner, for example. When a young teen starts showing up for practice looking like she took a black Sharpie marker to her inner rims, you know you’re in for a long bout of stormy weather. But there’s no telling whether she’ll emerge a cheerleader, a Goth or a sprinter.
Clean chins and scuffed-up bellies are another sign to look for. A few years ago, a bunch of the 8 & Under boys discovered that a wet tile pool deck is just like a Slip ‘n Slide. They would launch themselves head-first, belly-down and go whizzing by, like a parade of penguins, until they hit a dry patch and came to a belly-scraping halt. Some of them could do it without scraping their chins. What does this tell a coach? Easy – who’s swimming fly on the medley relay.