Monday, October 20, 2008

When Dad's a Coach

People sometimes ask me how my children are affected by having a swim coach for a parent.

Well, for starters, I say, they don’t know any better so let’s not get them thinking they’ve been affected, OK?

Don’t all children have a revolving cast of 27 babysitters, each of whom is a Red Cross-certified lifeguard?

Don’t all children go to their first fraternity party at the age of six months and get used as "chick magnets"?

Don’t all children become the subject of semester-long Abnormal Psychology studies or have big toys called Vasa Trainers?

And don’t all children have more pictures of themselves with college swimmers than with their grandparents in the family photo album?

Of course not, but my children don’t need to know that.

The one effect most people assume is that my children started swimming early and often. Not a chance. First of all, neither Mr. Coach nor I had the cojones to drop our infants into the pool the way you see all those hard-core swimming parents doing. For one thing, that’s just...scary. For another thing, have you ever tried to coach an infant? You think freshmen are bad, try getting an 8-month-old to breathe on both sides.

No, the Coach Offspring started swimming when they were good and ready. Little Miss Coach started swimming when she was 5 and accompanied her father to a weekend-long outdoor meet with a kiddie pool on the side. By the end of the weekend, she had decided she wanted to swim, so she did. Little Mr. Coach started when he was 4 and wanted to keep up with his big sister. He spent a lot more time on the bottom of the pool than he did above water (still does), but he was having fun and getting air when he needed it, so it was all good.

Both children, however, started spending time on the pool deck long before they swam. For one thing, it was a good way to see their father. That January-to-March time period is a critical juncture in any swim-coach family’s life (I like to call it the "Single Parenthood Season"), so if the children were going to remain on a first-name basis with their father, they had to go to him at the pool.

One benefit of this arrangement is that each child started speaking in sentences rather early. One of Little Miss Coach’s first sentences was "Stwee lie aah kikov duh wah" (translation: "Streamline and kick off the wall"). One of Little Mr. Coach’s was "Stay in there!" (no translation necessary).

And these early attempts at communication provided us with valuable clues about our children’s personalities. Little Miss Coach is the more constructively instructive type, whereas Little Mr. Coach is...not. He’s a little more tell-it-like-it-is and don’t-even-think-about-sugar-coating-it.

When he was five years old, we met a young woman who had been a bronze medal Olympic swimmer. On the ride home later, my daughter said to her brother, "A bronze medal in the Olympics! Do you know what that means?" Little Mr. Coach looked at his sister and said, "Yeah. It means she didn’t win."

Hopefully that’s one effect that can be undone.

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