Monday, November 17, 2008

Swim Parents: A Field Guide

Just as there are different types of coaches and different types of swimmers, there are also different types of swim parents. And though you sometimes hear the expression "the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree" in the sports world to describe athletes and their parents, it has been my experience that, more often than not, apples do not fall from apple trees.

Oranges do. Kumquats even. Sometimes large inanimate objects that couldn’t get into the pool on time for warmups if their lives depended on it. And usually those are the ones who were birthed by a PTA president who runs her own Pilates studio and her husband, the guy who bikes 68 miles and then surgically repairs seven leaky mitral valves every day before lunch.

But even if there is no predictable correlation between athlete type and parent type, the fact remains that there are different parent types. So in no particular order of importance – and this list is by no means comprehensive – I give you:

1) The Aerobic Spectator: Have you ever found yourself watching a parent in the stands at a meet (and occasionally at a practice) and thought, "Wow, I wonder his (or her) heart rate is up to right now!" By the time this parent’s kid has finished a race, the parent is bathed in a fine sheen of sweat and panting like a St. Bernard on a summer day. All without taking a single step. For this parent, spectating IS the sport. And really, in today’s time-pressed, multi-tasking world, who are we to judge those who find a way to combine parenting and exercising?

2) The Linear Thinkers: The dead giveaway here is the electronic device used to record their athlete’s lap splits, race times, workout details and USS registration number. Where it gets a little freaky is if the laptop, Blackberry or other electronic device is being used to record other athletes’ splits, times, birth dates, heights, addresses and SAT scores. The former type of Linear Thinker can be cultivated to make a great meet director. The latter type is going to need a restraining order someday.

3) The Clueless Wonders: OK, this type is probably my favorite if only because it’s so much fun to sit next to at a meet. Basically, these are the parents whose recessive genes combined to create a freak that excels in a sport neither parent ever did. Their kid will decimate a meet record and they’ll turn to each other and say, "That was good, right?" And then they’ll ask you what the name of that stroke was again that their kid just did. They constantly confuse yards for meters. They fret about what all this swimming is doing to their kid’s cello technique. They always make dinner reservations for before a meet has ended. Ultimately, though, you can’t help but love parents like these because for them it’s all fresh and new, and that helps keep it fresh and new for me.

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