We have now hit the time of year best characterized by the phrase "mens insana in corpore sano." (For those of you keeping score in English, that’s Latin for "an unsound mind in a sound body.")
You see there is nothing that is more of a momentum stopper in a college swim season than final exams. In fact, I suspect that most college coaches would rather face an entire team with microscopic flu germs spewing out every orifice than even one pre-med major with AN ANATOMY FINAL ON TUESDAY, AN ORGANIC CHEM FINAL ON WEDNESDAY AND, OH MY GAWD, A 15-PAGE PAPER ON ECONOMIC TURMOIL IN CENTRAL EUROPE DURING THE GORBACHEV ERA DUE ON FRIDAY MORNING. You can send a sick kid home to bed. The only thing you can do with an hysterical Academic All-American is shoot him.
Keeping kids swimming through finals is as much an art as a science, not unlike a taper. To do this, Mr. Coach employs a variety of tools. One is the Ziploc workout. He actually got the idea for this from a high-school swimmer he once coached: She used to occasionally show up for workouts with a gallon-size Ziploc baggie and a sheaf of notes she needed to study. The notes went in the Ziploc and, during kick sets, she studied. (No small surprise, she ended up going to – and swimming for – the Air Force Academy and is now working for a branch of the government which, if we identified it or her, we’d have to send you a virus to kill your computer.) Nowadays, Mr. Coach will occasionally throw a Ziploc workout at his swimmers, just to calm their study-hungry nerves.
Seeing as how it’s also the holiday time of the year in December, Mr. Coach also will attempt to distract his athletes with holiday-themed workouts. You’ve got your "12 Lanes of Christmas Kicking," your "8 Rounds of Hanukkah Drills," your "7 Sets of Kwanzaa Descends," or the "Eid al-Fitr Mile for Time" (when Ramadan falls in December). He also plugs in a few strings of festive lights and decorates a battered, 3-foot-tall, fake-pine tree with abandoned and broken goggles.
But, for the most part, final-exam time is just maintenance time. Time to maintain swimming, maintain good health, maintain academic eligibility and, most importantly, maintain that tenuous grip on sanity. So Mr. Coach keeps them in shape – both physically and mentally – by simply keeping them in the water.
And, when all else fails, he just hands out candy canes.