Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Schnipke Effect

That’s not what Mr. Coach really calls it. What we’re going to call "The Schnipke Effect" here, in real life goes by the last name of the real swimmer who prompted its naming. (Schnipke is really a last name on a mailbox that I’ve run past many a time, and every time I run past it, I chuckle to myself and say "Schnipke." It’s just a fun name to say.)

Anyway, the Schnipke Effect was discovered back at the start of Mr. Coach’s collegiate head-coaching career. That first year he had a guy show up at the start of the season who had been a lacrosse player but, for his senior year, decided he wanted to "try swimming." Seeing as how he was about 6'3" and had the wingspan of a pterodactyl, Mr. Coach said, "Sure, let’s see what you got." A few laps later, he asked the guy – let’s just call him Sam Schnipke – if he ever swam much before. Sam said, "Not a lot, but my grandmother was a national champion in the backstroke." (He wasn’t kidding either. She really was.)

As it turned out, Sam was very fast, too – when he was actually in the water and moving in a forward direction. It was all the little stuff that kept Mr. Coach up nights.

For example, Sam’s starts. Let’s just say there are five-year-olds who get more distance off the blocks than he did.

Then there were Sam’s turns. I dubbed each one "a turn in five parts": It was like looking at a cartoon drawing of a flip turn, panel by panel.

And then there were Sam’s finishes. How he escaped traumatic brain injury because of his inability to judge where the wall was remains a mystery.

And yet, in between the starts, turns and finishes, Sam was fast. Insanely, blindingly fast. He narrowly missed qualifying for the NCAAs in the 100 free his one and only year of collegiate swimming. But he did get to go to The Show on a couple of relays.

Most of Sam’s success, Mr. Coach realized, was because he just didn’t know any better. See, that’s the fun thing about freshmen or first-year swimmers. Because they don’t know any better, you can often get more out of them than you can out of the hyper-experienced, hyper-analytical athletes who will hyper-think themselves into muscle lock. Sam didn’t know that a six-second drop in the 100 free was huge. He just knew that if his coach told him he could do it, then he could do it. And he did.

So ever since that one year of Sam Schnipke, Mr. Coach has waited and watched for the Schnipke Effect to happen again. Some years it happens and some years it doesn’t. But when it does, like when you get a freshman who drops 37 seconds off her lifetime best in the 500 free, Mr. Coach and I just look at each other, nod and say, "The Schnipke Effect."

1 comment:

  1. I love this column. I agree with the Schnipke effect, for when I go out runnng I always see "Boozer" and think, that's a dreadful and sometimes prescient name.
    Your devoted,


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