Sunday, July 12, 2009

In Praise of 6 and Under

I used to think there was nothing better to watch in all of swimming than the 8-year-old & Under age group. But then our summer swim league added a 6 & Under age group, and suddenly Wednesday nights in July got a whole lot better.

“But, Mrs. Coach!” you say. “You’ve been to national meets and seen amazing feats of swimming. You’ve been to an Olympic Trials meet and seen world records happen. And just last night, you were parked in front of your laptop, watching the U.S. World Championship Trials, live and uninterrupted by commercials. Surely one of those meets was the best thing ever to watch in swimming!”

To which I say, “Have you ever seen a 6 & Under 25-yard backstroke?”

We’re talking two, sometimes three, minutes of dramatic intensity, the likes of which Shakespeare himself couldn’t match. There is always, and I do mean always, the quivering excitement of the start. There are legs and arms akimbo, bouncing off lane lines like protons and neutrons inside a nuclear reactor. There are near-drownings (when was the last time you saw that at an Olympic Trials)? There is the agony of victory when somebody finishes the race with their noggin, and there is the thrill of defeat because last place always gets a rousing and heartfelt ovation from the crowd.

There is not a single kid out there who is not giving it his or her all -- an “all,” I might add, that is accomplished without the assistance of buoyancy-aiding, high-tech suits, although occasionally some of the boys finish without their suits if they didn’t tie the drawstrings tight enough.

And there is not a single kid out there who is going to take that race home with them to fuss and fume and obsess about, because most of them have the attention spans of gnats at this age. They’re only in it for the chili dogs and Cherry Slushies.

None of them are going to flunk a drug test because they bought a “bad batch” of Flintstones Chewables. None of them are academically ineligible to compete because some of them haven’t even started school yet. And the only way any of them will end up in an embarrassing YouTube video is if their parents put it there to show the relatives out in Oregon.

So you can have your world-record swims in perfect pool conditions. You can take your collegiate Division I prospects and give them all ice bags for their blown-out shoulders. You can have your Olympic Hopeful 12-year-olds. The only races I will drop everything to watch this summer are the 6 & Unders: They’re everything that’s great about this sport.


  1. "When was last time you saw that at Olympic Trials?"

    I never witnessed that at the Trials but at the Italian Championships last winter actually.

    Olympic champion Federica Pellegrini indeed went through an epic breathing scare during her 800 free race. While all cameras were on her, she suddenly came to a halt, staggered her way out of the pool and fell on the deck choking.

    It was definitely a moment of dramatic intensity. But contrary to the experiences you're depicting here, epilogue to this near-Shakesperian episode wasn't exactly written for an under age audience. Federica didn't jump into her parent's arms for cuddling after her accident but had to go to blood testing for doping was suspected... :/

    P.S. Love your postings, Mrs. Coach. They are very enjoyable to read! :)

  2. i think this is my favorite one you've ever written (:

  3. Thank you so much! Weather permitting, we've got our last dual meet tonight. :-( Fingers crossed that the thunder-boomers stay away!


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