Sunday, October 25, 2009

Getting In: The Regression Analysis

For a coach, there is nothing more annoying than waiting for your athletes to get in the water.  Most coaches can guesstimate pretty accurately how long it will take each athlete to get in.  I think we can do better than guesstimation.  I think we should run a regression analysis on this one.

When I was in grad school, I took a course on quantitative analysis which introduced me to the concept of regression analysis and it was love at first sample collection.  Basically, it’s a tool of statistics which uses a mathematical equation to figure out how much influence various factors (independent variables) have on a particular outcome (the dependent variable).  You can use it to figure out things like what demographic factors (age, gender, even eye color) best predict someone’s buying behavior.  You collect as many samples as possible that measure the factors and outcomes, then plug the sample data into the regression equation and “run” the equation.  The results tell you how significant each factor is to the outcome.

I took to using regression analyses for more useful things like predicting when a certain classmate was going to wear too much perfume (Thursdays, cloudy weather).  I really impressed my classmates, though, when I used a regression analysis to break up with a boyfriend. 

I told him I could build a regression analysis that would predict the next time he’d behave like a total farking icehole.  Just the threat of running a regression was enough to finish off the relationship (which was the intended outcome), but a rough run of the numbers did find that proximity to an exam period had the best p-value (i.e., it was the most statistically significant factor).

Life with Mr. Coach has not yielded as many opportunities for constructing regression analyses, mostly because he’s something of an open book when it comes to his behavior.  That’s nice for the health of our marriage, but a little boring for my Inner Statistician. 

However, over the last year I’ve realized I have a prime opportunity to create a regression analysis with “getting in the water” behavior.

We have access to a wide range of swimmers in our life -- college, high-school, masters, age-group -- and they come loaded with juicy demographic information like gender, age, time zone of birthplace, birth order, are they more of a linear thinker (math/science/business) or an abstract thinker (arts/humanities), are they romantically involved with anyone also in the vicinity of the pool, what events/distances do they swim, what’s their grade point average. 

The idea is to see which factors have the strongest link to the amount of time it takes for a swimmer to get in the water (as measured from the moment at which the swimmer appears within eye sight of a coach already on the pool deck). 

Based on experiential evidence (because I have been fine-tuning this during the last year), I’m going to hypothesize that the factor profile on the swimmer who takes the least amount of time to get in the water is going to be either a 10-year-old female, oldest child IMer who gets straight As in school or else a 56-year-old male science professor who drives a fuel-efficient sub-compact. 

Paradoxically, I predict that the athlete who takes the longest to get in will be a 20-year-old male middle child/linear thinker/sprinter who has been romantically involved with two or more people also in the pool vicinity.

Let the sample gathering begin!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

How to Save a Pool

So you remember my cousin TJ, right? The one who flings cats into pools to see if they can swim?

Well, he asked me recently if I’d feel comfortable using my blog to publicize a fund-raising event he’s involved with to renovate and re-open a pool in his northern Colorado community. And I said, “Heck, yes! There are days I debate using this blog to sell my children if I thought I could get away with it.” So helping my cousin do something that’s both legal and would benefit his community is a no-brainer.

And, almost even better, is the fact that the way TJ and his Loveland Swim Club compadres are raising money is crazy. Not like a little crazy. Like a lot crazy. They aim to get 3,942 individuals to each swim one length of a 25-yard pool in relay fashion in 24 hours or less (that’s an average split of 21.92 seconds per leg of this erstwhile relay).

Why 3,942? Because in January, 3,941 South Africans did it, and thereby got themselves into the Guinness World Book of Records (TJ’s a little fuzzy on the yards/meters differential, but he says their short-course yards pool fits the criterion). Anyway, if the community of Loveland can get this record back, I think it would do a lot to erase the sting of that 2004 Olympic victory by the South African men’s 400 free relay.

That plus it would help raise money to renovate the Loveland High School pool which has been shut down since 2002 when some authoritative agency deemed it “unsafe” because of its age and condition.

The Loveland High School pool was built in 1965. I would love to walk this authoritative agency through Mr. Coach’s current facility which was built in 1954. This should be its last year because the walls are going up, even as I type, on the new natatorium.

But a few missing tiles, a sinking foundation and a roof that lets in more air (and rain) than the actual ventilation system are no reason -- at least in our town -- to shut down a 55-year-old pool before a new one is built. Heck, there’s this one faculty member’s wife here who was complaining recently that she won’t swim in the current pool because the environment there is “completely toxic.” All of us who use the facility on a regular basis were like, “…and your point would be?”

(Actually I should never complain about people who refuse to swim in the current pool. Less people = more lane space for me.)

But in Loveland, they would probably love (no pun intended) to have too many people in a lane if it means they’ve gotten this particular pool renovated and back up to code. So what can you do to help? Well, if you’re within shouting distance of Loveland, fire up the snowmobile and get yourself over there to swim your length on the weekend of Nov. 6-7 at Mountain View High School’s pool. Conversely, if you’re already snowed in for the winter, then consider making a donation to this worthy cause.

For all the information you will ever need about this event, you can visit Loveland’s Web site. Tell ‘em TJ’s most fabulous cousin sent you.

Incidentally, the photos here were taken in our current facility by Marisa Obuchowski, one of Mr. Coach’s student-athletes, for a photography class. Isn’t it amazing how beautiful crumbling concrete and rusting radiators can look at the right shutter speed?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

To Breathe or Not to Breathe

With Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin’s participation on the TV dance competition “Dancing with the Stars,” a certain touchy subject has reared its head in the Coach Family household. And that would be breathing.

Apparently Natalie has problems remembering to breathe when she dances because she has spent most of her life reaping the rewards that go with not breathing. That’s because in swimming, when the going gets tough, the tough stop breathing.

Now those who are familiar with my heroic attempts to become a better swimmer know that I initially went into this swimming thing thinking that with my background in running, two of my most transferrable assets would be my lungs and my legs. As it turns it out, my best asset has been my cheerful disposition.

To be fair, I have made my peace with the kicking thing. Despite the handicap presented by my tragically narrow feet, I do not suck at kicking. And Mr. Coach has been extremely prudent to credit my genes for our kids’ excellent kicking cadences (they got his gun-boat feet, though).

But the breathing. Oy. I’m better than I was when I started but I still can’t comfortably breathe on both sides (unless I’m swimming with my pull buoy, Rodrigo – what? You don’t name your pull buoy, too?). Anyway, it’s better but I still can’t do an underwater 25, let alone a 50.

But everywhere I look with swimming, it’s all about cutting off the oxygen supply. Parents of football players may worry about the effects that repeated blows to the head will have on their children. I worry about the lack of oxygen.

My son, Little Mr. Coach, has great affection for one particular drill that he and his age-group buddies do. They call it a “bat hang.” They hook their legs over the pool gutter then lean backwards into the water and hang there, upside down and holding their breath in increasing increments of time. Like bats, hanging from a rafter. Except this rafter hangs over water and the bats aren’t breathing.

I sometimes cover family-court cases for my newspaper. If a parent did something like that to a kid at home, you can be sure the judge would have that kid in foster care by sundown. But within the context of a swimming pool, it’s all good!

So the next time the judges hassle Natalie about not breathing, I almost wish I could drag them to a pool and make them do bat hangs. If they’re not going to give her a 10 on dance merit alone, then a bat hang or two might shake a sympathy 10 loose.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Coaching Girls vs. Boys, Round 3

Here is an anecdote which I think pretty much says it all about the sports-based differences between girls and boys. (You may recall this is a topic I have plumbed before, and those two blogs – here and here – are the ones that people return to most often on this site, according to my site traffic reports. Go figure.)

Anyway, the anecdote: Mr. Coach came home the other evening, proud to report that he had beat up good on the team that day. In fact he had beat up on them so good that afterwards, he said, he found one of the guys sitting in the shower eating an ear of corn.

Now a guy might read that and say, “Mmm, corn on the cob, that’s a good idea.”

Whereas a girl -- which is what I am -- would hear it and say, “People eat in the shower!?”

And a girl like me would be even more stunned to hear Mr. Coach reply, “Yeah. Guys eat in the shower all the time. What do girls do?”

To which I said, “Shower?”

And even that isn’t exactly true because -- and ladies, feel free to back me up on this -- a lot of women don’t shower in public after their athletic workouts. They will go home to their dorms, apartments or houses with that flesh-eating layer of chlorine or grime on their skin and shower up in private. And even if you do shower in public, there’s not a whole lot of social interaction that occurs. Women may be champs at multi-tasking, but in the shower, we tend to be very purpose-driven.

But apparently there’s a whole other branch of the food-service industry going on in men’s showers. Now I knew about chairs being dragged in, because I had heard about that years ago (again, never seen it happen in a women’s shower and probably never will), but I never realized the chairs are sometimes there to accommodate food consumption.

But corn on the cob? Now, to be fair, Mr. Coach said that was a first for him, too. Usually, he says, it’s things like apples, bananas and granola bars, but an ear of corn is a food choice he applauds (mostly because he really likes corn, too).

However I hear that and I’m thinking this wasn’t like a random “open the fridge and eat the first thing you see” food choice. This took planning. And transportation. And then storage for a few hours in -- what? A locker that hasn’t been disinfected since the Roosevelt administration. The first one.

So to sum things up here:

Girl + shower + corn on the cob = No. Just no.

Guy + shower + corn on the cob = Where can I get me some of that?