Sunday, December 20, 2009

Gone Fishin'

I’m going to take a little break for the holidays now.  And when I return on Jan. 10, I promise I’ll have new adventures in swim-coach spousing to share!

In the meantime, just to make life easier for you all, here are links to what I’ve found are my most popular blogs.  Most have made their way to this list because people obviously have a deep and abiding interest in water-based gender warfare.  (I also have well-visited blogs because some people also have a deep and abiding interest in using search engines to find Internet content about MILFs and “boys in showers.”  I have chosen not to spotlight those particular blogs.)

With a few others I’ve listed, it’s because they are also my personal favorites.  Whatever brings you to this site, thank you very, very much for reading.  I hope you all have a great holiday season wherever on this planet you are, and I’ll see you on the flip side of the New Year!

“Coaching Girls vs. Boys” – when this one first debuted on “another Web site” back in August 2008, it ignited accusations of sexism (I chose not to transport those comments when I set up this site in March 2009).  Obviously the accusers have neither coached nor parented both genders. 

“Coaching Girls vs. Boys, Round Two” – the evidence was piling up, so it was time to download some new observations.

“Coaching Girls vs. Boys, Round Three” – since this one ran in October, our hungry young man has added another entrĂ©e to his shower menu:  pomegranates.  You might think he’s just messing with us, but clearly you haven’t met Max.

“Are You There, God?  It’s Me in Last Place” – this is probably my personal favorite.  I live in a state that is arguably the buckle on the Bible Belt, and rarely a week goes by when I don’t thank God (or your Higher Power) for making Sister Caroline Mary a part of my education.

“Just Look at the Parents” – I wish I had transported the comments when this one first ran on “another Web site” because I heard from a swim club in Chicago that really had tried to recruit the oldest Obama child to compete for them after she aced their swim lessons.  It’s a small world after all.

“Spouse Coaching” and “Spouse Coaching, The Return of” – these two have been visited quite a bit but the visit that gave me that heart-swell of authorial pride was the one that came in on the Google search term “coaching a paranoid spouse.”  Likewise the visit (from Italy, no less) that came in on the search term “get your own damn dinner.”  When you see that your words have gotten stuck inside someone else’s head like a cockle burr sticks to a sock, then you know you’ve made your mark in this world.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Most coaches are going to tell you they love to work with intelligent athletes, but most athletes will tell you that the competitors they fear most would flunk a CAT scan in search of brain activity.  Why the seeming discrepancy?

Well, in the case of the coach, I think it comes down to a simple matter of communication.  Who would you rather spend a 22-hour bus ride to Florida with?  Egbert who brought the complete boxed set of “Arrested Development” with him and wants to analyze the influence of “Monty Python” on that TV show’s writing?  Or Dortmund who’s been reading the same comic book for the last 275 miles – upside down? 

Intelligent athletes are usually a dream to work with in practice situations.  Maybe they ask a lot of questions but as long as you can drum up a reasonable answer, they’ll buy in and work hard.  Toss in a research journal article with graphs to back up your answer, and they’ll work even harder.

But, as most coaches know, when it comes to competition, that’s where things get a little dicey.  Egbert might have a sky-high IQ which is useful in the classroom but does him no dang good in a race.  In races, it’s AIQ – Athletic Intelligence Quotient – that counts and a lot of very intelligent athletes don’t have a very high one.

In college, I’ll admit that I was an athlete with a solidly average AIQ.  But I knew enough to know that the competitors who had trouble blinking both eyes at the same time were the ones I should take most seriously.  And I studied them zealously, hoping to figure out what was different – besides the blinking thing.  I can’t say as that I ever did figure it out.  Some things you’re just born with – or without, as the case may be.

You see someone like Egbert – or me -- gets to the starting blocks.  His brain has been rifling through the 3,578,913 different scenarios he has calculated could unfold during the upcoming race.  He’s scanning his mental hard drive for his competitors’ previous best times.  There’s a penny on the bottom of lane 5 and it’s really, really bugging him.  He steps up to the blocks and the race is already over because, bottom line, Egbert’s brain doesn’t have an off switch.

Dortmund, on the other hand, steps up to the blocks.  He doesn’t have an off switch either, but that’s because he also doesn’t have an on switch.  Or at least no one’s ever found one.  Dortmund can’t spell the word “scenario,” let alone envision one.  And the only way he’d notice his competitors is if they walked up in high heels and blew him air kisses.  All you do with Dortmund is tell him to go as fast as he can and, chances are, he will.  Dortmund’s AIQ is through the roof. 

Thankfully Mr. Coach, like most coaches, has learned how to work with the full spectrum of AIQs.  You distract the Egberts with shiny mental objects (i.e., math equations) and you enjoy the Dortmunds for what they are. 

And if anyone ever figures out exactly what that is, please tell me.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Poppies in the Stands

Last week, for the first time in many years, I got to actually sit in the stands and watch an entire age-group meet.  I watched every heat of every race, jotted down times, chatted with a couple of mom friends, dealt with the Loudest Family on the Planet, suffered a mild case of heat prostration, and fought to get my heat sheet back from some free-loading loser who parked herself near me and asked to look at my program and then didn’t give it back until I demanded it back.  It was all wonderful.

See, for the last eight years, I’ve had to spend most of my time at these meets “in camp,” where the kids wait to get summoned for their races.  As I explained to one of my mom friends who wanted to know why it took me so long to get out of camp, it’s partially because I grew up near New York City.  I assume the worst of everyone when it comes to my children’s safety.  I also don’t have very high expectations of their ability to get to the bullpen or blocks by themselves.  We used to get rid of our daughter for hours inside the house by sending her off with instructions to bring back a (fill in the blank).  That didn’t work with our son.  Even if you gave him a list of 14 things to fetch, he would fetch them all in about five minutes flat.  But Little Mr. Coach would and has consciously chosen a Pokemon-card trading battle over an A-final.  So in camp I stayed.

But now our youngest child has arrived at the 11-12 age group and he is showing signs of, well, some would say maturity, but I would say it’s just a Machiavellian feel for what he’s got to do if he’s going to get what he wants (either more games for his Nintendo DS or a later bed time).  So at his first indoor meet this year, I decided I was ready to sit in the stands. 

And I have to give myself props for how it went.  I have come a long way in my ability to tolerate loud swim-parent behavior.  It’s been an issue because I’m not a screamer.  I find that if I yell during my kids’ races it short-circuits something between my eyeballs and my brain, and I end up not really seeing or remembering their races.  So, you say, just videotape them.  Not really a videotaper either.  So I watch pretty quietly and that way I can absorb what I’m seeing.  And I’m not alone in this regard, though I have to cross the Equator to find other parents like me.

A few years ago, when we lived in Australia during one of Mr. Coach’s sabbaticals, our kids swam for a club there.  I’ll never forget the meet where I was sitting on the edge of the pool as my daughter swam by in the backstroke.  Because I was right there and she could see me, I figured I better say something so I leaned over and, at a volume that would be considered conversational at an American age-group swim meet, I said, “Go, honey!” 

About a dozen Australian parent heads slowly turned as one to look at me.  Then they all slowly swiveled back to reaffix their gazes on the pool. 

“What did I do?” I whispered to one of my new Australian friends.

“You cheered for your own child,” she whispered back.

“OK?” I said.

“You don’t do that,” she replied. “TPS.”

There are many things I love about the Australian nation -- their desserts and dairy products probably foremost -- but their swim parents rank way high up there, too.  TPS, as I found out, is what they call “Tall Poppy Syndrome.”  Tall poppies are “made to be cut down.”  In other words, you and your swollen pride are just asking for trouble if you publicly express a desire to see your child do well at something.  You can – and should – cheer for other people’s children, but you don’t cheer out loud for your own.

Call it superstition, call it unrealistic, call it a bit too much humility, but I think it’s a great concept.  And you can’t criticize a nation of swim parents who, when their children make the Australian Olympic team, don t-shirts with the acronym POOS printed on them (which stands for Parents Of Our Swimmers).

So, ever since I got back from Australia, I haven’t felt bad about being a non-screamer.  And this time, my first time back in the stands for an entire meet, I sat there, cheered a little bit at a conversational volume for my son, and I didn’t get riled up about other people screaming.  It felt good to be a short poppy.