Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Swimming Upstream

Can someone please tell me what is so difficult to understand about “kick from your hips, not your knees?”

Pivot your legs from your hips. Don’t bend your knees. Well, bend your knees a little, but just a little and only on the down stroke. Keep them straight coming up. And you’ve got to keep your toes pointed. Point them straight back away from you, not down toward the bottom of the pool.

What is hard about that?

Apparently, a lot, because my boys cannot seem to figure it out.

A few nights ago was my oldest boy’s very first swim practice. I think we paid just under $47,000 to have him and his younger brother, Number Two, join the youth swim club for the two-month “Fall Program” this year. If we want them to keep swimming after October, we can make that happen for another $300,000 or so.

I was a swimmer and a water polo player in my youth, and I have visions of all three of my boys excelling in the pool and becoming Olympic water polo players. I was not tall enough -- or anywhere close to good enough, for that matter – to be Olympic-caliber. They just need to practice a lot, and beat the odds and end up over 6’-4” tall. I plan to feed them a lot and hang them by their ankles whenever possible.

So, given my dreams for their aquatic success, I was very excited about Son Number One’s first practice. I was so excited that I didn’t even bother to question where the practice might be taking place, and drove him to the wrong pool complex. Once I realized my mistake, I drove across town at 96 miles per hour, hoping to still make it on time and preserve our first impression with his coach. Instead of that, I was the parent that brought his kid to the first practice seven minutes late. Great.

OK, we’ll try to move past that, and just wow him with your superior swimming skills. No problem.

The first few swim practices of the year involve a lot of kick boards. There were a lot of kids in the pool, but since they are still small at six and seven years old, they had them three to a lane. (After getting a rough count of the number of kids and doing some quick math based on registration fees, I estimated that it must cost about three trillion dollars to run a kids swim program. That seems like a lot.)

Off they went across the pool, holding their kick boards out in front of them and churning up the water behind them with their little legs kicking like mad. All of them except my son. He quickly fell behind the group. There was no churning of water going on behind him. An occasional foot could be seen rising above the water near his butt, but that was about it. I could see his legs under water moving like mad, but he didn’t seem to be making any progress. At one point, I’m positive that he actually went backward for a little while.

To give you a good idea of how slow he was compared to every other kid in the pool, here is an example. At one point the coach was sending the kids in each lane one at a time down the pool, spaced out at reasonable time intervals to avoid having them too close together on their way down the pool. Son Number One was the first to be sent in his group of three. The second kid to be sent passed my son almost immediately, and when the third kid in the group had traversed the entire length of the pool and made it to the opposite wall, Son Number One was just approaching the middle of the pool. He had gone an astonishing five feet in the time it took the third kid to go 25 yards.

The coach was working with him as much as possible. “Kick with your whole leg, not your knees. Keep your legs straight and move them from your hips. Point your toes.” The coach didn’t have a lot of time for one-on-one instruction, though, since he was in charge of 65 other kids, presumably to justify his estimated 45 million dollar annual salary.

The practices are only a half-hour long, so it seemed to be over almost before it had really started.  OK, buddy, we’ll come back tomorrow night and work on kicking some more.

The next night, Son Number Two got to come to swim practice also. He had missed the first one due to a conflicting soccer practice. Don’t even get me started on that. Anyway, into the pool they went. They are a year and a half apart in age, but they ended up in the same group, which was slightly surprising based on what happened the week before at try-outs. They both did pretty well, but when Son Number Two was asked to show the coach his backstroke, I’m fairly sure it was the first time he had even heard the term, let alone attempted the stroke. He resembled someone who had been lying on their back in the grass, and suddenly realized that they were covered from head to toe with ants. It was not pretty.

Off they went across the pool, kick boards in front, little legs working like mad behind them. There goes the group, across the pool, and there are both my boys, still five feet from the starting wall, kicking like crazy and not going anywhere at all. It seems Son Number Two was born with the same inherent kicking deficiency as Number One, exclusive apparently, only to our family.

“Kick with your whole leg, not just your knees. Point your toes.”

Hmm… I’d better start working with Son Number Three right now.

Maybe they’ll do better when it comes time to start using their arms and breathing to the side. Or, maybe there will be some openings in the Olympic water polo team’s equipment management department.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 Marc Schmatjen

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  1. this was such a great visual! funny. dang funny!

  2. Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading!

  3. Love the visual! Our kids are swimming in Davis, one is fast and the other is slow, I can completely relate

  4. I'm sure one day it will all just click, but it is painful to watch the slow kid! Especially when they are yours. Thanks for reading! Glad you liked it.