By: Stina Oakes
It’s the first morning practice of the season. School officially ended yesterday. Last weekend the team won their first meet. There’s a relaxed, almost euphoric feel this morning. MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” sets the pace for the morning as it plays over the loudspeaker. Older swimmers are milling around the deck, their practice already over. A few play ping pong, others are in the water helping the younger kids. One coach yells, “50 Free: drill, swim. Ready? Go!” Another calls, “B meet tomorrow! Who’s signing up?”
In the lanes with faster and more experienced swimmers, the kids are already focused and working hard. Breaststrokers’ heads bob up and down, backstrokers’ arms shoot out the water, and freestylers’ legs churn a stream of white water behind them.
- Lane One
The song changes to Rihanna’s “Umbrella.” A swimmer-coach sings “umbrella-a-a” as she treads down the lane, helping an eight-year-old learn butterfly. She supports the swimmer’s belly while the girl works to get her arms to clear the water in the fly stroke. Behind the pair are three older swimmers “helping” other swimmers; they occasionally reach out to remind a swimmer how to position their arms, but are really there for moral support than anything else.
Alongside the pool, two other swimmer-coaches dance towards each other as they head to opposite ends of the pool to give the kids in their lanes their next set. The swimmer-coach in the water yells out, “I hope you’re having as much fun as I am!”
- Lane Two
“Go! Go! Go! Kick! You can beat them!” Two younger swimmers are swimming down the lane, followed by two fourteen-year-old helpers. The little ones are swimming hard, racing the older ones. The two older girls, swimming Tarzan-style with their heads out the water, smile. They’ve given the younger ones a five-second lead. “Come on! Come on! You can do it!” their coach calls out. They reach the end of the lane, the two younger ones ahead of the older ones. “You did it! Nice work! Now, let’s swim back to the other side again. Practice your kicks. Ready? Go!”
This time, the older swimmers start down the lane, each with a younger swimmer holding onto their ankles, creating a long, two-person swimmer: the older ones use their arms to stroke, the younger ones kick.
- Lane Three
Two swimmers crowd around the head coach, chatting with her. “No! I’m taller than he is. By like four inches. See!” The boys hop out of the pool to stand on deck to show the height difference. “But isn’t he younger than you?” she asks. “Yeah, I’m a year younger than you are. When I’m your age I might be taller than you!” the younger one says. “Your sisters are tall, though, right?” the coach says, pointing at the two girls working with the younger ones a few lanes over. “Mine is taller, so I’ll probably be taller, too.”
“Alright,” the coach says, smiling, “Get back in the water and swim. Do a 50 fly drill: one arm for three, then the other. Ready? Go!”
- Lane Four
In lane three a fourteen-year-old comically pantomimes how to do a breaststroke kick. The nine-year-old next to her watches in awe. “Okay, you try it now,” the older girl says. The younger one
holds on to the side of the pool and attempts to kick. The older girl gets behind her and grabs
her legs, moving them in the frog kick pattern. After a few kicks, she lets go. The younger one
stands up. “I did it!” she says. She grins and turns around to swim down the lane. Her kick certainly isn’t legal yet, but it’s going in the right direction. The older girl follows her down the lane. When they both get to the other side, the older swimmer gives the younger one a high-five.
- The Well
It’s the last few minutes of practice and the younger swimmers line up behind the diving board, the older ones line up on the side. They’re playing “Animal Sounds”: you go to the end of the board, someone calls out an animal as you jump, and you have to make the noise that animal makes. If you make the right sound before you hit the water, you’re still in and get to have another turn. If you don’t, you’re out. As the swimmers play, the coaches take out the lane ropes, getting the pool ready to open for the day.
“Alligator!” “Quack?” The kids all erupt into laughing and cheering. The line behind the board shortens. The game rapidly falls apart as older kids start to push in the younger ones, then each other. Pretty soon there are more kids in the well than out of it. Practice is over but it’s clear they don’t want to get out of the water just yet; they’re having too much fun. After all, it’s summer at Daleview.