Yesterday, my wife and I spent the better half of six hours at our son's last swim meet of the season. It was a nine school affair and was the conference championship. Because all of these events require a fair number of parent volunteers, we chose to do the lane timing for one of the lanes during the meet. We'd done it once before so knew the ropes and wanted to help out. While this detracts a bit from our focusing exclusively on Ben during his races, it does put us in the thick of things. Like being on the field during the Super Bowl. Well, sorta like that. Kinda.
Anyway our time there made me cognizant of a number of things about this season, this sport and this event.
First and foremost I was incredibly impressed with the sportsmanship shown across the lanes by all of the swimmers. These guys get to the end of the race of their life, and the first thing most of them do is shake hands with their competitor in the other lane. So let me get this straight, you're racing to beat this guy and then you shake his hand and congratulate them? What a cool thing! I'm guessing this is a coached thing - that they emphasize sportsmanship - but it's my guess that much of it is caught by the guys watching other guys do it so that it becomes infectious.
It made me think back to Clay Matthews' classless move this past season when he offered to help a quarterback up and then at the last second pulled his hand away. The Claymaker dropped a couple notches for me after that one.
Now I know you can't compare the two sports, football and swimming, but my son has played both and what he has gained from his one year of swimming, in my estimation, has far exceeded his three years of middle school football. He has gained confidence, discipline and loves being part of this team. He feels like he's contributing and is pushing himself to new personal bests from meet to meet. It is a much better fit, one I'd wished I'd seen for myself when I was his age and was "too small for football" which I lived for.
When they weren't congratulating their opponents, they were supporting each other by cheering, palm slapping after races, and clapping when their team was announced on the podium. This happens in football too, but there's a whole lot of yelling and beating down going on on the sidelines too. Foul mouthed coaches getting in players faces does nothing to build up a player. But again, I realize they're different. One is a very violent game the other focuses on personal achievement to advance the whole.
I mentioned to my wife that it was funny when the four man relays were waiting around, we were in the middle of a lot of flapping, slapping, skin twitching, and teenage banter. There is one movement where the bicep slaps the lat that is a swimmer's favorite apparently. Not sure what it does, but it seems to be very necessary, among the other neck rolls, windmills, toe touches and everything else. It was a little like being in the locker room, closer than I wanted to be, actually.
It was also interesting watching the skill levels of the various strokes. To see the inefficient errors of the "flailer" versus the smooth strokes of the faster swimmers. I'm certain I'd fall amongst the flailers, and I have nothing but total appreciation for all levels. These young men are all doing something that I never did. Still can't.
In high school my freshman year I played football and ran track. Sophomore year I played soccer and had what I would call a decent high school sports experience. I think it is good for kids, but not all kids. I think what it has done for Ben is given him a new appreciation for being in shape. I am incredibly proud that he took this on as a Junior that had never swam at an organized level before. He stuck it out, finished strong and can't wait until next year.
And I was just as "into" it as I was when he was in football, soccer, and T-ball. They're part of what's made him into the young man he is. To his coaches present, past and future, I want to say thank you.