The weight of water

taking in a few laps after their Journey Through Hell (aka Swim Meet)
C-man & his buddy taking in laps after their Journey Through Hell (aka The Swim Meet)

This weekend’s swim meet induced a weighty case of sports anxiety in my eleven year-old.

I know. Swimming? Sports anxiety? What’s going on, Richie Incognito in the locker room?

Both boys have participated in rec league swim team for the last six summers – on advice from their swim instructor when I complained after multiple lessons that they still acted like it was their first time blowing bubbles under water.

Swim team ended the dog paddling. They went from barely staying afloat, to swimming half a dozen laps in the time I’d be mustering courage to exit the locker room in a swimsuit.

But, while swim practice was something they looked forward to, swim meets were another story. Swim meets are where joy goes to die.

Or in Colin’s words:

“It’s so noisy. I can’t find my coach. I don’t know which event I’m in. I’ll do something that gets me disqualified, but I won’t know what, and in between events I’ll wait and sit and wait when I’d rather be playing Minecraft.”

Swim meets aren’t picnics for spectators either. Swimmers warm up with their teams, hang out for HOURS waiting for their two or three four-minute events, then wait more HOURS for a parent to wrap up her mandatory volunteer shift.

During that time, there are incomprehensible loudspeaker announcements. Parents who neglect to buy a program before they sell out try desperately to comprehend these announcements to cue junior up for his proper event.

The bleachers are chaotic: wet kids crawling over piles of clothes and people reserving acres of space for members of their party. After our first season, I stopped inviting grandparents, sparing them the misery.

Every open space surrounding the pool is crowded. Any nearby field or a park, if the weather is good, is strewn with canopies. Kids navigate their way from family tent to team tent to pool and back carrying fists full of pretzels, bottles of Gatorade tucked under their arms.

There’s a scene in a movie about a family separated by a tsunami. The camera zooms in above a chaotic Red Cross tent city, evoking the anxiety and despair of a desperate search.

“That looks just like the City Invitational,” Colin said.

I was happy when Colin chose year-round swim team over football, soccer or baseball this fall. Never mind our garage full of equipment. We could outfit a whole team for some new competition: “Gladiator for Grade Schoolers.” In support of Colin’s quest to experience every sport known to man, we’ve put in hours as coaches, umpires, line judges, fundraisers and chauffeurs. Swim team would be a snap: get him to practices and events and run a stop-watch occasionally.

Then came the stream of emails and flyers and instructions I lost track of, and suddenly Colin was the kid from “One of Those Families,” who miss things like the Mandatory Spaghetti Feed and Silent Auction because mom doesn’t open her email.

We’ve left rec league for club sports – a whole new level of involvement. Clearly I need to step up my game.

And Colin is going to have to deal with chaotic meets. Learning to cope is part of maturing, and Colin’s reaction to crowds and noise will become a handicap if he doesn’t address it.

Still, the kid just wants to swim. I’m grateful he wants something other than sit for hours in front of a computer screen.

The morning of the meet, Colin was consumed by jitters. I promised no more competitions ever, if he wanted. He’d just practice with the team until someone noticed and made it an issue.

In the meantime, I’m hoping he becomes more involved – I promise to open my email so he doesn’t miss out. I’d like him to push himself occasionally to test his skills. I’d like him to retain his love of the sport.

After his events, Colin was his happy self again. He climbed the bleachers to me over spectators and gear. Disqualified from one race, placing 6th in another, he was glad to be done. I handed him his bag to go change. He paused.

“Can I go swim some more before we go?” he said.


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