Three minutes from the end of practice, one of my wee ones was a searching for a lost nose clip. Two girls posed, waiting for their cue and for the water to clear of the child. The clock stampeded towards 11am. We lose the lanes at 11.
She surfaced, goggled and gap-toothed smiling “I found it!” holding it triumphantly aloft.
“Up up up… places!” I helped her out of the water and hurried her out of the way of as she clambered onto the deck, nose-clip gripped in her “fin”. The water was clear.
“WHISTLE!” The girls struck their opening pose, I hit play and music pumped into the water and air. Two synchronized swimmers dove in.
People had been collecting poolside. Some clapped and talked to their friends in the hot tub smiling in admiration. I frequently get questions or comments from the regulars as to how well the girls have pulled together… Some tell stories of how they did synchro when they were younger or talk of Esther Williams. Some stroll by with interest as they carry their kick boards to the crowded open lane.
Some pace, complaining loudly to the lifeguards who inform them that the team is allowed until 11am, to use three lanes.
A few days ago, one older man watched the clock like a vulture. Perhaps I should have been watching the clock instead of the children so closely. It was now officially a minute or two past 11. He got into the water and stroked angrily forward as the girls levitated above the water in ways that leave most people agog at what the human body is capable of. This man wanted to swim. Now. The girls piked simultaneously and pointed their toes into splits pointed directly at the one I will call Angry Man although I really want to call him another A word.
The rest of this happened in slow motion.
The girls were following the direction of a flawed coach who told them to swim a one and a half minute routine just one more time before hitting the showers. By now their splits had the girls upside down with their backs to Angry Man. They could not see him.
He could see them, though. He was wearing goggles. He kept swimming toward them. I thought He knows they are there… he saw them before he started. He’s doing freestyle. He can see them, maybe he’ll go around them…. He wouldn’t dare…
But he would. He did. It was too late for me to yell a warning to them, and they wouldn’t have heard if I had because they were under water with their ears full of music. He plowed into them. It was deliberate.
One of the girls surfaced and stopped, startled. Angry Man continued as if nothing had happened. She collected herself and they finished the last thirty seconds of their duet managing to dodge the man, and met me on deck a minute later for notes. Her eyes were wide, and she was holding her arm protectively.
“Are you ok?” was the first thing I asked her.
She was quiet. Then she looked to the lane shyly. “That man, he grabbed me and shoved me.” She clawed her hand in imitation of the move he had used on her. It was ugly. I hadn’t seen what had happened under the water, just the collision above. I looked at her arm and saw red skin.
Then I saw red.
Seething, and wanting to confront the man, I restrained myself for the moment and did what I felt right. I went to the aquatics director. She was in the middle of a private lesson in the warm water pool. I told her what had happened and pointed him out. She groaned. Apparently Angry Man is a regular at the pool, and has been disruptive and difficult in the past. She checked the swimmer, and she was fine, but shaken. No permanent damage, no broken skin, but what happened has happened before. It happened again yesterday in a shocking way from a staff member, and is likely to happen again. This is a phenomenon that I have witnessed in pools across the country.
The lifeguards get the bulk of the complaining. I understand that they are getting an earful of venom from members spouting about how they pay for a membership to swim, and they shouldn’t have to share a lane with other swimmers. But our young swimmers are members too, as are their parents. Not only that, they pay extra to be a part of the synchro program. They are not only current members but they are the next generation and are likely to be members for decades perhaps. So the argument of Angry Man and his ilk doesn’t… pardon the pun… hold water.
I wasn’t an eye witness to the incident with the frustrated lifeguard dragging the lane line on top of another of my girls, clocking her on the head. I was furious to hear of it from the mothers who did. Our lifeguards are supposed to be protecting all of the people in the pool… Yes… even the young ones. Cranky though they may be at the vitriolic spewings of entitled members, they shouldn’t be taking it upon themselves to physically punish the synchro swimmers for the mistakes of their coach.
That mans rage, and that lifeguards frustration should have been aimed at me. I’m a big girl. I’m the coach and I’m the one responsible. I can take it. My practices sometimes run long. I’m passionate about what I do and so are the girls and sometimes in the moment, I lose track of time, or try to squeeze just one more drop out of it. I need to end practices with more punctuality, no matter how much the girls or I want one more run of a routine, even if the meet is this weekend. Angry Man or Frustrated Lifeguard can come talk to or even yell at me. They can go to the aquatics director or managers and complain as much as they like. They could even get me fired. I would rather lose my job than see even one of my girls get hurt, let alone two in two weeks.
This problem needs to be addressed. We are part of an athletic club and our pool is also the home of water aerobics, swim teams, classes and private lessons that take space. If anyone gets mad at the water aerobics classes, I’ve not heard of it. I don’t hear of members infuriated because there is a yoga class going on in Studio B and isn’t available for private use. If a personal trainer is working with a client on a piece of equipment, do the other members physically assault them for taking too long?
I’m not sure what was going on in the head of Angry Man, or any of the multitudinous angry people that I have seen behave this way. I have occasionally seen it as I taught regular swim lessons with happily kicking and splashing children and we have been yelled at by angry members in the water who don’t want to get wet. (I know. Hairdo or no… if you don’t want to get wet, don’t get in the water.) These are the type of people I imagine going to a dog park wearing expensive white pants and getting pissed when a friendly dog gets them dirty. They look for and create excuses to vent. To lash out. Sad.
I go into practices trying to be as respectful of everyones work out as I can, and still serve my team. Synchro usually requires four or five lanes, however we are frequently squished into just one. Oddly, I have had angry swimmers look at a four lane pool with one or two regular lap swimmers in each lane, and then deliberately choose to get into the one lane with three synchro girls dancing in it to prove… what exactly…? What is it that makes someone attempt to destroy the practice of hard working people obviously training for a competition or show, who are already cramped? Why not choose the lane with the one or two normal lap swimmers going back and forth? It has happened to me in masters practices as well. What makes someone opt for the lane with a group going upside down and spinning when they themselves want to go back and forth like the other traditional swimmers sharing only a lane or two away? Anyone? Anyone?
I understand that the water is a safe haven for a lot of people… maybe they’ve had a bad day, or a disappointing life and they just want to get in to do laps and zone out. I so get that. Maybe they’ve been told they need to swim for therapy and this is the only time they can come. Finding a pool full of children dancing to music pumping under the water, can be disappointing. I get that, too. It’s why public pools have “Adult Swim” and “Family Time”.
But being frustrated and disappointed does not justify assault or battery of a child. And that is what happened to two of my swimmers in two weeks. Battery.
My team is allowed three lanes for an hour and a half on Saturday mornings. I try to be sensitive to lap swimmers and if my numbers are small, I’ll only take two of our three allotted lanes until their warm ups are done and we take the third. Our growing team is looking for an assistant coach, but for now I have parent volunteers who miss out on their own work-out time to help keep the girls respectful of other swimmers. One of the key advantages to this is that when curious onlookers, or potentially angry people ask questions or complain, the parents can talk about the sport, our program, and what synchro has done for their child and family.
I would like to suggest we get the lifeguards and staff on board with some synchro social outreach. When confronted with an angry member, let’s have staff respond with reports of how the girls have improved. Let the entitled ones know that they have a meet or show coming up, or that the team won several gold, silver and bronze medals last year. At the very least, remind them that although they are children, they and their parents are dues paying members too. It’s like any other specialty class.
And it is unlike any other class. I want our members to find synchro so fascinating that they spread the word about it, enroll their own children, bring their friends, or get in the water to try it themselves. I would love to begin a masters program or Sychro Fit classes for anyone who wants to heal or get stronger in the water. I’d like to organize a Splash Mob with the aquatics staff, parents, and employees to surprise our members at the water park this summer.
But most of all… most importantly… I want my swimmers safe.
It seems to me that it would be common sense not to hurt a child, but apparently there are differing opinions among our members and sadly even pool staff. I can do my part, by ending practice in a more timely way, and easing some of the frustration. But that isn’t enough. I’d like to bring this to the attention of the general membership of my club, synchro coaches, teams, parents, and the community of traditional swimmers that share the water with a synchro team anywhere. I don’t want to create problems, I want to solve a big one.
Because hurting kids for being athletes is not ok. Not in my water…