The cure for parents' Swim Team Syndrome

July 27, 1996|By Rob Kasper

YOU KNOW you have Swim Team Parent Syndrome when you show up at a pool filled with screaming kids, and none of them is yours. That happened to me a few Saturdays back. Our kids were in Kansas, yet I found myself in Baltimore running index cards from one end of the pool to the other as the team that my boys belong to swam against a visiting team. I showed up out of habit, like one of those horses that used to pull milk wagons and routinely stopped at houses on their route. It was a Saturday morning in July, and I knew I was supposed be at a swim meet.

The summer swim meet is an event that chews up Saturdays. This afternoon great whoops of delight will be heard throughout the metropolitan area as the swim team season winds to a close. The cheers will come both from kids delighted at their performances and from parents delighted that the six-week-long commitment is over.

The concept of swim teams is simple. Kids 6 to 18 years old join teams, usually at their neighborhood pools. They learn to swim and compete against swimmers from similar-size teams. The commitment from parents, however, is anything but simple, either logistically or emotionally. There are stopwatches to be held, and times to be recorded, points to be added up, lists to be checked, ribbons to be awarded, doughnuts to be sold, kids to be herded. Some of the meets are at distant, well-camouflaged pools. So that means there are plenty of opportunities to get lost and fight with your spouse.

After experiencing almost 10 years of Swim Team Parenthood, I have noticed changes in my behavior. I have noticed little things, such as how I tend to measure a couple's moral worth by whether or not their kids participate in the swim team. Participation is a moral plus, particularly when talking about 9- or 10-year-old boys. Our team needs every one of those we can get our hands on. And I have noticed other things, like our family's habit of plotting our social life around the schedule of the swim team. I won't say this has made me a twisted adult who views life through the narrow perspective of what happened at this week's swim meet. But as a public service, I feel compelled to pass along seven warning signs of Swim Team Parent Syndrome. Perhaps the folks baking at pool-side today, or their loved ones, will recognize some of the symptoms and get help.

jTC 1. You fret on Friday nights. The kids have been fed their pasta (complex carbohydrates make better swimmers) and sent to bed early to get rested for the big meet. You, however, can't get to sleep. You toss and turn, plotting strategies for their races.

2. You buy your own stopwatch. You don't trust the equipment, the reflexes and the easygoing attitude of the three adults assigned to time your kid. Besides, suppose your kid breaks a world record; you'll want to feel you did your part.

3. You possess more suits than strokes. You spend so much time at the pool watching your kids swim that you feel you must buy a new swim suit or two every year. However, you don't feel any need to expand your repertoire of strokes beyond the dog paddle.

4. You don't trust the directions sent by the opposing team on how to locate their pool. You check their directions with your own detailed maps. You fight the tendency to believe you have been to this pool before. You might have been there, or you might be confusing it with another pool on another street named after another flower or another flowering tree. There is also a chance the synapses in your brain have misfired, and while you think you are driving to a distant swimming pool, you are really taking the route you took several summers ago to get to a distant baseball field.

5. You value width over depth. The more lanes a pool can accommodate, the more swimmers you can funnel into heats, the faster the swim meets move along. When you walk in a pool and see only four lanes, you grimace. A six-laner means you could be finished by early afternoon. Encounters with eight-laners have been known to send you into ecstasy at the prospect of a meet ending early and your getting a few free


6. You want your meet judge to behave like the flight director of an aircraft carrier. The judge is the boss of the swim meet. He starts each heat and controls how quickly the meet moves along. Parents want judges who combine heats, sending waves of swimmers off the blocks like jets taking off from an aircraft carrier. Each wave is full. Each wave is orderly. Each wave moves along.

7. You, who can't attempt a flip turn without filling your lungs with water, start giving your kids advice on how to improve their turns. Be thankful that kids usually pay little heed to parental advice. The tribal nature of swim teams, with older kids helping younger ones, takes care of most problems created by the Swim Team Parent Syndrome.

As for what kids want from swim team parents, it seems to work this way. When swimmers are young, they want parents to hold their goggles. When they get older they want parents to drive them to pizza joints after the meets. And at all ages they want parents to provide them with plenty of small bills to finance visits to the concession stands.

Pub Date: 7/27/96

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