Little blue and green flags fixed to car windows on short white poles fluttered wildly as the impromptu motorcade of about eight cars made its way down the nearly empty highway. At 7:30 in the morning the sky was overcast with dark gray low-hanging clouds as we drove from our team's pool to the rivals' pool about twenty minutes away. The car radio blared Chicago and Tom Petty and Pink Floyd, the DJ keeping his chatter to a minimum.
Earlier that morning, the team, made up of children from six to 18 years old, along with their families, had gathered at our pool for directions and last minute instructions before heading out for the races. Parents milled around with coffee mugs in their hands, the children gathering with friends or staying put in the cars and vans, seizing the opportunity to grab an extra 10 minutes of sleep.
At our destination about half an hour later, families spread out their towels and blankets on the pool side lounge chairs and made themselves comfortable while the children headed to the team area, plunked their backpacks down on the pool chairs and unpacked their swimming gear - swimming goggles, team caps, towels, sun screen. The home team was already well into their warm-ups. Each team had the pool, separately, for twenty minutes each to complete warm-ups before the event kicked off at nine am with a rendition of the national anthem.
Officials (volunteer moms and dads in dark blue shorts or pants and white T-shirts) found their respective stations as recorders, timers, stroke and turn judges, marshals or team coordinators. The diner, also manned by volunteer parents, opened for business with a variety of breakfast foods, hot dogs and burgers and drinks.
The races began with the youngest kids, the 8 and under age group and continued up (9-10, 11-12. 13-14, and 14-18), one stroke at a time, boys first, girls second. First came free style, then back stroke, breast stroke, butterfly and finally the team relays and individual medleys. Waves of parents made way for each other as the races of interest to them came and went, but there were the die-hards too, who tracked every race and promptly jotted down the winning times in each of the races on the program schedule. At the end of each race came high-fives, lots of cheering, pats on the back and words of encouragement for the next race.
This is the stuff of every Saturday morning and every Monday night from late May to late August when the swimming league competitions and practice sessions are in full swing. The swim team meets for practice every week day in the mornings with their coaches.
One of the most admirable aspects of the running of these swim teams is that most coaches are high school students themselves and the rest are in college. It is quite something to see them manage a program by themselves with very little direction. The coaches are responsible to the team representatives but they carry most of the day to day operation of the swim team program entirely on their shoulders.
While the younger swimmers are still getting their bearings around the competitions, the older ones, starting from the 9-12 age group, are already well-versed with team dynamics, the rigors of daily swimming practice and in the language of the swimming leagues. They are the coaches' ready helpers in preparing the pool area before and after practice, they check for their time with the timers the minute they touch the wall, the compare it with their time the previous week (to figure out how much time they've "dropped"), some of them know exactly what the state record is for that event and they know their competitors' times (as do some of the parents). It's a delight to watch the younger ones look at their older team mates with admiration, shyly calling out, "good race, so and so!"
Swim team is a great way for parents to meet other families in the community and for the children to make friends quickly whether you've lived in the same area for years or you've just moved in. It's also a fine way to develop team spirit and competitiveness in a low pressure atmosphere, to learn to follow instructions and rules and the nuances of fair play and community involvement. It's entirely normal to see three or four moms and dads running up to a child who's despondent at a bad result, all trying to make him or her see the positive, or exulting in a child's win. In addition to all of this the children are learning a skill that will last a lifetime.
So I say, Swim team rules!