A couple of stories from my youth swimming career that don’t necessarily have a “point”. Take from them what you will.
Catching Up With The Times
When I was 14 years old, I had the best year I’ve ever had swimming. The next year was a complete disaster. I had two coaches that terrible year. One drove a monster truck (not kidding) and I remember having to console a 13 year old teammate when he screamed at her during a meet.
The other was a weird but basically nice man with a very specific idea about how to get fast at freestyle. The secret, you see, was to swim every yard of freestyle in “catch-up” mode. For those who read this blog not in the swimming world, of which there are shockingly many, catch up is a method of swimming freestyle where you wait for one hand to catch up to the other hand.
This was 1998, and catch up swimming was having a moment. The idea was that it would enhance your distance per stroke or some jazz.
We did this for months on end. We were told, intermittently, that we would be allowed to swim “normal” freestyle when we had shown requisite progress. Which I guess meant when catch up became our regular freestyle? I never got to see, as the coach lasted only a single short course season before he hopped away to greener pastures.
When I was in college, I swam in a conference where we couldn’t begin official practice until November 1st. The season ended, barring NCAA qualification, in late February. This certainly presented a lot of challenges to coaching, particularly if you had swimmers that were unwilling to do any meaningful exercise out of season. I’d estimate that at that time it was about 50% of my team.
One quirk was that prior to November 1st, our coach could run a mandatory “conditioning test”. The test, naturally, could not involve swimming. I remember the first one I did like it was yesterday. We ran “suicides” on a basketball court. How many? It seemed like a lot. I was even more of an idiot in those days and bought into them 100%.
We never returned to this form of conditioning another day, and few if any of us had run in preparation for it. I recall barely being able to walk for the next few days after.
Over time the conditioning test morphed. By my final year, we did a test where we performed a series of drylands exercises to failure. As our coach introduced them, he wanted to give context for why each exercise was important.
“We’re going to do pullups, to measure your upper body strength”. Makes sense
“We’re going to do vertical jump to measure the explosiveness in your legs”. Shocking revelation: my D3 college swimming team did not have a lot of explosiveness.
Finally, he concluded: “We’re going to do pushups….” There was a pause. He was on a roll but all of a sudden he looked a bit panicked. What were pushups supposed to measure? We waited in suspense.
“…To measure your heart.”
We began working through various stations to measure our fitness. I was in a group with my teammate Andrew, who stood about 6’2 but with a wingspan of around 6’8. It was a wonderful physiology for water polo, and a pretty good one for swimming at that.
It was a terrible body for pull-ups, or pushups for that matter.
As we worked through, Andrew was not putting up team leading numbers. We got to the pushup station, and Andrew began the futile action of pumping his long levers. As I recall, he got to 19, considerably lower than most of his teammates.
He popped up with a smile though, and turning to “coach”, he remarked
“I guess I got no heart!”.