Nowhere But Up

May 27, 2005
Nowhere But Up

This is graduation weekend at the Naval Academy, which means that a new class of Mids has endured some of the most noble and honorable schooling of any class in the country. After four years as a Mid, these grads will go off to serve their country for four more years. Graduation also means: no parking spots and the Blue Angels.

As I write this entry, the Blue Angels are flying overhead. If I had read the local paper, I might have known they were coming. Instead, my first warning was the sound of them flying in formation over my humble abode. Had I been prepared, I would have been standing outside with binoculars and camera at the ready. Instead, I jumped under my seat and hid for cover. After I recovered and got on a new set of drawers, I ventured outside on a crummy, 55-degree rainy day to watch the most impressive pilots the Navy has to offer.

I have never really seen a jet close up and my knowledge of aeronautical maneuvers is limited to take offs and landings. The first thing I saw them do was fly together in a cross formation, executing banked turns at ridiculous speeds. When these jets are flying in formation it looks as if the pilots could reach out and touch each other. That is like child's play for them. They started to break up and one by one fly upside down, barrel roll, climb and descend as gracefully as their name implies.

Watching the Blue Angels got me thinking about swimming in general and my summer league team in particular. Watching these ace aviators is a lot like watching the Olympics, Senior Nationals, or NCAAs for swimming. There is an awe factor involved. The Blue Angels and Olympic swimmers are the best of the best at what they have chosen to do. They have three remarkable things in common:

1. The speed with which they move. The Blue Angels are pushing the envelope for how fast a human can possibly travel, while swimmers are cutting through the water in the fastest way possible.
2. The precision with which they move. When swimmers fail to execute a move, they might suck some water; the consequences are a little higher for the Blue Angels.
3. Not one of them was born doing these things. It has been said several times that Michael Phelps has the perfect swimmer's body. That is only because he has spent the majority of his life swimming. Take away all that swimming, and people would say he is lanky, not perfect. I don't claim to be an expert on the Blue Angels but I am pretty sure that none of them was flying before the age of, say, three months.


Now my summer-league swimmers are not an elite aerial maneuvering team, nor is any of them an Olympian. But we are working our way there, and I forgot how long the path was. When I started coaching little kids again I took a lot for granted. After working with college-age swimmers for the past three years I assumed that everyone knew where their elbows were, and what it felt like to have them in or out of the water. I was wrong. I forgot that to get to the point of being just a good swimmer, someone has to teach you how to do all the little things.

In our first week of practice we have spent hours learning how to watch a pace clock, leave five seconds apart, push off under water, push off in streamline, do either a flip turn or an open turn, and touch the wall before you put your feet down. The kids that I work with are great kids. They have demonstrated that by their massive improvement in the first two weeks of practice. We are at the point where I can explain what I want them to do and they will push off under water, leave the wall in streamline, and touch the opposite wall. Sometimes there are pit stops on the way, and sometimes our streamlines aren't quite as good as they could be. At least now they know and all they need is a little reminder.

These kids are there because they enjoy being in the pool. I am really looking forward to seeing how much we can improve this season. For them the sky is the limit.

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