I’m standing on the pool deck, the white, ridged floor making jagged indentations in the soles of my bare feet. Twenty-one little athletes, ranging in age from six to eleven years old fill the two lanes in front of me, jostling one another as they make their way through warm-up.
I stand with hands resting on my hips, watching them swim.
In a matter of seconds, the first will begin to arrive back at the wall, and I’ll raise my voice to be heard above the noise. The noise of a busy pool.
I’m yelling, really.
Not three minutes after they arrive back on the wall, I send them off again. Do it again. Try that. You can do this. I want to see this.
I stand and watch them again. Yelling out names and instructions as they need. Betsy, not so much knee. Sean, hold on to the board, please. Good, Baby Kate. Pay attention, Stella.
I love these kids, I think as I prepare for the next segment of the workout. But do they know that? I count it a privilege to interact with them every week. But can they tell that? I wonder.
We’re done with the first set, and I cut the second one a bit short. It’s my job to teach them, to instruct them, and occasionally, to discipline them. I am paid to train these young ones in swimming, but that’s not what brings me back every day.
I come back because I love it. I come back because young ones that I’ve known for years, little ones who cried on their first day of practice because they were five and the pool is big and cold, are still around. They’re not in my group anymore, they have long since moved up, but they’re still around and I still have a relationship with them.
I come back because I love teaching. I love working together with the other coaches, and then watching the swimmers blossom as our training and their effort come together to create success.
I’ve been doing the same thing for five years; watching little ones grow up; grow older, grow smarter, grow more mature, grow more independent. Watching them grow, and being a part of it all, is an amazing opportunity that I wouldn’t miss for anything.
There are five minutes left in practice and I’m done. I’m not done loving, in fact, just the opposite; the tender, kind side of me is currently winning out over the slightly more intimidating side that barks instructions across the pool and has discussions with disrespectful young ones.
So climb out. Put your board in the bin. Come sit down.
The kids are confused. Are they in trouble? Is practice over? Why are we sitting on the side of the pool?
I love coaching you all, I tell them when we are all seated. But a lot of times, that means that you swim and I tell you what to do. Because I’m the coach and you’re the swimmers, and that’s how it works. But you’re not just swimmers, you’re people. You’re kids. Young men and women. And right now, I just want to talk with you.
We go around and we each share what we would eat right now, if we could choose anything in the world. Their choices are funny and smart, and I love seeing a side of them that I often don’t get to see as they stroke their way up and down the pool.
The side that would eat fried calamari, or Skittles, or a bag of popcorn. The side that giggles when they talk to me. The side that can’t think of an answer because they’re a little shy. The side that can’t wait to share because it’s been a long day at home and school, and they’re excited to tell me what they think.
Thank you all for working hard today, I’m proud of you. I tell them after we’re all picked a favorite food. And then, I love spending time with you every week.
And they’re dismissed, and I’m shrieking after them to WALK, WALK, WALK. And they’re not really paying any attention, and I guess I can’t really blame them, because, Hello! The faster they arrive in the locker room, the faster they can take a hot shower!
And next practice will bring more yelling, and more hard work on their part and on mine, and someone might have a bad attitude, and someone else may have a headache, and I guarantee that someone will forget their goggles.
And that’s all okay. Because it’s all part of the job, and I love my job.