I went for a session with the Shiverers at the King Alfred Leisure Centre. In the lane next to me was this boy who looked to be about half my age. Before we even got in the pool, I could tell he wasn’t a serious swimmer since he didn’t pull his shoulder-length brown hair under a cap, but from the condition of his hair, he probably still attended a good many sessions—the ends of his hair was turnig that whitish swimmer-blond color caused by the chlorine in the pool.
My assumption that he wasn’t a “serious swimmer” was further supported by the fact that he barely completed one lazy fifty for warm-ups, whereas all of the other swimmers did two-hundred meters or more. However, once we began swimming, I realized that this kid was actually fairly fast; probably faster than me. His technique wasn’t good: he created way too much turbulance in the water to have an efficient stroke and, as a result, I ended up with mouthfuls of poolwater every time I breathed to his side of the lane. Still, when he gave effort on our sprint set, he could keep up with me and sometimes even passed me. This ability was particularly amazing because of the fact that every time we reached a wall, flipped, and pushed off, he would bulldoze into the water, head-and-shoulders first. I, meanwhile, tucked my ears between my elbows, extended my arms in a point over my head, and kicked a good half-body’s length ahead of him before he could get any momentum going with his stroke again. Effectively, I streamlined; he didn’t.
After observing this on every single wall it bothered me so much that I finally resolved to say something. We were resting at the shallower end between sets when I turned to him and asked, “How old are you?” It took him a moment to realize I was speaking to him, but eventually he responded, “Thirtehn.” “Do you compete?” “Ya.” “You’re really quite fast…why don’t you streamline off the walls?” He looked confused for a minute while he processed what I had said, and then ducked his head a little with an embarrased smile. “I cahn’t.” I paused. “You’d go so much faster if you did. Like, I bet you’re faster than me.” “Ma coaches allwhys get on meh about thaht.” He looked away, effectivly ending the conversation.
Still, I couldn’t leave it alone. At our next break, I had to ask, “Do you coaches just bug you about it all the time, or do they show you? Like, teach you?” He looked at me oddly. “Streamlining I mean,” I added. “Naw, theh just tell meh.” I could tell he didn’t want to talk about it, but this was really bothering me. A thirteen year old swimmer who didn’t streamline! This would never be permitted in the States. Not on any club team I had ever swum for.
I wanted to take him into the shallow end and show him how to do a proper flip turn. I wanted to explain why he needed to push off on his back and how streamlining would make him faster if he practiced it. But how could I do any of this without insulting him and embarrassing myself? Who was I to try and act all knowledgable? I was just some college-age American who couldn’t even beat the twelve-year-old swimmer in my own lane. How could I claim to know better than their coaches?