Saturday, May 26, 2007

Coaching Alex

I had my first “coaching” experience a few swimming sessions ago. It was empowering.

I wrote once about Alex, the kid who cannot (or simply does not) do flipturns. When writing about him, I suggested but did not confirm the fact that he was faster than me. He is.

We were swimming a session at King Alfred, and he was in my lane with two other kids about his age (thirteen or so). I was leading the lane, and the other two were working hard to keep up, but Alex was just goofing off—swimming with no arms in the middle of the lane, taking long breaks while we completed the sets, etc. Finally, I was fed up, not only with his lack of effort, but with the lack of attention the coach was paying him. I am accustomed to coaches paying attention to everyone in the water (at least a little), and letting this kid get away with doing virtually no work would never have been acceptable at home. How would he ever develop self-discipline or get any faster if no one ever reprimanded him. Thus, I took it upon myself to motivate him to do some work.

The last set of the evening was four one hundreds (i.e. four lengths without stopping) sprint. Before we began, I told Alex that because he was faster than me, he should go first. He said, “no thanks,” so I told him we could make a deal. I’d go first, he would go second, and for every hundred in which he “caught” me, he could do one fewer hundreds. Essentially, this meant that if he caught me on the first two hundreds, he could skip the last two. He agreed, and we began the set. Needless to say, he did not catch me on the two hundreds, and so in order to keep him motivated, I made another deal. He still had to go second, but as long as he stayed ahead of the girl who was going third—which I was positive he could do—he could do whatever he wanted for the last one. “Basically, as long as you don’t let her catch you, you can not swim for the last one,” I told him. “Which is virtually what you’ve been doing all practice, anyway.” He stayed ahead of her, and I let him skip the last hundred, pleased that I had made him actually try for 300 meters of that set.

The next time we attended a session together, we ended up in the same lane again, but this time with just the two of us. As usual, he wasn’t making any effort at all during the practice, so on the sprint set (five one hundreds) at the end of practice, I yelled at him for not trying. He said he was “saving his energy” and would try on the last one. I told him that he had better beat me on the last hundred, because I hated people who slacked only to go fast at the end. If he beat me, though, I’d forgive him. He did. I told him that next time, he’d have to beat me on two of the hundreds.

These experiences all led up to my moment of greatest pride: We attended one more session together, and when Alex got into the lane next to me and I nodded hello, he looked squarely at me and said, “I’m going to work this time.”

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