Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Self Image

When I was working part time as a swim coach while at university, I trained many novice swimmers. They came in all sizes and shapes and at that age, fitness and skill typically meant less than body position in the water. It's a technical point but basically if the swimmers could keep their hips and legs on or near surface, they would be faster than those who did not.

Skills and concepts such as moving your hand sideways through the water as you pull to increase power in accordance with Bernoulli's principle came much later. Even swimmers who were physically fit and strong could not overcome the slowing effects of drag if they had bad body position in the water.

Again, novice swimming is very egalitarian or democratic. Actual physical prowess helps but is not decisive with the younger swimmers.

One day, a few weeks into the season, a twelve year old girl who was nearly as tall as I was joined my group. She swam well enough, nothing special, but I could see remarkable potential in her size and shape.*

I became interested in where this girl could end up and I would be her first coach! I described her to other coaches and made special note that she was only twelve and already five- eight. Remember, her height meant very little in how she would do for the first few months or more.

I am sure she heard me making this point. Whatever, she swam for a week and never returned.

I was reminded of this by the title of an article in Wednesday's Korea Times. The article is about a high school basketball sensation and the title is "Monster Teenager".

This boy is 191cm, which I think puts him around 6 foot 4 inches. This is tall, but not overwhelmingly so and hardly monstrous.

Commenter Jejujames, at the bottom of the article, agrees, calling the title "a little offencive"

Focusing on a single attribute of anyone, even if the attribute relates to the sport, is a way of devaluing any other attribute the person has. I hope this kid gets to be respected as more than a monster.

* Size seems to be more and more important in competitive swimming, at least at the highest levels. Most Olympian freestylists are well over six feet tall. At five foot ten inches I still had potential that was never realized but even if I had, my height imposed a real limit.

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