Sports Dad: Young athlete’s progress measured in seconds shaved

It can take a long time, many meets and discipline for a swimmer to trim seconds off his finish time.

Cory Armstrong-Hoss

Cory Armstrong-Hoss

By Cory Armstrong-Hoss / Herald Forum

Arizona, spring break 2016: Sammy won’t get out of the pool.

Sammy is 5 years old, and he and his brother and sister are swimming in the kids pool at Pueblo El Mirage, a retirement community. He’s always the last one out, bobbing and splashing and diving underwater, floating on his back in the sun.

Everett, summer 2023: Sammy is 11, and his athletic history is full of our failed efforts to get him hooked on something: soccer, baseball, tae kwon do, flag football, basketball, jiu-jitsu or cardio at the Y. I coached him in Mukilteo Little League for three seasons, and felt that he regarded team sports like an anthropologist from another planet; puzzled that human offspring, wearing tight pants and even tighter jock straps, would swing a bat and run around touching padded squares while adults yell at them, especially when there are perfectly good books to read.

My wife, ever hopeful, jumps on a chance to get Sammy and his 8-year-old sister to try swimming with the South Snohomish County Dolphins.

West Coast Aquatics meet, Mill Creek: July 8, 2023: Sammy’s first swim meet. Time for 50-yard backstroke; time: 1:03-plus.

Those first months, my swim coach friends Erin Quinn (of Kamiak High School) and Eric Smith (of Cascade High School) explained Swim Culture to me. Why do kids warm up at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning when their event isn’t until 10:35 a.m.? And why write their events, heats and lanes in black Sharpie on their arms? How come the concrete stands are already chock-full of parents, swim bags and beach towels an hour before the meet starts? And what’s the difference between the On Deck app and Meet Mobile?

And why is the volunteer requirement for parents 30 hours per-swimmer, per-season?

Snohomish Aquatics Center meet, Aug. 5, 2023: 50-yard backstroke; time: 1:03.25. place: 14 out of 30.

Starting in Bronze, the beginner level of Dolphins, Sammy churns through two or three one-hour practices a week, honing his form in the backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle. And something is not happening; he isn’t complaining about going to practice.

Something else is happening; the kid isn’t such a kid anymore.

That fall he started middle school, turned 12, and asked if he could start lifting weights with me. I took him to dinner at Red Robin on Everett Mall Way, and off that big red menu he read me the calorie count for a milkshake (“That’s like a whole day’s worth!). When the waitress took our order Sammy did something I’d never imagined; he asked her for water instead of milk, and substituted mandarin oranges for bottomless steak fries.

And he got promoted to Silver on swim team, the next level up.

Kamiak High School meet, Jan. 27, 2024: 50-yard backstroke; time: 43.77; place: 16 out of 26.

“Dude, you were flying! You shot off the block!” My wife was the first to do the math. “You dropped over 19 seconds!”

(I should pause here and direct an apology to parents whose kids swam that Saturday morning. I ran the Daktronics Timing System for my four-hour volunteer shift, which requires sustained focus on pushing a repetitive sequence of buttons. Above all, the timing operator cannot get distracted. If I were you, I’d subtract 10 seconds from your kid’s times that morning. Or add 10 seconds. Whatever feels right. Next time I will sign up to hand out snacks to volunteers.)

Snohomish Aquatics Center meet:

March 16: 50-yard backstroke; time: 42.89; place: second in heat, 6 out of 18 and qualified for finals; finished sixth in meet.

March 17: 100-yard freestyle; time: 1:21:18 place: second in heat, 6 out of 19.

After stretching for the wall in his first 100-yard race, Sammy popped up, saw the scoreboard, then looked over at us in the stands and pumped his fist.

Later that afternoon he raced in the 100-yard f reestyle finals, dropped more than a second, and got third in meet with a time of 1:20:12.

To The Reader, the Minecrafter, the Scientist, the Contrarian, the Philosopher, add The Swimmer and The Athlete.

And still, the kid doesn’t want to get out of the pool.

Cory Armstrong-Hoss lives in Everett with his wife and three kids. His kids have played a number of different sports. He’s a lifelong athlete, and he’s served as a coach, referee, youth sports administrator and post-game snack coordinator. His column, exploring youth sports in the county, will appear monthly in the Herald Forum.

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