As the years have passed, Donner Swim Club head coach Jim Sheridan hasn’t lost his hearing, he just has gotten better at turning a deaf ear.
As hundreds of the nation’s top age group swimmers competed at Donner Park Pool in a meet that began on Friday and runs through Monday’s distance events, Sheridan talked about those first days of coaching a new swimmer, and having the patience to deal with some very uncomfortable moments.
Sheridan was asked if he had encountered swimmers who didn’t want to put their face in the water for a long period of time, and eventually developed into top notch talents. He said that just didn’t happen very often.
Not the developing into a talent part. The part about not wanting to put their face in the water.
“We can teach them to do it in a week,” he said. “The kid can be screaming, but I’m deaf to it. Your coaches and staff have to be stubborn because kids are going to say ‘No.’ That’s why we have a rule that parents can’t be on deck. They have to entrust their children to us.”
It was obvious on Saturday at the 2012 USA Swimming Central Zone 14U Championships at Donner Park Pool that entrusting young swimmers to their local swim team coaches has produced some terrific results.
The local examples were swimmers like Michael Brinegar, who won the 11-12 boys free relay for Team Indiana in 1:49.86. Brinegar was third in the 200 IM in 2:27.68, fourth in the 100 free in 59.96 and 11th in the 50 backstroke in 33.14.
Chase McQueen of the Donner Swim Club also had a big performance with a 10th-place finish in the 400 IM in 5:09.41.
Those kind of performances show huge potential for the future. Of course, only a handful of the swimmers competing in the meet will develop into national team quality athletes, but many are headed toward productive high school and college swim careers.
Donner Swim Club coach Jennifer Norlock said it’s not always as easy as taking a week to snap a child’s fear of putting his or her face in the water. “If they have a fear of the water, that can be a huge impediment,” Norlock said. “Some kids never will want to put their face in the water. But other kids grow into it.”
Norlock said she remembers one “awkward little girl who worked her whole life” until she became a successful swimmer. “These kids spend so much time in the water, it is impossible for them not to improve.”
Nathan Walling, a former Columbus East varsity swimmer and coach for Donner Swim Club, was working as a volunteer at the Central Zone meet. He said that young swimmers don’t have to worry about picking up the breathing patterns that are so important. “It kind of naturally develops,” he said. “We drill it into them.”
Can a coach tell early if he has a special talent like those competing in this weekend’s meet?
“I call it a feel for the water,” Sheridan said. “When they are trailing, they can reach down, put their hand in the water, grab a handful and throw it at you. I always say it’s like climbing a rope where you can grab it.”
Like any sport, it takes dedication. “Talent is a great thing,” Sheridan said. “But combining talent and work ethic is something else.
“Probably one of the first things I look for in swimmers is that they don’t mind coming to practice. You need to find a kid who enjoys it. And they have to understand that some days will be better than others. They have to have the desire to get through it.”
Is there a look of success?
With more than 800 swimmers competing this weekend, all body sizes and shapes were represented. Sheridan said that can be a good lesson when parents think their child is too stocky or not built quite right to take a stab at swimming. “Parents want them to do other activities and one of our problems is that we want our kids to be No. 1 at everything.”
Sheridan said that there is no cookie cutter shape for swimmers. “My club coach, Jack Nelson, was the 1956 gold medalist in the 200 fly,” Sheridan said. “He probably was 5-foot-3. He was stocky, although he wasn’t a block.”
So what would he tell parents who are on the fence about entering their child in swimming. “Obviously, this is a lifetime sport that you can learn to be safe at doing,” he said. “And everybody plays. You’re not going to be riding the bench. In the early stages, you are going to compete once or twice a month.”
He said it’s then up to the individual swimmer to figure out what level he or she wants to compete. With countless hours and dedication, a swimmer can end up at the Donner Park Pool in the Central Zone meet.
Think your friends should see this? Share it with them!
All content copyright ©2013 The Republic, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.