Monday, December 28, 2015

New Products for Swimmers and Parents




I’m a huge fan of Shark Tank, the television program in which new entrepreneurs pitch their product to five millionaires in hopes of getting one to financially support their enterprise. It can be brutal! Yet each week men and women (and sometimes children) put it all on the line to sell an idea they believe in with all their hearts. So when I meet people who invest their time, energy, and money into products to improve the sport of swimming, I want to support them by sharing their ideas with the swim world.

Snappy Towel

It’s a cape! It’s a cover up! It’s Snappy Towel! Dan Wood, entrepreneur and founder of the Snappy Towels Inc., has spent almost as much time in the water as he has on land. (Sound familiar?) As a father of two imaginative beach-going kids, he has created a fun as well as useful product. First and foremost, Snappy Towels are made from a soft, super absorbent, microfiber fabric. If you’ve ever pulled sopping wet terrycloth towels from a swim bag, you can appreciate how lightweight and quick-drying they are. But that’s just the beginning. These towels have strong, smooth, plastic snaps that kids naturally pop together to create a hood, cape, or cover up to keep warm or for a quick change. Colors include bright red, blue, and orange. Finally, the towels have a handy loop for hanging or carrying. If you’re ready to try something new, check out Snappy Towels at http://snappytowels.com/.

MeetBop
Have you or your swimmer ever missed an event at a swim meet? (You can read all about my experiences here.) Two high-tech entrepreneurs who know first-hand the frustration of a swimmer missing an event decided to do something about it. They came up with MeetBop, the “only mobile app that truly lets you track the progress of a swim meet in real-time from any location.” The key to this clever app is that it is in real-time all the time! It also has a swim-alert feature that sends an automatic notification for approaching events that you designate as important. (This could come in handy for dads who like to slip off to the snack bar for a big pretzel and moms who are playing games on their phones. I’m just sayin’.) The app is a free download but swim parents must make meet directors, coaches, and referees aware of the benefits. All they have to do is contact MeetBop developers at info@olinenetworks.com. All parents and swimmers have to do is download the free app for iPhones or Androids here: http://olinenetworks.com/

So there are just two examples of how innovative swim parents can be! And if they ever show up on Shark Tank, I believe they will get full backing for their ingenious ideas!


Saturday, July 25, 2015

50 Shades of Swim Moms

The morning news shared an intriguing human interest story about two young women at a baseball game who observed a wife in front of them sexting with another man while her husband was not looking. As they were leaving the stadium, the women slipped the unsuspecting husband a note explaining what they saw. They left their cell number in case he wanted the evidence they had captured by taking pictures of the wife’s screen from their own phone. (Which he did!)


I share this story as a caution that other people’s cell phones are very easy to view, especially when spectators are packed closely together. LIKE AT A SWIM MEET! We could have a moral debate about privacy but let’s just admit that when a 6” lighted screen is directly in your line of site, it’s hard to ignore it. 

Just last week while at a regional championship meet, I met an unassuming, super sweet swim mom sitting on the bleacher in front of me. We struck up a conversation. She told me how well her child was swimming at this meet and that they were thrilled to be back at finals. She explained that the rest of the family could not be there so they were was depending on minute-by-minute updates from her. It’s always fun to see the enthusiasm of parents new to the sport and I was totally onboard with cheering for the child of my new acquaintance (especially because they are not competing against my own). The race ended and her swimmer took off significant time. So as promised, the proud mom fired off texts to let the family know how well it went. 

Once that bit of excitement was over, we both went back to passing the time between events by reading. I was absorbed in the newly released Harper Lee book and she was reading an e-book on her phone. Now I had no intention of snooping to see what she was reading, but there it was right in front of me like a beacon. I don’t embarrass easily but the words glowing in front of me seemed so out of place for a swim meet. I was immediately reminded of Ralphie’s description of the leg lamp as “the soft glow of electric sex” from the movie, A Christmas Story

"The soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window"
But there it was, she was reading (at an astonishing rate of speed) the most popular mommy porn of our day, 50 Shades of Grey.  


The moral of this cautionary tale: when at a swim meet, use a small font on your cell.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Packing for an Away Swim Meet: Does it Ever Get Easier?

After years of packing for away swim meets, I’m intrigued that it never gets any faster. I have learned how to streamline the process, but it still seems to take a big chunk of time to get everything ready. To simplify the routine, I’ve broken it down into the following steps:

1.       Food. This includes preparing and freezing nutritious food in advance (see my recipe for Spaghetti and Meatball Casserole) and packing a supply of healthy snacks for us all. The amount and variety of food that I take along has been scaled down drastically over the years. And I no longer take kitchen appliances. (Yep, from waffle irons to microwaves, I’ve done it.) Since this is something that can be done in advance, it is usually the first task I tackle.
Fresh fruit hits the spot when craving a healthy snack.
2.       Equipment. Even though I keep a family swim meet bag stocked and ready to go (Swim Parent Survival Kit), there are still last minute tasks that need to be done. These include printing out the reservation information (I’m sure there is an app for that) and charging video/camera equipment. Some items need to be replenished (like headache medication and chocolate). I typically do this between loads of laundry, which brings me to…

3.       Laundry. At least two days out, I do the laundry because it makes it easier to pack when clothes can go straight from the dryer to the suitcase. Of course, the beach towels that have been hung in the garage to air dry between practices are stiff as a board and need a good wash too.

4.       Packing. Fortunately, the only clothes packing I do is for myself. Swim Boy and Swim Hubby do their own. For awhile, I had “swim meet uniforms,” meaning the same three pairs of capris or shorts, five interchangeable shirts, two pairs of comfortable shoes, and a jacket. But after a few dozen meets, even the most practical clothing begins to look a bit tired. So this week it took more time to dig through the closet and dresser drawers to find something, well, different. Notice I did not say “fashionable.” Everyone knows that swim meets require comfort over fashion. (Check out my Pinterest board Swim Mom Attire.)

Dressing for meets can be tricky. The temperature outside as compared to the heat and humidity inside a pool can vary dramatically. Colder temperatures require dressing in layers to get to the pool and then peeling them off as the meet goes on. There is also the strange affect that swim meets have on my internal body temperature. When Swim Boy gets on the blocks, I may be sweating profusely or shivering with cold and it has nothing to do with the temperature inside the pool.
5.       Work. I’m fortunate to do much of my work from home. This requires packing up laptops, files, and books when traveling to meets. Technology has made this process much easier. I actually get a lot more work done at meets due to all that time stuck in a hotel room or lobby.

6.       Entertainment. This is the last item on my list. I may grab a magazine or catalog as I walk out the door.

I am very interested in hearing about other swim parents’ experiences preparing for away meets. Please share your tips or challenges!
P.S. Remember to call the cat sitter!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

(How to Feed) An American Swimmer in Paris


Last summer Hubbie and I came to the startling realization that we have not had a family vacation in four years. I guess with all the packing of suitcases, miles driven, and Hampton Inn breakfasts consumed at away meets, it felt like we were traveling. After all, swim meets have similar characteristics of a vacation, except for the part where you get to relax and have fun. To make up for lost time, we made a hasty and drastic decision to go to Paris for Christmas. The holidays are obviously the best choice, not because of cheaper rates or desirable climate, but because the timing would mean less interference with SwimBoy’s training schedule.

Our trip was planned with precision. Travel dates and hotel accommodations were carefully selected. Paris Passes were purchased in advance and had arrived in the mail. Hubbie studied the Metro system in Paris and calculated exchange rates. And I created a detailed itinerary that would enable us to see all the major sights in Paris along with trips to surrounding areas. By the time we boarded the plane for France, we were feeling pretty confident that all details had been handled. But we were wrong. We had overlooked an essential aspect of traveling with SwimBoy. Caloric intake.

Perhaps it was all the wonderful tales I had heard about the mass quantities of fresh bread and pastries we would consume while we were in Paris? Maybe I thought his appetite would diminish because he was not in the pool for hours everyday? No. The truth is I had not given any thought to how SwimBoy’s appetite would be sustained in Paris. This oversight has taught me two very important truths:

1. Swimmers cannot live on bread alone.

2. A break from training does not diminish a swimmer’s appetite.

Day one after our arrival, we slept later than expected and all woke up starving. We first checked out the hotel’s continental breakfast (priced at 17 euros or $20.15 per person). We descended a flight of stairs into a small basement and there before us was a plate of cold cuts, a bowl full of boiled eggs, and a pot of coffee. All of sudden, those Hampton Inn breakfasts weren’t looking so bad. We politely declined, backed our way up the stairs and stepped out onto the streets of Paris in search of breakfast.

We found a lovely café on Grand Boulevard, only a few blocks from our hotel. Hubbie and I ordered omelettes while SwimBoy made a more adventurous selection by jabbing his finger at the menu indicating his choice. We were delighted by the fresh omelettes and SwimBoy scarfed down what appeared to be a ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top. Breakfast was done and we could get on with our day!

We were making our way through the major exhibits at the Musée d'Orsay when SwimBoy announced he was not feeling well and needed to sit down. Noticing it had been several hours since he’d had anything to eat or drink, we found a sidewalk café and ordered lunch and three glasses of water. The waiter brought a small carafe of water and three shot glasses to the table. SwimBoy proceeded to continuously refill his glass and toss em’ back like a sailor on leave after a dry voyage. The waiter said something in French and brought a second carafe of water to our table.

Nourished and somewhat hydrated we hit a few more sights from the itinerary. But before you could say, “Vive la France,” SwimBoy began to ask how long until dinner. Hubbie and I looked at each other in that telepathic way parents do. We knew what had to be done so we headed to nearest Metro station. A few stops later and we arrived at that iconic institution, the Hard Rock Café. SwimBoy made a dash for the front door like a refugee escaping political persecution. He polished off the 10 oz. Legendary Burger, fries, and Coco-Cola and for the first time in 24 hours began to act like himself again. I went to bed thinking of nothing but, “How are we going to keep this boy fed for the next seven days?”

Chowing down on the meatiest item on the menu!
The next morning we were heading to Palace of Versailles. The travel book listed a café nearby that offered a breakfast buffet! To hold him over, SwimBoy polished off the last two packs of peanut butter crackers we had brought from home, washed them down with water drunk straight from the lavatory, and we were on our way. A 45 minute train ride later, we headed to an information booth at the station and asked for directions to the café with the breakfast buffet. In excellent English the guide replied, “I have no idea where that could be.” Just when it looked as if there was no hope for breakfast, glowing golden arches appeared in the distance. Yep, we had breakfast in Versailles, France at McDonalds. And it was delicious. It was so good that we ate lunch there too before boarding the train back to Paris! (We weren't the only ones "Lovin' It." Check out these reviews!)

Not quite where we planned to eat lunch, but no complaints.
We nibbled through the rest of the day between landmarks and museums with the thought of where SwimBoy would eat his next meal never far from my mind. Just when I feared this would be the focus of our entire vacation, we made a magnificent discovery! Just one block from our hotel, lodged unassumingly among the shops on the street was a market! When the doors slid open and we stepped inside I knew this was the answer to our gastronomical prayers. We filled our hand-held baskets with perfectly ripened bananas, fresh baked baguettes, and chocolate covered biscuits. Every morning from that day on we stopped by to purchase fruit and croissants for breakfast and freshly made sandwiches for lunch. We stocked up on bottles of water and snacks for SwimBoy to munch on throughout the day. What a relief. Our vacation was saved!

Looking through the dozens of photos we took in Paris, I have great memories of the time we spent together as a family. But beyond the images of our smiling faces in front of the Louvre, Notre Dame, and the Eiffel Tower, I see a glimpse of gratitude for that little market on Rue Des Petites, Ecuries

 
Paris Market
 This article first appeared on SwimSwam.com on January 11, 2015.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Timers Needed! The Importance of Volunteering at Swim Meets


Swim mom and blogger at flylikeagirl.org has a knack for telling it like it is. Her honest observations about the sport are refreshing. In a recent post, titled Hey You, she addressed a major problem with the sport. There is a chronic problem with getting parents to work as timers at meets.

We all know it “takes a village” to run a meet. From starters and stroke-and-turn judges to runners and timers, swim meets require a lot of manpower. The specific issue addressed Hey You blogger was parents who sit on the sidelines and refuse to do their part as timers. I’ve personally witnessed this. It is frustrating to watch parents trying to look invisible when there is a call for volunteers.

As a genteel Southern swim mom, I’m going to approach this problem from a benefit-of-the-doubt perspective. Perhaps there are good reasons a swim mom or dad sits idly by as the meet director announces “We cannot start the meet without more timers!” So here I offer some possible excuses for not working as a timer, and most importantly, solutions.

Excuse #1 Swim parents are intimidated by the task of timing. I can actually relate to this because when my son first started out on a summer swim league, timing seemed like a huge responsibility. What if we miss little Johnny’s 25 yard freestyle time by a hundredth of a second? It could scar him forever! If someone is overly conscientious about being an accurate timer, this could be the reason they avoid it.

Solution: Before every meet, a timer’s meeting is held in which an official explains the procedure for timing. Swim parents can practice with the stop watch to get comfortable with it. Also, there are typically two timers per lane and possibly an electronic scoring system. There is also a head timer who starts several stopwatches at the beginning of each heat. If something goes wrong, a timer can switch out stop watches. It only takes one meet to become a pro. If you feel more information is needed on how to be a timer you can always watch this 7 minute video, Swim Meet Volunteer Timer Training.

Excuse #2 Swim parents have been burned working as timers. These are parents who approached timing with gusto until they had to work one too many 5 hour meet. Parents should not have to risk trench foot for being a loyal timer!

Solution: Officials should establish two sets of timers, one for the first half of the meet and one for the second half. If a swim parent is willing to time throughout the whole meet, great! But some people do need a break after standing in soggy socks for more than a couple of hours. If officials don’t do this, parents can work it out between themselves to switch off halfway through the meet. This arrangement works well for loving couples and trustworthy BFFs.

Excuse #3 Swim parent has multiple swimmers to keep up with. The same can be true if they have young children that need to be closely supervised near a swimming pool. These parents are doing us all a favor keeping an eye on their own children so volunteers don’t have to.

Solution: Wait a few years and when the kids can fend for themselves, volunteer to time. 

Excuse #4 Health problems or personal reasons. Of course, some parents may not be able to time due to a number of issues that are none of our business. That being said, I’ve seen grandparents step up to time and thoroughly enjoy themselves. Timing gives a whole new perspective on the sport.

Solution: If you cannot work as a timer, volunteer in some other way. There are lots of ways to help out a swim team.

This swim granddad looks like a pro timer behind the blocks!
The bottom line is to do what you can to help out at meets. There is a lot to be learned about the sport when you are working up close and personal as a timer. And it feels much better than trying to look invisible while others do the job.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Planning to Swim in College: Where to Begin?

As the weather turns cooler, leaves change color, and holiday decorations appear on store shelves, it is a sure sign that the college recruitment efforts for swimmers won't be far behind. There is so much to learn and consider when looking at opportunities to swim in college. Here are just a few links to get you started:

First on the list is to register with the NCAA Eligibility Center. The website is very user friendly and has loads of information on the recruiting process. Most importantly, athletes can register and obtain the REQUIRED eligibility registration number. This number will be needed throughout the recruiting process. 


Next stop is the NCAA Division I College Toolkit. High school athletes need to read about Academic Eligibility requirements so they know exactly what courses, GPA, and college entrance test scores are needed to compete at the collegiate level. You can also learn about NCAA rules for recruiting. This document includes information on Financial Aid but those guidelines are changing so keep an eye out for current updates on how Financial Aid will be awarded to athletes. 


The College Recruiting Timeline is valuable to swimmers and their parents because it makes the whole recruiting process very REAL when you begin reading about what should be done during the freshman and sophomore years in high school. This is a real wake up call and can be a big motivator to get students to study hard and work for that GPA and ACT/SAT test scores.


USA Swimming offers an array of useful resources for learning about the recruitment process and getting started on that next big step...college swimming! Check out the Swimming into College page under Programs and Services at USA Swimming.

It is never too soon to educate yourself on this process!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Swimmers Need Incentives Too!

Maybe it is the Kindergarten teacher in me that makes incentives so appealing. It was fun to see how exciting a simple sticker could be to a 5-year-old. But there is no age limit on rewards. Everyone appreciates recognition for hard work!

That’s why the “Motivational Reward Cones” from the Dollar Tree were totally irresistible. I knew they were just the thing to reward our high school swimmers who have made their cuts for our state’s “sectionals” meet. (See Alabama High School Swimming: Rule Changes Do Not Benefit Athletes.)  

The mini traffic cones come in a variety of colors with messages like, “Way to Go,” “Fabulous,” and “You Did It,” printed on them.

Our neighborhood Dollar Tree had only nine cones in stock which I quickly snatched. Unable to find more from other local stores, I began searching online and made the wonderful discovery that Dollar Tree merchandise can be ordered through their website. Woo-hoo! There was no minimum order so I was able to purchase the approximate number needed. A few minutes later, a dozen more mini traffic cones were on their way.

When the cones arrived, I used a Sharpie to write each swimmer’s name and the events in which he or she had made sectional times. 



As co-captain, Jackson handed out the cones at a big high school meet. I watched with apprehension to see if these high school kids would roll their eyes, look embarrassed, or mouth the dreaded word “lame” in response to receiving a $1 mini traffic cone. But they did not! Instead, they appeared honored that their hard work and accomplishments had been recognized. Of course, when it came time to take a group picture they did exactly what you would expect a group of teens to do!

Fairhope High School swimmer with Sectional cuts with traffic cone "trophies."
Best of all, two more swimmers made sectional cuts at that meet. Maybe the idea of receiving a Dollar Tree traffic cone was just the extra bit of incentive they needed to swim fast.