As is true of many other sports, success in swimming comes only to those who log countless hours of practice and demonstrate extraordinary dedication. Although the 2012 London Olympics are still a year and a half away, U.S. swimmer Natalie Coughlin already spends up to seven hours a day in the pool, racking up an incalculable number of yards in the process.
And when Coughlin leaves the pool at the end of the day she has considerably more to show for it than shriveled fingers and chlorine-damaged hair. She uses that pool time time to learn from a swimmer’s best friend — repetition. Combined with a certain degree of natural ability, repetition is the key to success in swimming, and spending time in the water is the only way to get it.
So when the Fairfax County School Board voted to approve the FY2011 budget, which significantly reduced the already minimal practice time available to Northern Region swim and dive teams, members of the swimming community prepared for the worst.
Non-club swimmers would be limited to less practice time per week than Coughlin’s daily total. Club swimmers would be spared the brunt of the impact but limiting high school practice time might have changed which day of high school practice they chose to attend. Now, halfway through the season, speculation about the effects of the cuts has given way to actual observations. And opinions are much the same as those expressed when the budget was initially adopted.
Coaches, parents, and swimmers waged a months-long campaign to retain three of the four weekly practices (original proposals were to cut them from four to two), but scrapping a mid-week practice has dramatically altered the training schedule.
“[Losing our Wednesday practice] really interrupts the flow of a week, ” Langley head coach Ryan Jackson said. “Hopefully nothing has happened between Tuesday and Thursday and that everyone is still healthy.”
Of most concern for Jackson and his fellow Northern Region coaches is the disproportionate effect these practice cuts have on non-club swimmers. Said Herndon head coach Kathy McLaughlin, “I do not have as many club swimmers as Robinson, Oakton, and Westfield and it really hurts my team.”
The difficulties are similar for head coach Jen McFeely at Centreville, a team that has fewer than ten year-round swimmers. And winter break certainly did not help. Many of her swimmers were out of town for family vacations and those who were in town were crammed into two lanes – her allotted space for holiday practices.
But McFeely and others are trying to take the cuts in stride. She encourages her swimmers to use the off-day for doctor’s appointments, make-up tests, and the other unavoidable obligations high school students have. And, as McFeely pointed out, “[The Fairfax County School Board] discussed cutting the sport two years ago, so we are just happy to have it.”