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Slices of Life: Swim or Hockey Parents: Who Have It Worse?

Belmont Patch columnist Lisa Gibalerio debates which have the most grueling experience: parents of hockey players or swimmers.

Written by Belmont Patch columnist Lisa Gibalerio

For the past several years, I have found myself engaged in a friendly debate with other parents in town about the critical question: which sport is more grueling, swim or hockey?  I don’t mean which sport is harsher on the participants (that’s obviously swim, chlorine is so drying!)  No, we spar over which sport is the most grueling on us, the parents who come to watch.

It’s probably a toss up, but as a parent of swimmers, let me share with you some of the reasons why I can’t imagine a sporting event more challenging, for spectators, than swim.

Let’s start with the basic “home” swim meet at the Belmont High School pool.  All swimmers need to be on the pool deck ready to do warm-ups 45 minutes before the meet begins.  That early arrival time is fine, since parents need to be at the pool at least two hours ahead of time to secure a seat in the stands.

Our “stands,” a grandiose term for what is basically two rows of wooden benches, hold about 150 people. However, our swim team has about 150 swimmers. So if each swimmer has just one family member in attendance, the seating area is completely full from the outset. What about the opposing team’s spectators?  Therein lies the problem: it gets crowded, quickly.

The scarcity of seating is not a challenge that Belmont faces alone. Most of the teams in our league have far too few seats, given the team sizes. This forces parents to arrive much earlier than the meet is set to begin. I once saw a fight break out as a parent who had (at some earlier point in time) thrown down her coat to save several seats and then appeared five minutes before the meet was about to begin to reclaim her “saved” seats. Her coat was squished into a ball and her three seats had shrunk into one child-sized spot. It got ugly.

Being packed in the stands like an over-stuffed can of sardines is just one trial.  The air quality is abysmal. It’s stagnant, heavy with pool chemicals and really warm.

All of this would actually be OK if the meet lasted as long as, say, a hockey game.  But the average swim meet is three-to-four hours long. Last season, I had three swimmers and I would have to pack for the meet as if I was embarking on a weekend long camping trip.

While the adults sit roasting in stands gulping for breathable air, the kids are strewn in the hallways, sitting in wet bathing suits, covered in towels. Each kid needs at least two towels, sweatshirts, something to occupy the time between heats, snacks, and beverages.

Having found a seat, a swim parent now must face his/her biggest challenge: knowing when your swimmer is swimming and then correctly identifying him/her.  From the stands, all these youngsters look alarmingly alike in their blue suits and swim caps. More than once have I watched the “wrong” child swim a particular heat. It’s a very unsettling experience to ride an emotional roller coaster, with all its tortuous ups and downs, only to find out I had been rooting for a complete stranger. And I don’t mind admitting that, on one or two occasions, I was so busy chatting with a fellow sardine that I missed one of my children’s events entirely.

You see, they swim three heats, over the span of four hours, and are in and out of the pool in about 20 or 25 seconds per heat. A parent could be checking something on a camera, look up, and see their kid getting climbing out of the pool. 

And hockey?  I’m informed the downsides for parents include, but are not limited to: bone-numbingly cold rinks; smelly equipment that is cumbersome, heavy, and expensive; painfully-early morning game times; and the constant worry of lost teeth and serious bodily injury (of the players, I mean, though parents are also at risk.)

I for one would not fare well worrying about concussion, spinal cord injury, and the potential need for dentures for my little offspring. On the plus side, it may be frigid, but it’s over in an hour and the kid is hopefully on the ice for longer than one minute!

Like I said, it’s a friendly debate, and whether called to a court, pool, rink or field, we parents will continue to show up and cheer.  

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