Indulge me while I share a personal story.
My youngest daughter started swim lessons just after she turned six and spent two full sessions (in other words, 20 swim lessons) sitting on the side of the pool. Yep, that’s right. She wouldn’t even get in the water, much less put her face in it. Thankfully, her third class was taught by an extremely gifted and understanding teenager, Janelle, who, by the end of two weeks, had her in the water and dunking her face.
Two more sessions with Janelle and she was swimming with her face in the water, learning alternate side breathing, and backstroke. Because of my former life as a swim coach’s wife, it was obvious to me from the first stroke she took on her back that she had a natural feel for the water.
By the time she was eight, I felt she was ready for more than lessons and she joined the local age group swim team. From the start, she displayed an exceptional work ethic and did well, despite the distinct disadvantage of being, well, short (more on this later).
Now about the same time my daughter joined swim team, there was a boy, who I’ll call David (NOT his real name) who also joined. He was tall for his age, but didn’t work at it especially hard. Or hard at all, really. When I say that, I mean there was a lot of goofing off and cheating on time intervals in practice. I don’t mean this is a bad way; he was a little boy and acted accordingly. Despite his lack of effort, for either conditioning or improving his strokes, he also did reasonably well, although for several years, due to her hard work and natural talent, my daughter could beat him in many races.
Fast forward to their teen years…my daughter was still working hard, and her hard work paid off with state meet qualifications. David was still goofing off in practice and his strokes were still – how can I say this delicately – total crap, but he could easily beat my daughter – and every other girl on the swim team – in sprint events, and even some of the longer events. He was 6’4″ tall and had the advantage of some voodoo physics involving the relative drag exerted on long as opposed to short bodies in the water. His other advantages included:
- a larger heart and lungs in relation to body size
- longer and larger bones for greater leverage and a better framework for muscle mass
- greater muscle mass in relation to body weight
- higher proportion of fast-twitch muscle cells
These are advantages that all boys share over girls. Yes, at younger ages, girls often overcome them for various reasons, but the fastest boys will always be faster than the fastest girls.
My daughter and her swimming friends often lamented the unfairness represented by David, but at least they had the consolation of not being forced to compete against him (and then share a locker room with him!). How tragic it is that these girls in Connecticut don’t have that consolation.
I’ve written about this topic before.