Socialization in Practice

Feature by Tyler Remmel

HARTLAND, Wisconsin, July 5. TALKING is a simple thing; it is so common, even at practice. Swimmers will do their best to hold up a conversation in five-second gaps between swims, and two-minute periods between sets.

Senior swimmers are pretty good at it by now.

There are the obvious difficulties that such conversations present, but what's more interesting is how the opinions of this socialization differ from coach to swimmer.

A normal Lake Country Phoenix (Hartland, Wisc.) practice is rarely quiet. Aside from the time spent actually swimming, there will often be multiple conversations going on at once.

For a swimmer, talking is a sort of rite of passage. Some say that it makes practices go faster, others say that it makes practices easier, and still others claim that conversation is what keeps them coming back to practice.

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"For the little joy that practice offers, talking makes it a lot more enjoyable," said Lake Country swimmer Evan Barta.

"Once you look back on it [if you were talking], the practice…doesn't seem as hard if you were having fun," Holly Johnson said.

Even though coach Mark Kohnhorst used to be a swimmer, he insists that it would be good for training if swimmers didn't have to talk during practice.

"Too often, a conversation carries through into a not-so-high-quality push-off," he said. "When a swimmer is involved in a conversation, it's very difficult to coach in between sets."

Lake Country's coaches have had a fairly extensive battle with conversations in that regard. It's not very often that either Kohnhorst or coach Tom Coons do not have to raise their voice to get the attention of their swimmers to explain a set.

Every time they do so, the pool will go silent – not always immediately, though. As you can imagine, this upsets the coaches.

Having a little stubbornness, the swimmers get upset at the coaches when they raise their voice, too. The disagreement seems to stem lightly from the interpretation that talking might be considered a sort of privilege, or something that at least needs to be done sparingly at least.

It's not just the coaches that feel that way, though. Olympic gold medalist Garrett Weber-Gale will sometimes train with Lake Country during the winter holidays, and one of the most lasting impressions that he's left is the loose quote, "If you're swimming as hard as you should be, you shouldn't have the breath or energy to talk."

The swimmers don't exactly take that seriously. Instead, it will get thrown around from time to time as a sarcastic remark.

And as you may have figured out, when Kohnhorst or Coons raises their voice, the ensuing silence doesn't last very long. If you'd ask the swimmers for an estimate, their responses range from .02 seconds to two seconds.

"It's pretty easy to talk while the coaches are talking," Johnson said. "There's so many people."

Kate Jones thinks that hard work should be rewarded with a sort of free speech.

"They need…to just let us talk," she said. "We work so hard. We should be able to talk if we're like [working hard] to do the sets."