Of the many aspects that you find at local swimming meets in India, the one thing that genuinely amazes and amuses me is the sheer decibel levels. Swimming competitions are boisterous and loud, and the primary and almost the sole contributor to this noise pollution are the swimming parents, namely the dads and mums that accompany their kiddos to the event.
At the risk of sounding misogynistic, the fact is undeniable that it is the mums who take the cake when it comes to shouting. Yet, the dads aren’t too far behind; a yelling father is not an unusual sight. At times, the mums and dads band together, form a shouting partnership with take up vantage positions along the lanes of their wards, and then, scream their hearts out. Quite often, when the heats are announced the partners will slightly move in tandem to their respective lanes, it is very deft and scientific, as you need to choose the position based on many factors, like which lane is your kid swimming, which side he or she breathes, at what point he or she tends to give up and needs a parental boom-gun.
The decibel levels are inversely proportional to the age-group of the swimming competitions. Namely, the younger they are, the louder their parents would be. This could also be attributed to the fact that kids are new, fresh and understanding the nuances of competition and hence vulnerable to the shouts and yelling. As they grow older, they can blank out the noise and become quite blissfully oblivious to the trauma, travails and machinations of their mum and dad.
Now and then in this shouting tribe, emerges an exceptional talent, a shouter who is able to outshout all, with a divine talent to drown out the other shouts and shrieks and to dominate the proceedings. In all my years of having my kids swim at these meets, I have had a good fortune of witnessing a few of these shouting geniuses. Yet again, somehow all of them have been mothers, with a particular unique trait. For instance, I remember a mum who had a shriek that was capable of scaring a ghost in its tracks; her shrill yells would stun almost all at the meets. I am sure it would have shattered glass cutlery if we were unfortunate to carry it. Then, there was this another, who’d continuously chant the name of her son, so loudly, as if her life depended on it. And then there are these pacer mums who would keep shouting instructions to their kiddos, “kick-kick-kick”, “pull-pull-pull”, “push-push-pull”, “finish-finish-finish” while consistently running up and down the deck. And then there are those transitionary mums, who’d install themselves at the other end of the pool, shouting and shrieking as the kiddo comes near that end, and then quietening down with loud salutation that goes like “Go-Go-GOOOO”.
The dads, in the meantime, are intently following the proceedings. With a furrow writ large on their face, they are looking not only at their kid, but more on the kids that are beating or competing with their own. Now, and then, they too shout the shouting game, but unlike the mums who do so with unbridled emotions, the dads are very strategic and conscious. For instance, if the kid is lagging much behind, the mum would be running helter-skelter shouting and screaming, the dads will go somewhat numb, thinking of all the things they want to do with their ward for letting them down.
It isn’t that dads are devoid of emotions, I have seen quite a few pops debunking their cloak of civility, cursing and slapping their kid for poor performance right after the races. The trouble is dads often function at the extremes, either they’d be dead cool or deadly-hot, seldom things in between.
Personally, wife and I have been part of this shouters tribe (and are still) at the races. Initially, when we joined the competitive fraternity, we discovered that the parents of the winners were most prone to this loud behaviour. Naturally, we deduced that this must surely be helpful to the kids, provide them with the stimulus to work harder, to push the limits a wee-bit more. Also, swimming as a sport is quite a super competitive one, where sometimes the difference between glory and debacle is merely in micro-seconds, say 0.03, is what stands between you on the podium smiling and you on the pool deck crying. In such a scenario, a little boost if it comes from the screams can be much fruitful. No wonder, we too were making our humble contribution to the auditory chaos. I really don’t know how good this screaming business was; if the two kids would have won more medals or won less but for our vociferous inputs.
The kids, on their part, have told us, that in the thick of things they can barely hear us. For them, it is just a cacophony of noises, which they are somewhat accustomed to; they are able to ignore it. It’s like those workers at the airports, who become numb to the roaring aeroplane engines by having to hear them out all day. Similarly, the kids too are immune or recalcitrant, except when they are in the end-lanes and cannot just avoid the loud guardians.
If shouting could boost performance, we Indians would be winning every darn medals at the international aquatic meets. But the fact, we don’t, just proves the inefficacy of the shouting tact.
So, if there is no empirical linkage between shouting and performance, why do parents shout so much at these competitions? What’s the use, you might wonder?
Well, as a parent who has been part of the Shouters Anonymous, and has indulged his lungs and the larynx at these meets, I have discovered the truth. And the fact is, Parents at these meets are not shouting for their kids; instead they are crying for themselves. The shrieks and the screams are like a catharsis for the edgy souls. The eager, nervous, tense, parents do so as an autonomous reaction. When they shout, they become a part of the race itself; they are breaking the water with their pull, they are catching the catch, they are ramping up the flutter kick. At that point in time, the shouts are like the mantras that you see being repeated continuously at the Buddhist monasteries. They are an act of participation, of prayer, of competition.
All this shouting is only for the fittest. You should not have heart issues or hypertension to be part of this brouhaha. The funny thing is, I feel that you would develop these issues, if you attend such meets regularly.
As the kid grows and becomes independent, the parents then become spectators—indeed concerned and expectant spectators but not the participative ones.
This shouting business is like a phase that almost all parents go through at the meets. When their kids start, they are young and enthusiastic and loud, then they mellow out and make way for the new lot. This cycle keeps repeating over and over again. And the decibel levels at these meets never ebb.
A special note: while the parents go through the phases of shouting and silence over time: there is one tribe that never lets the volumes down: it’s the coaches.
If there is anyone more charged and pent-up at the meets, it is the swimming coaches. They are like those pressure-cookers on a hot flame, whistling away at regular intervals with rising intensity. The funny bit is, each coach has his unique way of encouraging his pupils, some even have a set pattern of things that get done before and after each race. Some coaches wave their hats or caps gesticulating loudly, then others have a loud piercing whistle that connects to their kids. Some coaches stay at the sidelines, watching intently making notes.others would be more charged up, running up and down the deck. In short, the coaches at these meets are almost as involved or probably more than the parents.
All these factors and more, make the swim meets a very unique and exciting affair. The whole day moves along punctuated by these loud cries, shouts, exhortations, cheers. It is never a staid affair.
The only thing that changes is that we need a warm-water therapy once we return back home, the voice would be raspy, the throat sore. Till the next meet. And then, we begin again.
Believe me; it is not easy being an Indian swimming parent.