The Swimming Time Trial

Last year at a coaching conference the then national hurling Co-ordinator Paudie Butler spoke about communication with young children. Try to put yourself inside the mind of an eight, ten or twelve year old child he said, and consider what’s going through their head.

“I beat Mum at Mario Kart, my lace is undone, the ball is coming towards me, I’m gonna kick it, there’s Micky squirting water over James I wanna do that, I don’t like the coach he’s always shouting at me, I’m hungry, Joe I have to go to the toilet, can you tie my laces, my mum says I can’t come next week, we had sausages for dinner….”

He gave a brilliant elucidation of the simplicity of a child’s thinking. Something those of us involved with children or indeed those of us who are making a shockingly inadequate job of raising them fail to understand. It was a salutary tale.

I thought of it a lot recently for a number of reasons. Put yourself in the mind of the other person. God knows what they’re thinking at times. Take Peter. Going to bed tonight he started to cry. He had come last in all his time trials at swimming he told me.

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

Paradise Lost, John Milton

I tried to explain that he probably hadn’t come last, and if had, big deal. That there were a large number in his swimming age group. He was having none of it. I reached then for the hoary old chestniut. That is defeating his argument by proving that he is better at swimming than me. And he is, there’s no doubt about that. Eventually the mood lightened.

I also pointed out to him that our main concern in this part of the world is that he can swim so that he can enjoy the sea, and also more importantly that if he ever has to swim for it, that he is equipped to do so. That raised further questions that I batted for touch.

Having a child’s unflappable conviction that his dad is better at everything than him, he argued that I was in fact a good swimmer.  I replied firmly and with conviction that I was not. He wouldn’t accept that. The conversation ended with Peter in laughter when I told him I was good at the doggy paddle.

What is the point of this? Well, I wasn’t aware of what was bothering him when the exchange started. To me it wasn’t a big deal but to him it was. When I looked at it from his point of view I was able to understand where he was coming from.

“Dear incomprehension, it’s thanks to you I’ll be myself, in the end.”

The Unnamable, Samuel Beckett

Paudie Butler was right about putting yourself inside the mind of other people. It is something that applies in everyday life dealing with adults, husbands, wives, work colleagues. If you stop and think of how what you said, didn’t say or did can effect others. Not a bad way to go. And I was telling the truth. I am a shite swimmer.

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