It is such an honor to be coaching these athletes. The first few practices drew huge crowds and there were dozens who were wanting to join the team as well. The "20 best athletes" were chosen by the 201st Corps' Sports Officer Mohammad Tahir with very careful selection with strict requirements.
The athletes are very committed. I have come to the realization of why through my discussions with the athletes individually and as a group: All of the athletes, along with most Afghans I meet, are very serious about sports; and that someone is taking an interest in them. In the United States, you sometimes have trouble getting everyone to show up for practice, they have a birthday party to go to or they have to go get their nails done. Here, even the hopefuls were out there everyday, knowing they wouldn’t even get to go in the pool. Unless, of course, they were out on a mission. That’s why we needed more athletes. I told Mohammad Tahir that we could use ten more. He said, ‘They’re not good for you." Athletes who show up everyday to watch a practice for weeks are good for me.
Eventually the original twenty were expanded to thirty guys, but this meant more men in the water, some who were struggling swimmers. Even though I was careful for what I wished for, I still had my hands full and needed help. Steve Scott, a Lieutenant Commander in our beloved Navy and the mentor for the base commander, volunteered to coach. Adding Steve allowed us to work in two groups. Steve took the novice swimmers and developed their strokes, while the advanced group worked on their game. Each of our groups made great strides.
Constructing goals proved to be one of the tougher challenges. I downloaded plans for the goals, and the eager engineering department went to work, but having only seen football (soccer) goals, they came back with small, heavy frames constructed of steel. The goals had to be placed on the deck
The view from the pool deck was very different from pool decks in the US. I have never had an armed guard at the pool before and the scene from the pool can be rivaled by few pools. Coaching this team is unlike anything I have ever encountered.
Who knows where this will take us...
The athletes of the 201st Corps Swim and Water Polo Team line up for warm up.