Imagine my excitement when I arrived on Shorabak and saw a crowd of over 200 people surrounding the pool. Normally the spectators did not arrive until after practice started. This meant only one thing, the pool was filled to a level of water where people could actually swim in it. As I walked up the stairs leading to the pool, I saw water trickling from the pipe into the pool.
All of the athletes of the Shorabak Garrison Swim and Water Polo Team were at the pool ready to swim in the pool with about six feet of clear water in it. Getting the athletes focused in stretching and dryland exercises proved a little difficult and comedic at the same time. All of their focus was on the pool that was filling with water. It was like putting chocolate chip cookies straight out of the oven in front of my son Westy. I was the mean parent who would not let his child touch the piping hot cookies so he would not burn his hands when he touched them. I would get questions from the athletes every minute asking why (I was so mean and) I was not allowing them into the pool. They were explaining their case that the clear blue water was calling out to them. Why would I prohibit them from entering the beautiful water?
My answer was the same each time. I told them (That I was mean and) that we would keep the same schedule every practice so everyone knows what to expect at practice. Begrudgingly, the team continued with their stretching and dryland exercises while sneaking peaks at the water. After almost an hour (Of me torturing them) of dryland, which is way longer than the team normally takes, we were ready for the pool.
Once the athletes had the chance to enter the water, it actually became quite serious. The athletes became very competitive and wanted to sprint every single length of the pool. I was glad about their seriousness but knew what the end result would be for them. As the athletes started to tire from swimming lengths of the pool, some of them started complaining of ailments to include earaches, stomach aches, shoulder injuries, cramping, or leg/foot problems. Knowing that this was from the athletes being out of energy, not wanting to lose the “race” and look bad, and because I am the meanest coach in the world, I told them that practice was almost over and to continue.
Eventually realizing that not every lap is a race, the athletes started focusing on things I was telling them about stroke technique, breathing, and for some of the athletes, how not to drown and how to be safe in the water.
In the last four minutes of practice, I broke out the water polo balls and had the team pass in groups of five, just like we practiced on the ground. Despite their tiredness, the team was focused on their drill and did exceptionally well.
The spectators of the practice continuously cheered and spoke with each other during the practice. There were many who wanted to join as well. The athletes did a great job at the beginning of practice telling the spectators to not interrupt the practice. The spectators also filled up their water bottles and chai pots with the water from the pool, which is something I am still not yet used to seeing. But I have learned that this is something to expect while coaching in Afghanistan, no matter what part of the country I am in.
The only downside to the practice was that there was another ball broken by barbed wire. This was the third ball in two weeks. This is normally something that would not be too concerning, but I only have five balls left for the team. With mail taking over a month to arrive from the United States and no such thing as water polo balls in Afghanistan, I could be out of balls with nothing to replace them with. The athletes said that they would speak with Colonel Safi about removing the barbed wire and having a guard at the pool. There would be a guard positioned at the pool 24 hours a day to ensure that the pool is not used during non-practice hours. That means that the pool will stay semi clean and that nobody drowns. This would be the same setup as we had at the Pol-e-Charki pool.
Having water in the pool was quite refreshing. I cannot wait until practice tomorrow.