Family game night is often a tense event in many homes, but for the mother and son coaching duo Chris Stroh and Kathryn Rosenast, tense competition can take on a whole new meaning.
“We’re very competitive people,” said Stroh. “Whether it be board games or video games, we’re very competitive, and it’s one of those things where if we lose, we play again.”
On this, they agreed.
“It is tense, but we’ve learned that we want to try and be together,” said Rosenast. “As long as we’re together, really no one will beat us, and they don’t even like to play with us sometimes because we’re … yeah, competitive is a good word for us.”
But temporarily breaking from their pattern of being on the same team, Stroh, the head coach for Hart High School swim, and his mom, the head coach for Valencia High School swim, saw themselves squared off in the pool Wednesday at the Santa Clarita Aquatic Center.
Rosenast, who has been a swim coach in the Santa Clarita Valley at both Saugus High School and Valencia High School, said it was the first time she and her son, who became the head coach for Hart High this past year, have competed as coaches.
She had coached her son when he was at Valencia High School before he went to Cal Poly to swim competitively.
“It was definitely different seeing her across the pool deck instead of by us,” said Stroh, jokingly.
However, in the buildup to the teams’ final two-school meet, while they may have been apart at the pool, the kids’ expressed their excitement at seeing the two duel one another as both mother and son have been helpful presences to one another and each other’s teams, school rivalries aside.
“They do, but it’s really funny because they refer to her as ‘Coach Chris’ Mom,’” said Stroh, when asked whether the student-athletes knew about their relationship. “They always ask me, ‘Do you know what her kids are doing?’ Or, ‘What are her kids swimming?’ “And I always tell them we’ll talk about what our kids are swimming … when we’re not going against each other.”
According to the coaches, like in many sports, winning meets or matches comes down to putting the right athletes in the right events or in the correct legs of each relay. Each meet can be different in terms of the placements, but each heat counts toward the teams’ overall point total and a chance of taking home the win.
“He asked me what I wanted for Mother’s Day, and I said, ‘Well I want to know what so and so is swimming,” said Rosenast, also jokingly. “And he goes, ‘Mom, pick a different gift.’”
But together, when they’re just coaches and not competitors, they say they exchange ideas regularly over the phone or at one another’s team practices, whether it’s a new exercise they’ve learned, or helping one another logistically navigate coaching a couple dozen kids in the pool during COVID-19 protocols, or even how to reach their student-athletes on how to break poor habits or make new personal records.
“My son is a rock star,” said Rosenast, in an unabashedly proud mom voice. “He definitely learned stuff from me … but I will also tell you that I have learned from him, and I respect him a great deal as a coach.”
Rosenast said she has learned how to be realistic, to not get herself worked up, after watching her son do the job he grew up watching her do. She also said that his time spent as a competitive swimmer, from the age of 5 to his time at Old Orchard I, to Canyon Aquatics, has shown him, and by extension her, how to seamlessly communicate between beginning high school swimmers, and lifelong club members.
“She’s really great at making connections with a lot of her swimmers with her being a counselor … I just think those kids connect really well with her, and I think that’s something that I try to do with my swimmers as well,” said Stroh. “I’ve learned from her that if you’re a people person, and you get to know the person, and not just the swimmer, they’ll swim a lot better for you.”
And the mannerisms, and how one another rub off onto each other is evident, from the way they coach their swimmers before a race, emphatically cheer their teams on when they’re in the water, to hyping them up and their teammates around them when the athlete beats their previous time.
“Maybe like a week ago, one of the kids was saying, ‘Oh my gosh, now I know why he’s so loud,’” Rosenast said of the reference to Stroh.
On Thursday, Rosenast’s varsity teams, both boys and girls, took home the wins. But come next week, when family game night is over, and the teams meet again in Foothill League prelims/finals, the competition between the two rekindles.
“We’re coming, we’re coming for you next week,” Stroh remembers saying during the congratulatory phone call he had with his mom after the meet. “We’re coming for you next week, we got a little taste, but we’ll be back, ready to go again.”
“You leave it in the pool,” his mom quipped back.