Swim Team Initiation

My informant is a third generation Chinese American male  student. He grew up in Irvine, California. He was on the swim team for one year on his high school. During a casual interview (with other friends around), when asked about any sort of tricks members of the swim team would play on each other, he said:

Informant: Like with the thing where you reach out for someone’s dick and if they flinch…then you put out your hands and uh…give them a titty scoop, which is basically you, you flick their man boobs [lots of laughter]. No really, if someone flinches, when you’re gonna hit them in the balls, it shows that uh…inhibitions…I don’t know what’s a good word…their…their doubtful of their manliness, they think they don’t have balls of steel that could withstand like a simple hand tap. So you have to, uh, flick their male breast to remind them that their not as manly as they might think they are.

Interviewer (me): Is it like an initiation ritual? Do you do it to newcomers or what?

Informant: Well, the more experienced people kinda know the routine, so they don’t flinch. No one actually hits another speedo-ed man’s balls [lots of laughter]. I guess everyone has to accept that no one is going to touch another in the balls so if you flinch it’s kinda saying you don’t trust your teammates.

Interviewer: So uh, what do you think is the importance of this…uh…

Informant: It builds trust among teammates, ’cause you know, if you’re all giddy and you flinch all the time everyone is going to always flick you in the tits [laughter], you’re going to have to learn to accept your teammates or you know, your tits are going to be like jiggling all over the place and you’ll be known for not having balls of steel.

Interviewer: Ok, uh, did you have this done to yourself, or?

Informant: No, I’m a man, I have balls of steel.

Interviewer: So uh, nobody ever touched you [laughter] in the balls?

Informant: No, uh, they tried to do it, but I wouldn’t flinch…I learned fast.

While the informant makes this sound like a folk game (prank) that tests one’s masculinity, I would consider this item occupational folklore because it is an initiation or team bonding ritual for a swim team. While the game itself tests what my informant calls “manliness”, throughout the interview, my informant made it sound as if this prank was something the experienced members of the swim team pulled on new members. As suggested by my informant, new members would most likely flinch when the experienced members reached to hit them in the testicles and therefore would have to undergo the “titty scoop” punishment. But, experienced members (such as my informant) knowing the game, would stop themselves from flinching and therefore escape the “titty scoop” punishment. Thus, this prank becomes a initiation ritual where new members gradually learn what it is to be an experienced member of the swim team. In another way, it is also a trust building exercise, as my informant points out, where new members learn to trust that their teammates won’t hit them in the testicles.

However, interestingly, as my informant shows, the swim team has an emphasis on masculinity and what it means to be “manly”. This implies that the male gender identity continues to hold significance in terms of power and strength for the swim team and perhaps, because of this, the swim team thinks that to be successful (a powerful and strong swimmer), one must be masculine.