People say you don’t remember things under age four. But I do. I remember parking in my swim instructor’s driveway and walking around the side of her house and through the screen door to her pool. I remember what the pool looked like.. I remember the Chattahoochee and I remember the steps at the end of the pool.
I teach 17 swim lessons every week (total of 21 swimmers). Currently, my youngest kiddo is 22 months and my oldest is 9 years old… and I love it. I love my day job as a pediatric speech-language pathologist, but I really love teaching swim lessons. Honestly, in a perfect world, I’d run a swim school and coach the novice group of a swim team (again). But it’s not a perfect world.. yet. I’m constantly telling my kiddos what good swimmers they are and how they should join a swim team. I get decent responses, but most kids just give me the “Oh, yeah; ok, thanks.” As much fun as we have in the pool together, it’s not easy instilling a love for swimming in swim lessons. Why? Because it’s hard, it’s exhausting.. and you’re alone. Many people claim swimming to be an individual sport, but it’s not. No one would ever be where they are today in swimming if they had to train alone. You need your teammates.. swimming with a team is one of the reasons swimmers fall in love with swimming in the first place. It’s fun! If I can just convince a child to give swimming on a team a try, they’ll fall in love with it and be a part of a life-long sport.
An amazing thing happened four years ago: Michael Phelps. Thanks to Michael Phelps, swimming made primetime television and kids across the nation were fascinated. USA Swimming saw one of the largest increases in memberships in history.. and it’s happening again.
Thanks to Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin (and truthfully, Michael Phelps as well), 2012 is a great year for swimming. We’ve had more primetime coverage than ever and people are buzzing about the sport. More importantly, kids are excited. Last weekend, almost every single one of my swimmers mentioned watching swimming on tv and wanting to “swim fast like the big guys.” They’re more interested in working hard and suddenly they are making their own goals. How wonderful to be eight years old and say, “One day, I’m going to swim like that.” My kiddos are more interested in joining a team than ever. Sure, only a few will actually try it and only a few from that group will actually stick with it… but ALL of them took initiative and created a goal. It’s a valuable concept and they’re learning it early in life.
It’s Just Awesome…
To many people, swimming is boring. You go up and back and up and back.. where’s the fun in that? Right? For swimmers, it’s so much more. Again, I go back to the “team” aspect. As a kid, I looked forward to practice with my friends every day. My team was my family. My school friends just didn’t get it. They went to the mall or just hung around after school.. I went and worked out for two hours – in elementary school. My teammates and I pushed each other in the water, we gossiped, we laughed, we rolled our eyes at the ridiculous set our coach just gave us…
Swimming is all about what you do in the water and you can’t blame anyone else for it; talk about taking responsibility. Only you can work hard in the water and only you determine how you swim in a race. It’s just you against the clock. There is no judge, no one to rely on, no one to get in your way. One of my favorite parts about the competitive aspect of swimming is that you can set personal goals. You can be the slowest person in the pool, but it doesn’t matter if you made your personal goal. It’s also one of my favorite things to teach new swimmers on a swim team. When I coached, I worked hard to teach kids that what others do doesn’t matter. I taught kids to set a goal time, work toward it and achieve it.. no matter how many times they had to try. Swimming teaches kids to work toward a goal and appreciate even the smallest improvements. (it also teachers math pretty early on!) It’s not until the most elite meets where your place in the pool really means anything. Katie Ledeke (15 year old gold medalist – 800 free) said it best this evening when she said, “I just started setting short term goals and long term goals.. and here I am.”
Have you ever pushed yourself past your breaking point? Isn’t it an all-mighty feeling? Swimming gives you that every single day. I know other sports do too.. but how many of them have you do that when you’re five? Or even ten? Many sports have you take a turn, then stand around, take a turn, then stand around. Swimming is go, go, go. It teaches you that there’s no such thing as giving up. It teaches you that you CAN do it when you think you can’t and you CAN keep going even though you think you’re broken.
Swimmers have the highest GPAs (along with golf, tennis and sometimes soccer)! Swimmers don’t. have. time. to get in trouble. Everything revolves around practice, including their homework. Many others go home after school and lounge around; they get lazy, time flies by and homework doesn’t get done. Swimmers know they have a short amount of time to get things done and therefore get them done as soon as possible. Also, few things suck more than weight training/running/dryland + a two hour swim practice and then coming home to have to do homework. All you want to do is eat and sleep because you’re up again at 4:30am for morning practice. Additionally, most coaches keep track of your grades and if your grades fall, you don’t get in the pool. It’s just another one of the high standards that are set. You’re on time to practice, you give 110% every day and you do well in school.
Swimming is a life long sport and it opens so many doors to other things. When I swim at any public pool, I see people in their 80s swimming laps. What other sports do 80 year olds participate in? Swimming lead me to teaching swim lessons and the young age of fourteen; I began coaching at sixteen and lifeguarding at eighteen. While my friends were flipping burgers for minimum wage, I was making double, getting a tan and inspiring others. It also lead me to club level water polo in college and now open water swimming as an adult. One day I might even venture into triathalons :)
Thanks to my parents and thanks to swimming, I am strong and athletic. I’m a swimmer and a runner. I set goals and I achieve them. Even if it takes me a while. My determination has carried over outside the pool into life and I am grateful for it.
Moral of the story? Get your kids in swim lessons and make sure they spend at least one summer on a swim team. All sports are fantastic and all sports teach important life lessons. But in my biased opinions.. swimming is pretty freaking awesome.