I was an annoying child. At least that is what my mother told me when I asked her why she signed me up for swimming when I was little, as opposed to girl scouts or softball. Well, she didn’t exactly say that I was annoying. She said that I had a lot of energy that needed to be used and focused, and also, I needed something that would help me sleep at night. I’m pretty sure that is mom code for I was an annoying child though.
Little did I know that her decision to enroll me in the Summer Swim Team would have such big implications in my life, and I’m so glad that it did.
But what she didn’t know and I didn’t know was that Swim Team, and Summer Swim Team in particular, has a culture all its own. Parents need to make sure that not only are their kids ready for a swim team, but that they are ready too.
The biggest difference that parents should be aware of is that Swim Team practice is NOT lessons! Ms. MacKenzie, an instructor here and Head Coach for Salisbury High School and Middle School Swim Teams, as well as Head Coach for Down at the Severns in Annapolis, Maryland, says that coaches are fine tuning techniques during practice; they are not teaching your kids the complete stroke. That means that your child should know all 4 strokes and they should be comfortable swimming multiple laps of each stroke.
Also, parents should be aware that their kid might not be the best. They might not be 1st, or even 2nd or 3rd. MacKenzie also says that this doesn’t matter as much. Swim Team will make your child stronger and they will improve. However, it might be a struggle to get there, especially with swimming full laps. It’s imperative that parents remain patient.
This all boils down to intensity. Swim Team, even Summer Swim Team, is definitely more intense than lessons, and it’s competitive. From a coach’s point of view, parents must be patient, keep an open mind, and know that practice and lessons are two totally different things.
Swimming runs (swims?) in my family, so I spoke with my sister-in-law, Jenni, about being a Swim Team Mom. Swim Team Moms are a different breed of mom, but Swim Team Moms make great (albeit, loud) friends. Jenni recommends doing this by volunteering at the meets either by timing, being a runner, or a wrangler/zoo keeper (keeping the kids together, especially for relays). This will also help you get to know the other kids and start to understand swimming as a sport. It’s also important to get to know the coach, but not BE the coach. While Summer Swim is competitive, it’s not as competitive as the regular season. (Which, BTW, swimming is a Winter sport).
And finally, I interviewed my nephew, Gregg, on what he wished he would have known before he started swimming. He states, emphatically, to not worry about breaststroke, lol. As a butterfly-er, he loathes breaststroke, and is always trying to convince people that fly is not that bad. (It’s terrible, don’t do it!) But he wishes that before joining, he would have known more about each of the strokes.
And that seems to be the mistake parents make; they equate practice with lessons, and throw their kids in to literally sink or swim. I know my mother did it to me, but I was annoying, so she had good reason 🙂 Parents, just understand that while Summer Swim Team is fun and a great workout, your kids should have some idea of what they are doing. If you’re not sure, sign them up for lessons and our instructors can let you know if they are ready. And, if your kids love swimming, but Summer Swim Team is too much, you can totally look into our non-competitve Swim Team, which we have this summer, as well as during the school year.
Swimming and joining a swim team changed my life. It’s a great way for me to stay active as I get older, it’s also provided me a great career path, and I hope, I’m slightly less annoying (to my mother and to all of humanity). But, it’s also important to understand where lessons end and Swim Team begins.
One of the fondest memories I have of me and my dad is swimming at the Upper Perk pool in the summer. Now, you need to understand my father. He was born and raised in Germany and emigrated here when he was 18. So, he was very much European, and his swim attire definitely portrayed this.
As much as I loved swimming with my dad, I also absolutely hated it because he indeed wore a speedo; a big, giant, German guy in a speedo. Yes, that was my childhood. And while I hated it at the time, I can definitely look back on it now and laugh because really, a big, giant, hairy German guy in a speedo at this barely suburban, local pool??!! LOL!
But my favorite thing about swimming with Norbert wasn’t so much about “practicing my skills,” it was about having fun in the water with my dad (which, btw, once we were in the water, the embarrassment faded–as the water covered up that speedo). We would totally race, but he would also toss me around, and flip me and it was always just a nice time of us goofing off and being outside on those warm, summer evenings. We would always leave the pool starving and eat ice cream when we got home, and my mom would always give us “the look” when we wanted 3 scoops, but we were growing kids! Yes, Norbert was a giant kid when it came to us playing and eating.
I never thought of this time as practicing, but that was what Norbert and I were doing, however unknowingly. When I was super little (like 4 years old), he would toss me up in the air spinning and catch me and splash me. This got me more comfortable with being splashed, with getting water in my face, with going all the way under the water. As I grew, our races meant that I was practicing my strokes, however inefficiently they might have been. But, I was learning how my body worked in the water; how I could make it go faster; how I could hold my breath longer and longer; and how I could flip and turn and rotate and use the water to my advantage.
While this might seem like a simple story about me and my dad, it really extends out to what parents can do to help their children progress at swimming, no matter their ability level.
And parents, you don’t have to wait until the pools open for the summer. You can practice this all year long with your kids, even in the comfort of your own home!
Tub time is a great time to start acclimating your kids to the water. It’s your child’s home, so it’s completely safe and comfortable. This is where you can start dripping water over their head (and eventually face) with their buckets and toys. This is also a great place to start splashing and blowing bubbles. If your tub is big enough and your child is small enough, you can even work on back floats and possibly front floats.
We have spent A LOT of time in our houses this year, and if you are ready to get out, we offer free Friday Family swims for students currently enrolled in swim lessons. Here, you can practice all those skills that I practiced with my dad. We have times on Friday afternoons from 1–230. This time you don’t need to schedule in advance. We also have Friday evening times, 630-715 or 715-8. These times you must schedule in advance with our Front Desk so we can maintain physical distancing. And just because your kids might be able to beat you in races, you should still come and swim and play. You can have your child teach you breaststroke or butterfly, even if it’s not exactly correct. The very act of teaching will help solidify the theory of what the stroke entails and how to do it in the child’s brain. Showing you can help them understand how their body works in the water.
Always remember though, Family Swim is for play and for fun! Let your child splash and experiment and be goofballs in the water. So much of their time is spent having to “be serious and listen.” Let them have this time with you to have fun, practice some skills (even if it doesn’t necessarily look like practicing), and be kids. While they may not end up becoming Michael Phelps, they will probably remember spending this time with you and enjoying swimming and playing in the pool for years to come, even if you do wear a speedo.
This is not an easy blog to write this month. The blog is a bit late because of the sensitivity surrounding this topic. Parents, we gotta talk about your behavior. I’m not talking about your kids. Your kids are great!
Here’s the fact: Swim-in Zone creates color levels to organize your child into the appropriate class based on his/her skills and their age. That’s it. That’s why we have all our pretty color levels. In no way does your child’s level reflect on your parenting ability.
Here’s the other truth, but we all know this one already: 2020 sucked! For many kids, they didn’t swim at all this past year. And those 2 weeks last spring totally didn’t count. So kids who come to Swim-in Zone just for Spring, haven’t actually swam since June 2019. And I’m not talking about swimming around your backyard pool in the summer. Those aren’t lessons. Kids are having fun and doggie paddling around–as they should! But they are not learning the proper techniques for side breathing, they aren’t learning how to add the arms and adjust timing to create a beautiful breaststroke, and they aren’t mastering butterfly by themselves. And that’s okay.
Here’s the other hard part: your child has probably regressed in swimming skills. But guess what, that’s okay too!
The statistic is that for every month out of the water, it takes the child 1 week to regain those skills. As I said before, many of these children haven’t actually swam in lessons since June 2019. Even if we are being generous, the last time they were in a pool could very easily have been August 2019–that’s a year and a half of not swimming. That’s 18 months and will therefore take about 18 weeks or all of Spring Session just to get to where they were before. Even if they were able to paddle around this summer, that’s still 7 months out of the pool and half of Spring session (7/15 weeks) just to get back to where they were.
Here’s what’s not okay. Arguing with an instructor about where your child should be placed. Just because your children were doing something with you all summer doesn’t mean they will do it with our instructors or they remember the skills they practiced a year ago. Some children need to rebuild those skills.
We talk about giving kids a break in school because they lost out on a whole year and we need to extend that same courtesy to sports as well. If your child had just learned how to shoot a lay up and then didn’t shoot another one for over a year later, he or she isn’t going to remember to do it properly the 1st time. It’s going to take time to review and sometimes relearn dribbling, shooting, jumping, where to hit the ball on the backboard, how to extend the arm. While parents will understand this about basketball, swimming takes on “less importance” because it’s just fun or it’s just for safety and they aren’t going to a swim team.
Let’s all agree that it’s been rough lately, and this Spring Session, we are all about fun and having a good time, with some life-saving skills thrown in. Parents, don’t ruin it for your children by focusing on a color or a level. Let your children have this time to be even more of a kid and get their crazies out, and let your instructor do the job that she has been professionally trained for. I promise you, if you can relax, you will enable your instructor to relax, and your child is going to learn a whole lot more 🙂
We know parents want their children to be safe in and around the water. It is imperative to us as well. However, what parents think is safe in and around the water and what we know to be safe in and around the water can differ greatly.
Many parents think that if their child can jump into the water and get to the side, they are safe. But this isn’t necessarily true. There is so much more to swimming than just hanging out in the pool.
Being safe in the water (not just a pool) means being able to swim a distance and get a breath. It means being able to call for help if needed, and it means being able to help someone else, if necessary. We structure our lessons with these ideas in mind.
Our Levels 1 and 2 focus around safety, specifically for the self. In Level 1, we emphasize that an adult should always be watching the child and that the child is never the 1st one in the pool. We also start working on floats, so that by the time they are in Level 2, the child is able to roll over onto his or her back and float independently, ensuring they can get a breath or call for help, if needed. However, after Level 2, parents stop thinking about safety, and we are just getting started.
Our Level 3 classes start focusing safety lessons around helping other people. We start teaching reaching and throwing assists, and Level 4 classes look at rip currents, how to identify a drowning person, and what to do if a person is choking. We even revisit jumping and diving rules since many of us will swim in ponds, lakes, or even a quarry sometime during our lifetimes. Our goal for water safety is to be safe in any body of water, not just in a pool.
For us, safety doesn’t begin and end at the walls of our pool. It goes beyond, into the shores of our world.
We get a lot of parents who come up to us and say, “how did you do it? I’ve been trying to get my child to do __________ and I just couldn’t! What is your secret?” The secret is…there is no secret! Just gentle repetition, practice, and a lot of distraction.
Here at Swim-in Zone, we use gentle techniques to get your child to do skills, particularly with back floating. Generally, kids HATE back floating. They hate back floating like they hate broccoli or anything else that is relatively healthy and good for them. The issue with back floats is water gets in their ears, and it is uncomfortable. It’s easy for most adults because we are used to it. We have adjusted. But for kids, they need more practice.
We like to start our back floats by having the kids rest their heads on our shoulder like it’s a pillow. This close contact gives them the security they need. We also only have them practice for about 3–5 seconds, and we count with them or sing a song; anything to distract them and make them forget they are on their back. Once they are comfortable, our instructors are able to sink down lower and start to gently get the kid’s ears in the water. We also practice on the steps, by having the kids use the top step as a “pillow.” In my classes, I tell the kids to take a nap, and we all snore while practicing our floats. We are still only trying this for a few seconds at a time.
I like to break it up and practice several times per class, especially in my younger Level 1’s. We practice back floating on the steps, and with me, we also practice back floats after we jump in. Practicing back floats after a jump is vital. It helps reinforce the idea that if they fall into the pool, they can float on their back and kick to safety or float until help arrives. Most importantly, floating on their back enables them to breathe or possibly call for help if needed.
Once kids are comfortable on our shoulders, we start transitioning them to floating with our hands behind their head. Because kids like to be in control, our instructors let the kids put their hands around their ears, then the instructor can put his/her hands on top of the child’s. This also helps change the child’s center of gravity and is less invasive than if the instructor was holding their head. They eventually get used to this as well, and then we are just holding the back of their head, and soon, they are floating by themselves!
The most important part is patience! All of this takes several weeks, if not several sessions. I do not expect my Level 1 Beginners (Reds) to be comfortable on their back. I do not even expect my Level 1 Intermediates (Red/Oranges) to be very comfortable. However, by the end of Level 1 (Orange), they should be comfortable, and the instructor should be almost able to let go of the child’s head for 2-3 seconds.
While this may seem like magic, it’s merely practice. And you can help us! Remember, we have free Friday Family swim times from 1–230 and 630–8, where the immediate family may schedule a 45-minute block to practice and have fun in the pool. Also, throughout Winter Break, December 27–31st, we have Family Swim times for $10/45 minute session, which may include grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and in-laws. Bring all the kids and get their energy out (and get them out of your house!)