When my daughter was 5 she found her stride on our neighborhood summer swim team. A tom boy at heart, she heard about swim team from her friends and could not wait to sign up. She loves every sport and wants to play each one, so it was not surprising to me. Although I had a 2 year old and a baby, I signed her up and tried to figure out how to manage early morning practices (I still don’t really know, so I have no advice in that area.) She enjoyed the season so much, continued to swim in the Divisional Meet and then All-Stars and won “The Coach’s Award” for her age group. It was an Olympic year, so she watched with intensity as the greatest athletes in the world won medal after medal. In her tiny heart but her biggest dream, she wanted to win one too someday.
I had no idea what I was in for…
When the summer season was over she still wanted to swim and her coach encouraged me to keep her in the water. I was not so sure, but I did notice a few things. My shy, intimidated little girl found a piece of herself in the water. When I asked her what she liked about swimming, she said, “I like that my mind is completely blank when I swim.” It was this tiny nudge that encouraged me to sign her up for the winter swim league.
We swam at our local rec center for two winters, while still swimming in the summer for our neighborhood team. She continued to excel, but more importantly she continued to really enjoy swimming. She was young, but she has always been so steadfast—I knew she had found something she loved. After her second winter season, we loaded the car and I told her that swimming was done until the summer. “DONE?” She said…”I don’t ever want swimming to be done!” After a few tears and a promise from me that we would check out a year round team, she was excited to go to an evaluation with TIDE swimming at our local YMCA. There, she met her first coach, Sarah, who set up a chain of wonderful women and men who would continue to cultivate her love of swimming.
If I am being honest, it really was not a viable option for us at the time. The cost, the time commitment, the energy, while still managing my 3 other kids seemed overwhelming. I don’t really know what I was expecting from the evaluation, but I do know that by the end of the day we had been to our local swim store, Aquawear, and bought the team suit and the warm-up. She was overflowing with happiness, I was nervous, and my husband was totally confused.
We have now been swimming with TIDE for 3 years, and I just registered her for the 4th. I know there are plenty of things out there that talk about why swimming (or even athletics in general) are good for kids, and I am sure we all know that exercise, goal-setting, and hard work are important. I want to tell you though, from a family perspective, why you shouldn’t fear year-round swimming (and you can probably substitute just about any sport.) I have heard, read, and understand all of the articles from all of the experts about the dangers of kids doing one sport year round, but when my daughter looked at me and asked to commit herself to swimming—because she has big goals, because she enjoys being with her teammates, because she adores her coaches—how can I say no?
If you are debating what do next and why, and how it will work for your family, here are four significant points that I think you should consider:
The Coaching: I have always been a person who thinks that if we are going to do something, let’s do it right. When it comes to year round swimming, you are hopefully giving your child the chance to work with some of the best coaches swimming can offer. Before you join a team, check out the credentials—you tend to get what you pay for. Being a great swimmer is one thing, coaching a swimmer to be great is something else. We decided to join TIDE for many reason, one being that it is the only Silver Medal (awarded by its governing body, USA Swimming) in Hampton Roads. Stroke technique and mechanics are a must, especially at the younger ages. I remember Addy’s coach telling us: I am going to slow her down, before I speed her back up. Because Tyler and I know nothing about swimming, it has been easy for us to trust her coaches. We don’t only look for excellent credentials, but we also look for passion, an ability to motivate kids, and a general love for the sport. Addy has been surrounded by wonderful coaches who have become role models to her, who know just when to push and when to pull back—when it comes to swimming, they know best for her. We were just at a championship meet, and Addy tied for 10th, which would require a swim-off. Her coach said no. She explained to me later that Addy had a great swim (dropping nearly 10 seconds in the 200 free) and she wanted her to remember that feeling for the rest of the weekend. There was no reason to race, potentially loose, and then feel badly about your result, when the original race was a personal best. I never would of thought of it that way, but I was struck with the fact that she knew my kid—she knew what she needed. While I may have told Addy to go for the swim-off, NOT doing it was the best choice. It was another reminder of the value we place on excellent coaching.
The Intensity: If you are just coming off a fast and furious summer league season, you may be trying to catch your breath and thinking that there is no way you can do that year round. Here is the amazing thing about year round swimming—we do not have a meet every weekend. Usually we have about one a month, but you can choose to do them or not. Most summer teams practice every day, and depending on what group you start in, you may only practice two days a week on a year-round team—this is the same as most other sports. Eventually, you will get to the point of practicing 4 days, and then 5, and maybe every day, but it’s a slow build. Plus, usually the swimming is inside—no 99 degree days with lots of sunscreen.
The Community: It never crossed my mind the amount of friendships we would make by joining a swim team. At our first meet, I was a little anxious and knew no one. I walked into a gym, packed with people, and saw a sea of TIDE t-shirts in the corner. I had two choices, sit in the corner alone or jump in with both feet. I saw a mom I recognized from our summer team, walked over with my chair and sandwiched it in-between plenty of moms who knew what they were doing. They embraced me—they embraced Addy. We continued to build friendships and meet families that we never would have known had it not been for swimming. Through the all-important car-pool, I met another swim Mama on my street (and her wonderful daughter!) and I am so thankful for this relationship that I never would have had otherwise. Our kids work hard together, we celebrate their ups and downs; we encourage one another, and support one another. I am careful to not make things a competition—there is enough room for success for everyone.
The Time Together: It goes without saying that with 4 children (or even two) it can be hard to spend time one-on-one with each child. Swimming gives Addy and I the gift of spending loads of time together. It’s OUR thing, and I have embraced it. I hope that when she is grown, swimming will still be a part of her life, and every time she puts her suit on she thinks of me and remembers all of the fun we had together. It makes every dollar spent and every mile driven worth it.
This Spring, my younger son tried out for a year-round soccer team. We were nervous for one second, and then remembered all we had added to our family by saying yes to TIDE and year round swimming.
“Sign him up!” I told my husband, and make sure to buy the warm-up suit.