Eventually ISCA's aims to expand the swim school content and conversations into other areas of interest.
by Brad Glenn
The primary objective of all sports is to create an enjoyable learning experience. Discipline, technique, and hard work are important but having fun (especially at the entry level) should be the top priority. The sport of swimming often has the perception of lacking the fun element, which often makes joining competitive swim teams a tougher sell for families and their children.
Most parents would like to have their children become water safe and learn to swim at an early age. However, few have immediate plans to continue in competitive swimming once the early goal has been achieved. A lack of marketing to the parents is part of the problem. Another pitfall concerns the gaps in time between learning to swim and joining a team. As a result, many children move to other sports such as soccer, gymnastics, dance, and activities that begin shortly after they learn how to walk. Sadly, many families get engaged elsewhere and never look back to join the competitive swim teams.
There is nothing wrong with child participation in other sports and activities. In fact, this should be strongly encouraged. However, aquatic professionals need to do a better job of keeping children and their families in the water from the time they learn to swim until the times that they are ready to join a swim team. Often, other chances to get the families back in the pool are fleeting.
Successful swimming programs involve many retention strategies while the other sports are more about recruiting.
When we heard from our daughter that our 5-year-old granddaughter (who could barely swim a lap at the time) had “joined a swim team,” we were curious how this was possible. We wondered if this was a good idea to start so young. Mom and dad both swam at Stanford, so they weren’t rookies to competitive swimming. Through the weeks and months of the fall season. we were pleased to hear that she loved being part of the team and had quickly progressed into a much stronger swimmer. Our attention perked when we discovered that the 3-year-old little sister (who couldn’t swim a lap if her life depended on it) had also “joined the team” in the spring.
On visit to Rio del Oro Sports Club in Sacramento, California, we watched their practice. We could see that they young ones were involved in a solid program that was bridging the gap between lessons and competitive swimming. Other programs operate in similar manners.
Many are involved in multiple activities, so the number of practices they attend varies. However, what impressed us the most about Rio Del Oro was that they split their time between games and learning the basics of competitive swimming.
The lesson plans vary from day to day. I’d be willing to wager that most of the kids think that the 30-minutes is spent entirely on fun-and-games. Most want to come early and stay afterwards so they can play with their friends.
Every lane of the pool in this group gets its own coach. One coach/instructor per lane. When the first swimmer in each lane pushes off the wall, the swimmer goes as far as he or she can. Many can swim a full lap but those that can't grab the instructor’s hands and kick (or work on a drill) the remainder of the length. The process is repeated until everyone has finished.
Parents are encouraged, from a safety perspective, to act as additional set of eyes.
This even applies to some of the youngest swimmers who cannot swim at all. These participants are placed into small groups with coaches/instructors and often participate in a type of group swim lesson. As these children learn skills, they can move up in the groups to more graduated levels of independent swimming.
Guardians, parents and the swimmers' older siblings are encouraged to attend a short pep rally. All are given the option to compete at the intra-squad meets and additional outside competitions. Even the ones who can’t complete a lap can enter the intra-squad meets since they have an instructor serving in the water as a spotter in all the lanes. Help is present for any that might need a boost and additional help.
Our younger granddaughter even “swims” with the spotter for the entire lap and loves getting to participate with the “bigger” kids.
The pool space is a blessing. However, all of the pools are outdoors. This particular age group takes a break during the winter months when the weather is often too cold for children of this age. Programs can engage more students with this type of a program than can be accommodated with traditional one-on-one lessons and a small-group format. Use of a smaller, warmer lesson pool would be an added advantage.
The more the fun for these kids, the more the success for the overall team. Provide a sound learning environment. The fun gives glue and retention for the program so that the youngest ones and their families keep returning to the pool. Then they can move up the ladder from lessons through the transitional program and eventually onto the team and beyond, From a financial perspective, the higher the retention rate combined with the most efficient use of time and space, the greater the program's earning potential.
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