At a time when communities are concerned about gangs and violence, I invite you to come to a local swim meet. Around 100 young people took part. There are many other places where so many young people could be on a Friday afternoon or Saturday morning. Multiply that by several different locations across the country.
Swimming is usually conducted by a state swimming organization as part of a national program sponsored by United States Swimming (USS). USS is the organization that oversees amateur competitive swimming in the United States. As the national governing body for the sport, USS is a member of the United States Olympic Committee and the International Swimming Federation.
Nationwide, more than 20,000 volunteers register with USS as non-athlete members each year. Interested individuals donate their time, energy and expertise to serve as officials, administrators, coaches and workers at all levels, from serving on national committees to serving at the local swimming club. Utah Swimming currently has 240 non-athletes and 1,600 athletes registered.
All pools should develop and implement a complete swim program that includes swim lessons and a pre-comp swim team program. These water sports programs would, in many cases, result in the formation of an official USS Group swim team, with each swimmer paying an annual registration fee to the USS and a monthly fee of an additional $20.00 to $30.00. This money is used to pay for the team’s coaching fees and other expenses
In a competition, six swimmers enter the pool at the same time. They are classified by age and ability. In each group of six there is an equal chance that one of the six will come first. But coming first isn’t really the issue. Every swimmer has a personal best from previous swim experiences. The goal for each individual swimmer is to shorten their individual personal best time. As a result, there are NO losers, everyone is a winner.
In swimming, there should be no rules for the number of swimmers that can be in a team. Anyone who wants to work and progress can be on a team. Anyone who wants to work can be a winner. Who can appreciate the value of this experience for those youth who are positively engaged in self-improvement and hard work?
Some school districts are considering the option of closing all swimming pools in the district to save money and avoid liability issues. Interestingly, nobody considered the possibility of rolling up the basketball courts or tearing down the soccer fields. Some states require age group swim teams to rent pool time. We have become a community where ALL decisions are bottom line based. Is it possible that our community values are based on money or trophies?
In many areas of the country, either communities or schools provide swimming lessons for USS Age-Group Swimming to recognize the contribution that participation in swimming makes to the individuals involved and to the community as a whole. You just can’t think of a better way to ensure freedom from drugs and other antisocial behavior in a group of young people.
Come to any swim meet and randomly pick a parent. Ask them what their child gained from the swimming experience. Any parent will tell you about the growth in confidence and discipline that comes from participating in no other type of sport or activity.
Swimming doesn’t usually get much fame or publicity – except maybe during the Olympics. As a result, coaches probably don’t have as much ego on the line to produce “winning” teams. Age group coaches are not typically hired or fired based on their win-loss record. They have put a lot of personal time and effort into helping individuals grow and develop and helping swimmers define winning in their own personal way.
Many worthwhile values were perceived as inherent in physical activity, but they are not automatically accessible to all participants. There are values that are not only worth pursuing, but that need to be made available and accessible to more of our youth. It’s not about saturating a community with organized athletic leagues, or just improving physical education programs in schools. Many young people, including many who participate, do not really benefit from sport for a variety of reasons, but at least in part because of the win-at-any-cost concept that prevails today.
Physical activity should be a vehicle for all-round personal growth and the development of a positive self-image. This process involves two key elements:
1. Put winning in perspective. There are winners and there are “winners”. Everyone has to “win” sometimes if he or she wants to be satisfied with any sport. However, winning can be expanded to include progression on many levels. Each individual can learn to set their own personal goals and to define “winning” in their own personal way.
2. Creating an environment that provides the essential experiences that not only make sporting values more accessible, but also provide the motivation to participate in sport, learn the necessary skills and develop the self-esteem necessary to live with addressing confidence — and that’s what it’s all about.
Well-run Complete Aquatics programs are designed to develop the skills and attitudes that will help an individual feel in charge of their own life and feel like a winner. Research from United States Swimming shows that participation in water sports promotes an interesting list of traits:
– Individuals gain a strong work ethic
– Individuals achieve excellent physical condition
– The individual gains mental strength
– Individuals acquire goal setting and achievement skills
– Individuals gain a strong sense of self
Further research shows that 35% of those who start swimming drop out by the age of 16, mainly due to an incomplete or inadequate program and/or a conflict with the personality of those leading the program.
The goals of a swimming club should be:
1. Provide opportunities for social and emotional development.
2. To create a healthy and rewarding physical and relaxing outlet.
3. Provide opportunities to learn sportsmanship and develop an awareness of teamwork.
4. Providing an educational environment.
5. Provide opportunities to learn good health habits.
6. Provide training and competition that help develop worthwhile attitudes.
7. Providing a broad base of experience for all and not only for the highly qualified.
8. Providing opportunities to develop good work habits and self-assessment.
Note that there is no mention of the goal of developing national champions or a winning team. Mediocrity should not be anyone’s goal – everyone should strive for excellence. However, the real winner in age group swimming is often not the winner of the race, as he or she may achieve that goal at the expense of failing another goal available in the program that may be more important. It must always be kept in mind that the only justification for this program is that it exists for the benefit of each and every child.
It’s hard to argue that winning is important, but kids are more important.
In 1979, two groups, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education and the American Academy of Pediatrics, approved a Bill of Rights for Young Athletes. This “Bill of Rights” should be integrated into all coaching approaches. We cannot believe that the agony of one child’s defeat can be the thrill of another’s victory, that winning is the only reward and losing is the punishment. Children and psychologists know this is not true. The urge to overcome physical barriers and later to compare one’s own abilities with others is a natural part of child development that is critical to the formation of a sense of competence and a secure self-identity. All of these are important ingredients for being competitive and self-motivated in sport – but it doesn’t have to come at the expense of others. Learning to win and to lose are parts of the same process. Children can be taught to define “winning” in their own individual way, so that their efforts for personal growth and development are seen as successful.
It was said, “If you build it, they will come.” However, this is simply not true when it comes to pools. Efforts must be made to reach out to the community to encourage participation and make it not only attractive but also financially possible. Pools can be empty, and if pool program managers take the position that you can’t hire staff until you have enough participants to pay staff, you’ll simply never get a program to work. How can you hire a lifeguard when you have to tell him or her that you may not be able to give them lessons if there aren’t enough people involved in the program? It just won’t happen. Set up funding, hire staff and find participants.
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