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At a time when communities are concerned about gangs and violence, I would like to invite you to come to a local Swim Meet. You could find about 100 young people involved. There are many other places these young people could be on a Friday afternoon or Saturday morning. Multiply this by several different locations across the country.
Indoor swimming is usually administered 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.
Nationally each year more than 20,000 volunteers register with USS as non-athletic members. Interested individuals donate their time, energy and expertise to serve as officials, administrators, coaches, and workers participating at every level from serving on national committees, to involvement with the local swim club. Utah Swimming currently has 240 non-athletes and 1,600 athletes registered.
All pools should develop and operate a Complete Aquatic Program that would include swimming lessons and a Pre-Comp Swim Team program. Those Aquatic Programs in many cases would lead to the formation of an official USS Group Swim Team where each swimmer pays an annual registration fee to USS and a monthly fee of an additional $20.00 to $30.00. This money is used to pay for training fees and other expenses of the team
In a meet, six swimmers enter the pool at the same time. They are grouped by age and ability. In each group of six there is an equal chance that one of the six will enter first. But getting in first isn’t really the point. Each swimmer has a personal best time from previous pool experiences. The goal for each individual swimmer is to lower their own personal best time. As a result there are NO losers, everyone is a winner.
Swimming should have no rules about the number of swimmers that can be on a team. Anyone who wants to work and progress can be in a team. Anyone who wants to work can be a winner. Who can put a price on the value of this experience for those young people who are positively engaged in self-improvement and hard work.
Some school districts are considering the possibility of closing all pools in the district to save money and avoid liability issues. It is interesting that no one considered the possibility of rolling the basketball courts or tearing up the football fields. In some states, age group swim teams are required to rent pool time. We have become a community where ALL decisions are based on the “bottom line”. Is it possible that our community values are based on money or trophies.
In many areas of the country either the communities or the schools provide pool time to USS Age-Group Swimming as a recognition of the contribution that participation in swimming makes to the individuals involved and to the community as a whole. You simply cannot find a better way to ensure freedom from drugs and other anti-social behavior in a group of young people.
Come to any swim meet and pick any parent at random. Ask them what their child gained from the experience in swimming. Any parent will tell you about the growth in self-confidence and discipline that is unmatched by participating in any other type of sport or activity.
Swimming doesn’t usually get a lot of glory or publicity – except maybe during the Olympics. As a result, the coaches are not as likely to have much ego on the line to produce “winning” teams. Age group coaches are not usually hired or fired based on their win-loss record. They have a lot of personal time and effort invested in helping individuals grow and develop and help swimmers define winning in their own personal way.
Many worthwhile values have been perceived as inherent in sports participation, however they are not accessible automatically to all participants. There are values that are not only worth pursuing, but must be available and accessible to more of our young people. It’s not about saturating a community with organized sports leagues or just upgrading physical education programs in schools. Many young people, including many who participate, do not really benefit from sports for a variety of reasons but at least in part because of the “win at all costs” concept prevalent today.
Participation in sports should be a vehicle for all-round personal growth and the development of a positive self-image. This process includes two key elements:
1. Putting winning it in its proper perspective. There are winners and there are “winners”. Everyone needs to “win” sometimes if he or she is to get satisfaction from any sport. Winning can, however, be broadened to include progress on many levels. Each individual can learn to set their own goals and define “winning” in their own way.
2. The creation of an environment that provides the essential experiences that not only make sports values more accessible, but provide the motivation to participate in the sport, learn the necessary skills and develop the self-esteem necessary to approach life with confidence — and about that’s about it.
Well-run Complete Aquatic Programs are designed to develop the skills and attitudes that help an individual feel responsible for their own life and feel like a winner. Research from United States Swimming indicates that participation in aquatics will foster an interesting list of characteristics:
– Individuals gain a strong work ethic
– Individuals gain great physical conditioning
– Individuals gain mental toughness
– Individuals gain goal-setting and achievement skills
– Individuals gain strong self-esteem
Further research indicates that 35% of those who start swimming quit by the time they turn 16 mainly because of an incomplete or inadequate program and/or conflicts with the personalities of those leading the program.
The aims of a swimming club should be:
1. Provide opportunities for social and emotional development.
2. To provide a healthy and worthwhile physical and recreational outlet.
3. To provide opportunities to learn sportsmanship and develop an awareness of team cooperation.
4. Provide and educational environment.
5. Provide opportunities to learn good health habits.
6. To provide training and competition that will help in the development of worthy attitudes.
7. Provide a broad base of experience for everyone and not just the very experienced.
8. Provide opportunities for developing good work habits and self-esteem.
Note that the goal of developing national champions or a winning team is not mentioned. Let mediocrity be no one’s goal – everyone strive for excellence. However, the real winner in age group swimming is often not the winner of the race, because he or she may achieve that goal at the expense of failing to achieve some other goal available in the program, which may be more important. One must always keep in the forefront of one’s mind that the only justification for this program is that it exists for the benefit of 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 Sports Education and the American Academy of Pediatrics approved a Bill of Rights for Young Athletes. This “Bill of Rights,” should be incorporated into all approaches to training. We cannot think that the agony of one child’s defeat can be the thrill of another’s victory, that winning is the only reward and that losing is punishment. Children and psychologists know this to be false. The drive to deal with physical barriers and, subsequently, to compare one’s ability with others is a natural part of a child’s development, essential to forming feelings of competence and a secure self-identity. All are key ingredients for competitiveness and self-motivation in sports — but it doesn’t have to come at the expense of someone else. 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 toward personal growth and development are seen as successful.
It has been said that “If you build it they will come.” However, this is simply not true when it comes to swimming pools. Efforts must be made to reach out to the community to encourage and make participation not only attractive but also financially possible. Pools can sit empty and when those in charge of pool programs take the position that you can’t hire staff until you have enough participants to pay staff, you will simply never get a program going. How can you hire a lifeguard when you have to tell him or her that if there aren’t enough people involved in the program, you may not be able to give them certain hours? It’s just not going to happen. Establish funding, hire staff and find participants.
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