Is Your Child Ready for Summer Swim Team?
Are you wondering whether to sign your son or daughter up for the summer swimming team at your local pool?
Of course, you want it to be a positive experience, so that they'll return to the pool summer after summer. To get them off to a good start the first time around, make sure they are prepared for the summer swimming team experience.
Here are six important questions you can ask to determine whether your child is ready for the summer swim season.
Can your child swim? And by “swim,” we mean, can they do more than the dog paddle? Many, if not all, teams require that all swimmers have learned a few essential skills. So the real question to ask is this: does your child know how to do freestyle with side-breathing? And can your child swim backstroke? That is typically the bare minimum. Most teams will require them to demonstrate that they are able to complete a full lap of the pool of each.
If your son or daughter can’t quite make it across the pool, or only sort-of-kind-of does side-breathing, you don’t necessarily have to wait another year. Get them in swim lessons in the spring. If you can put them in a lesson once or twice a week, they will make quick improvements.
However, that’s not a hard and fast rule. Many swimming teams, especially summer leagues, also have groups for children who are younger than 6 years old, and they often practice in a shorter section of pool. This means if your child is young enough, he or she may be able to get away with only being able to do half a lap of freestyle and half a lap of backstroke.
Swimming is like any other skill: if you don’t use it, you start to lose it. School teachers start every year with a review of skills learned the previous year for a reason. Just because your child demonstrated perfect beautiful freestyle in their lessons at the end of last summer does not mean that they remember – nine months and zero swims later – how to swim like that. Additionally, as kids grow, they have to get used to the mechanics of their ever-changing bodies. Give them some help remembering (or some assistance adjusting to their new height!), and sign them up for a few lessons prior to the start of swim team.
Jammers and briefs may not win a lot of style points, but they do make it easier to swim. That’s because board shorts, for example, tend to catch water in the pockets, and the extra drag from all that baggy fabric makes it unnecessarily hard for young, inexperienced swimmers to stay afloat. Leave the drag suits to the Olympians (who can more than handle the extra challenge – and even they don’t train in board shorts)! Make sure your young swimmer is wearing a suit that’s not going to literally drag him down.
Similarly, for girls, baggy suits or fashion suits tend to make it harder, not easier, to swim well. If your daughter is pulling at straps that continually fall off her shoulders, she’s not focused on swimming, nor is she really swimming well. Dress your daughter for success at swim practice by getting her a suit that will stay in place. They come in a dizzying array of colors and patterns - for sure, you’ll be able to find one she likes.
Most children find swimming without goggles an “un-fun” experience, but just in case you are parenting one of the hold-outs: goggles can really help them swim better. Kids (and adults) who wear goggles tend to swim with better technique for a variety of reasons: they are able to see where they are going and can tell whether they are headed in a straight line without lifting their head out of the water (a big no-no in freestyle!); they will be able to “look for the black line,” which keeps their head in a more neutral position; and they won’t use their breath to try to shake the water out of their eyes. Plus, goggles prevent burning or watery eyes after practice.
Young children need goggles that are designed to fit their kid-sized faces. Youth goggles typically have smaller lenses to fit their smaller eye sockets. They also tend to be made of softer rubber. Some, like these by Finis, even smell like grape or sour apple!
Long hair needs to be tied back or tucked into a swim cap. Just as with the goggles, wearing a swim cap can help your son or daughter swim better. When they don’t have to brush their hair out of their face to see or take a breath, they will be able to focus on swimming, and they will automatically swim with better technique. Swim caps come in fun colors, many with funny designs, and are available in several materials. Latex caps are cheaper than the thicker silicone ones, and much cooler for summertime swimming, but they don’t last as long.
Summer swim team is not daycare (most places). Any coach worth their salary is not just trying to keep the swimmers occupied until their post-practice ride shows up. They are trying to teach skills. Your child will be much more likely to get something out of their swim team experience if they are old enough to listen to a non-parent and follow simple directions (such as, “One lap of freestyle! Ones, ready, go!”). Listening and direction-following skills are also important because they make for a safer environment for everyone on the team. Some children are able to do this starting around the age of four, and most all children by the time they are five or six years old.
Your son or daughter really needs to be comfortable in the water. If they are overly scared or worried (some fear is very natural response), they’ll spend more time and energy looking for you on the deck than they will spend swimming and learning to swim. At that point, the stress of the experience may outweigh the fun. Of course, this varies greatly from child to child, and can be mitigated if their coach is someone they’ve taken lessons from already, or if they have friends who are also on the team.
The Next Steps
If you can answer yes to all six of the above questions, what are you waiting for? Sign your child up for the local summer swimming team! If you answered yes to all but the last two, it might be best to wait a year, until they are developmentally ready for the summer swim team experience. And if the only stumbling block is that they need to brush up on their swimming skills to meet the minimum requirement, start lessons as early as possible in the spring. They should be ready for the swim team by summer.
Still unsure of whether the summer swim team is right for your child? Post a comment below or ask in the Parent Corner on our fourms.