Friday, November 30, 2007

Young YMCA swimmers take lessons to next level


After taking a deep breath, pulling her goggles over her eyes and dangling her toes over the edge of the pool at the Santa Barbara Family YMCA yesterday, seven-year-old Alicia Williams plunged into the water head first and swam quickly for about 10 yards before climbing out and doing it over again.
William’s sudden stop wasn’t on account of not being able to make it to the other end of the pool. She was working on her start.

Williams is one of 20 local children, aged six to 14, who are members of the Santa Barbara Gators, a YMCA swim team that has taken the average swimming lesson to the next level.
And today is their final competition of the year in the Channel Islands Swim League Championship at the Carpinteria city pool, where they will go up against the likes of the Montecito Otters, Ventura Dolphins, Conejo Sharks, Santa Ynez Seals, Simi Valley Sting Rays, Triunfo Otters and Camarillo Barracudas.
Gator’s Coach Kimmy Linder said about 30 children are on the Gators swim team but not all will be participating in the Championship. All of the other teams are from local YMCA’s and she said some have as many as 50 team members.
“I am so proud of these kids,” said Gator’s Coach Kimmy Linder. “The kids have been training so hard for it.”
Linder said the children who participate on the team learn a variety of swim strokes and get to go toe to toe with other children of the same ability and age.
But while words like championship and racing evoke images of competition, Linder said the emphasis is on encouraging the children to do their best and work hard.
“This is a time to play but this is also a time to learn how to work really hard and compete,” she said. “It gives them something to really try for.”
At last night’s practice, Linder, who has coached and taught swimming lessons at the YMCA for the past three years, stood between sets of two kids, giving encouraging advice on how to hold their arms and enter the water for their starts.
While many young children feel out of place in the water, the fleet of Gators readying for today’s championship looked uncomfortable out of the water.
Williams is the youngest member of the team and said her budding passion for swimming is simply fueled by her love for water.
Daisy O’Mahoney, an 11-year-old who has been on the team for three years, said her parents enrolled her in swimming lessons when she was two, and since then, she hasn’t wanted to stop.
“I like swimming a lot,” she said, adding that she will compete today in the breaststroke, freestyle and individual medley.
In order to ensure the participants compete with swimmers of similar ability, Linder said each team member is ranked in an A, B, or C category throughout the season’s six or so meets.
Linder said a C swimmer will compete against other C swimmers and therefore the chances of winning are greatly increased, which in turn helps boost the confidence of everyone involved.
“That gives them so much pride,” Linder said of when a C swimmer takes home a first, second or third place ribbon.
She said the range of events is wide, but the distances are limited to 50, 100 and 200-meter swims.
Linder said one of the benefits of teaching children how to swim in a mildly competitive environment is that the kids learn the “legal” way of executing the different strokes and the rules of the sport.
But another benefit, according to Brea McInnes, whose son Davis and daughter Gwennie both are Gators, is the self-confidence the sport has given her children.
“I think they’re a lot more confident,” McInnes said. “Plus I feel better at the beach.”
Linder said the Gators swim team is taught, or coached, four times per year. At the beginning of each session, she said the children try out in order to give Linder an idea of their skill levels, but no one has ever been cut from the team, or ever will be.
For members of the YMCA, the seven-week swim course costs $100 and for non-members, it is $250.

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