Thursday, July 22, 2010

Feel the Sting in the Pool

Too quickly the major activity of our summer is coming to a close – life with the South Riding Stingrays. This Summer swim team experience helps truly define the community as a whole, drawing in over 300 swimmers each year into three separate league competition series (ODSL, CSL, MiniRays) - yet operating and entertaining itself as one big family. Who needs summer camp? The swim team is a suburban and neighborhood institution that covers all basis of summer family fun and entertainment, plus many other benefits…it’s been this way for decades – I recall my own childhood Summers revolving around swim practice, meets and cookouts, along with the obligatory inner tube water polo, pool movie night, pot-lucks, tie-die night, float night, Swim-o-Ween costumes, pep rallies, midnight swim parties, relay carnivals, swim-a-thons and belly-flop contests (back when most pools had a high dive).

Today is no different – boys and girls 4-18 essentially compete and enjoy team-building activities all on the same team, from the end of school through August (with the best swimmers continuing on to Divisional and All Star meets). On the one hand, it’s a lot easier on parents of multiples; unlike the Fall and Spring soccer seasons, there’s no driving frantically among Ashburn, Sterling, Aldie and South Riding to catch age group games. The swim team is a single, co-ed team – older kids helping younger ones, and opportunities to compete and win ribbons for everyone. On the other hand, swim meets do require a lot of planning, volunteers and good hard work by the parents to succeed – everything from manning the “Mini Ray Café” to timing and judging the swimmers, to setup/breakdown of the pool area and organization of team events. All parents are expected to participate, and most of the older kids end up in volunteer or paid positions as coaching assistants – padding their resumes for college with community service, leadership and teaching experiences. It's an interesting mix on Wednesday nights - kids large and small, parents working and watching, and a steady stream of Clackers (you know them, Federal employees and contractors with ID badges around their necks) filling the pool deck as they escape their DC commutes to catch the early races.

This Summer burst of community participation and inter-age group camaraderie is multiplied across nearly every community in Northern Virginia – hundreds of thousands of children are busy every day practicing and learning new strokes, coming together on Wednesdays and Saturdays for donuts AND very exciting, well-orchestrated team competition. Many continue in year-round competitive swimming programs all over Northern Virginia. Why? Excelling at swimming isn’t simply a route to advanced competition, including high school and college sports participation – and possibly more than that (i.e. Olympics and other International competition).

From an exercise perspective, the non-impact, full body workout (in a cool pool!) the kids get with their friends every day of an otherwise lazy summer is pretty much the perfect diversion from TV and video games in the dark, cool basement at home. It’s also a life-saving and lifelong exercise skill that in my opinion, should be a required public education component. We frequently joke that our kids are on swim team mainly so they can rescue us when we “fall off the party boat” – built in lifeguards. Envision this test with your kids - they're sitting on a dock in a chair by themselves, fall over backwards into the water...are you reasonably confident that they'll surface and swim safely to get out?

South Riding Stingrays – “Eat our Bubbles, Feel our Sting!”.



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