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When we think about competitive sports, options like basketball, football, and soccer are often the first that come to mind. But if your child prefers the water over the court or field, encouraging their time in the pool can reap positive, long-term advantages.

Aside from many fitness and health benefits of swimming, there are also a number of reasons why swimming competitively can be a life-changing activity for kids as they grow and develop. We spoke with Life Time swim team coaches from across the country to discover what lessons they most often see kids learn.

Lesson No. 1: Developing a Work Ethic

Swimming, like most other sports, takes practice — lots and lots of practice. “Training to swim fast is hard, tedious, and meticulous work,” says David Sutton, senior swim team coach at Life Time Johns Creek in Georgia. “Being able to fall in love with the process is the key to success.”

There may be times when your child is resistant to spend all the time in the pool that’s needed to hone their skills, but their effort and dedication will pay off.  “When you make working hard your talent, you will never go without success — in the pool and in life,” says Kristopher Gagne, senior swim coach at Life Time in Houston, Texas.

Lesson No. 2: Growing Self Confidence

Mastering a new stroke or shaving time off a favorite event is bound to produce confidence in your child. Seeing positive results creates a sense of pride, as well as the belief in their ability for accomplishment, that kids can carry with them long after they leave the pool. Building confidence — particularly for young girls and boys — goes a long way toward growing into a happy, self-assured adult.

Lesson No. 3: Learning Sportsmanship

Everyone has good and not-so-good performance days, both in the pool and out — and being a humble winner and a gracious loser is not always easy. Recognizing and appreciating the efforts of your competitors, as well as your own, is healthy.

“Everyone has their time to shine — in practice and in meets,” says Heather Grieb, senior swim team coach at Life Time in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. “We compete with people, not against them.” Sharing in the joys as well as the sorrows of others brings a lovely humanity to individuals who can learn this lesson.

Lesson No. 4: Being Part of a Team

While kids compete individually against the clock at meets, they are often also part of a multiperson swim team. This means they contribute to the team total score based on how they place in their events. They can also participate on relay teams, which comes with a special camaraderie found only in team sports.

“Learning to work with your teammates is critical to the success of both the team and as individuals,” says Grieb. “Supporting one another through adversity and recognizing each other’s strengths and weaknesses helps create the strongest teams.”

Lesson No. 5: Cultivating Time Management

Homework. Chores around the house. Time with friends. All of this becomes a juggling act when you add swim practice to the schedule. Young swimmers are often forced to be efficient and productive with their schedules because they do spend so much time in the pool.

As kids grow into adults, the to-do list naturally only gets longer. Learning to manage time from an early age is an essential skill that will be beneficial as they continue to navigate added tasks, activities, and responsibilities throughout their life.

Lesson No. 6: Building Resilience

“In life you are going to go through so many ups and downs,” says Shane Fergus, senior swim team coach at Life Time Warrenville, in Illinois. “You will not drop time for most races in your swimming career, but it is very important that you trust the process and learn from it.” Having an unproductive practice or a disappointing race finish is bound to happen. It’s the ability to bounce back and try again that is important. Developing the aptitude to use those moments as motivation — rather than dwelling on the negative — will almost always result in greater long-term success.

Lesson No. 7: Developing Leadership Attributes

Tyler Fox, a senior head swim team coach at Life Time in Scottsdale, Arizona, believes everyone has it in them to be a leader. “Young athletes quickly identify which of their teammates are making the experience more fun and which are detracting from it,” says Fox. “In the pool as well as in work or life, we emphasize teaching kids to act with kindness and a positive attitude, as well as encourage other leadership qualities such as integrity, empowerment, and effective communication.”

Like life, swimming competitively comes with ups and downs — and many character-building lessons in between. Learning to handle those successes and disappointments, and building those skills and attributes, at a young age will aid kids as they transition into adulthood. Lessons learned in the pool can — and often will — benefit far beyond their time in the water.

Nancy Brenden

Nancy Brenden is a Twin Cities-based writer.

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