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How Mia Got her Swim On

Many people have asked how we turned our four (oh so close to five) year old into a swimmer. And the answer is, we didn't, she did. But for those of you who are curious, here's what we did.

In January of 2009, I put three year old Mia into swim lessons once a week at the local community center. She loved the instructor and despised everything else. She cried, she screamed, she refused to get in the pool, she declined to even contemplate putting her face in the water. At the end of the class, the instructor suggested we take her back a class to one where I would get in the water with her, but I am stubborn and also feel that learning to swim is not optional and put her back in the same class again. She did slightly, ever so slightly, better.

And then it was summer, and Mia and I were talking about the neighborhood pool that is located a few feet from our house. She asked if we were going to go swim at that pool, and I foolishly told her that we could go every day all summer, if she wanted. She wanted. So we did. And at first, I didn't know why we did, because she would barely dip a toe in the baby pool. But she slowly got more comfortable. And then we got her a life jacket and let her start playing in the big pool. And then she made a friend. A friend who was two years older, and who Mia idolized, and who could swim. They played together, and when the friend wasn't there Mia worked and worked on her own, and then one day right around her fourth birthday we were all at the pool together, which meant that Mia had a dedicated adult and could play without her life jacket and all of the sudden Chris and I were staring open-mouthed in disbelief as our kid swam all on her own.

It was a rough doggy paddle, but Mia could really swim. She didn't get too much practice last summer, since it was usually just her and me and Owen and so she had to wear a life jacket. But every chance she got, she swam. And once the pool closed, we were back at the community center for twice a week classes. Rather than going down a level, she skipped a level. The classes made some small improvements in her technique, turned her doggy paddle into something more closely approaching freestyle, improved her back float, and had a big focus on water safety.

Mia talked about swim team all last summer, all fall, all winter, and all spring. So when the time came, I signed her up, and was shocked again when she jumped in and started swimming laps. Laps! In half an hour, she can cross the pool 15 times, or more. It leaves her starving and exhausted, but she loves it. And between daily coaching at swim team and daily swimming with me and Owen and her friends, she has improved incredibly this summer. She can do freestyle with side breathing. She can do a regulation backstroke. She can play Sharks and Minnows and insist on staying on the end with the teenagers rather than moving to the shallow end with the little kids. I still go nuts when she is in the middle of the pool and it is full of kids doing crazy stuff, and I restrict her probably much more than I need to, but the kid is a really excellent swimmer. You know, for not-quite-five.

So, what people really want to know, is how to make their kid an early swimmer. I dunno. What I think really helped Mia was wearing an actual life jacket rather than anything similar to water wings. That was suggested by her swim instructor, because the life jacket allows them to get a better feeling for the movements they need to actually swim, and the water wings restrict their arms so much that they never get a real feel for it. Second was just exposure. Every day all summer, twice a week the rest of the year. It allowed her to build and maintain a comfort level in the water. Third was a policy of trust but verify. Whenever possible, we let Mia give it a try. It meant hauling her sputtering out of the water fairly often early on, but we were careful to keep her away from actual danger while letting her experiment and learn. Fourth was just Mia. She was determined to swim, she loves it, and she seems to just have a natural inclination for it (in terms of attitude and interest, not talent). Finally, the difference between splashing through the water and actual swimming was definitely swim team. We happen to have a great program and amazing coaches at our neighborhood pool, and that daily work with someone who isn't Mom or Dad has made an amazing difference over the past few weeks.

People who see her swim ask if Chris and I were swimmers, if we started training her at birth, if we are already planning on college scholarships and the Olympics. I always say no, it is all Mia, and I think it is awfully premature to think of anything beyond the faint and likely-impossible dream of a ribbon higher than fifth place. (Mia comes in dead last in every race, I mean, of course she does, she's four.) But I do hope she continues to enjoy swimming, continues to want to do it, and continues to keep her competitive spirit. I think it is a great choice for her and would be happy to see her swim for years. Even if it means I spend half of every Saturday with a stop watch in my hand.

Comments (12)

That is awesome!
We started Eric with swim lessons when he was 4. Before that he was petrified of the water. Now he is 8 and he is on a swim team and he is awesome. It's the only sport he really loves and is really great at.

Way to go Mia!

PS-I can barely swim, but my Husband can.

All I can say is that Mia is lucky to have two parents who love and encourage her in this. She would not have come this far if you had coddled her or listened to her whining and fussing about not wanting to swim. You helped her to open the door to something that could well be a great love in her life.
You and Chris Rock!
PS: Go Mia!

I am going to try to get my 8 year old on a swim team this year. The two reasons I LOVE swimming for her is that #1 she can do it her whole life. Have you ever met a swimmer who wasn't fit? Hooray for sports that don't ruin your knees/back/feet! #2 She hates group sports. She gets very self conscious in things like baseball or soccer. I want her to love something, have a sport that is hers. She loves not trying to guess what everyone else is doing and what she is going to do in relation (like in soccer or basketball). One thing I do hate about swimming - the blow drying. My daughter's hair is super thick and I gave up on swimming lessons in the winter because it would literally take me longer to dry her hair than she had been in the pool. What do you do with Mia's hair? Do the swim caps hurt (I seem to remember them hurting).

Good for Mia that she found something she loves and good for you guys that you found just the right way to guide her to it. Isn't that what we all hope to do for our kids?

Great for Mia, you and Chris. My sisters LOVE the water and I still don't. I tolerate going to the pool with my boy and just doggie paddle.

So cool for her to find a passion so early on :) I wish her great success (in whatever way works best for her!) and joy in it!

Michael has been in swim lessons forever. Since like 3. And he hates the water and is terrified to swim. We finally moved to private lessons b/c my parents have a beach house and he needs to learn to save his own Life. I envy you.

i love her spirit. and i'm so glad you wrote all that down. going to be great memories!

i can't get over the fact that mia is FOUR. that's amazing. even if she doesn't "do" anything with it- just being comfortable in water is such a big win. i learned how to swim early and love LOVE the water. the bf never really learned how to swim and he doesn't feel comfortable. that feeling comfortable part is so important. that mia - what an amazing kid!

That is so cool! Go Mia! I am still struggling to get my six year old to put his head underwater, while my four year old leaps in with no cares at all...it is good to start early! What great parents to encourage her to get comfortable in the water...a skill that will bring her joy (and safety) for a lifetime!

We ended up getting private lessons for Mini, because the noise level in the pool area was too over sensitizing for him and he wouldn't listen or participate. He liked the water just fine, but he didn't want to cooperate. This year, I think for him, it clicked when he had the ability to swim on his own with the help of a floatation device, rather than having to hold on to someone, as he had in the past.

I think I have a water bug on my hands.

good for mia! it is so gratifying to see them make progress and to take on a sport they love. it sounds like this is the sport for her.

we signed our daughter up for the swim team last year (when she was 8) and she did really well but hated the program. too many laps, not enough fun was her feeling. but we continued with swim lessons at the local Y all year long and she has blossomed as a swimmer -- moving up levels and kicking butt. swimming laps and laps and laps, it's amazing to see. I hope she'll keep it up, such a great sport. but no swim team for her this summer -- she had no interest after her sour experience last year.

Awesome! Mia rocks!

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