Dara Torres gives kids playful lesson at Northside Swim Center. Photo by Hunter Bates.

It’s August in San Antonio, and if you have kids, you’re probably doing the merciful thing and taking them to a pool to escape the heat. But how often does taking our kids swimming for relief or fun actually lead to their becoming involved in swimming as a sport?

The swim advocacy campaign SwimToday says it is all too infrequent. A 2014 research study commissioned by USA Swimming on behalf of SwimToday found that although 95% of parents said they have taken their kids to swim for fun, just 20% of parents considered swimming as an option for their kids after they had taught them to swim. The study found a number of “swimming myths” to be responsible for parents ignoring swimming as a sports option for their kids.

Dara Torres gives swim instruction to kids. Photo by Hunter Bates.
Dara Torres gives swim instruction to kids. Photo by Hunter Bates.

For instance, in qualities like “team work, fun, ease of learning, easy to find venue, enjoyable as a parent, social skills, coolness or the opportunities for a financial future” parents rated other sports more highly than swimming, even though the study’s findings challenged these beliefs.

As part of their effort to dispel the myths of swimming, SwimToday used the occasion of the opening day of the Phillips 66 National Championships at the Northside Swim Center to reach out to the individuals most responsible for influencing kids’ involvement in sports: moms.

USA Swimming invited about a dozen local parents — most of whom were mom bloggers featured on San Antonio Mom Blogs — and their kids to the Northside Swim Center for a tour of the facilities and an intimate discussion and swim clinic with SwimToday spokesperson, swimming legend Dara Torres. As USA Swimming Chief Marketing Officer Matt Farrell explained, the event was intended “to introduce the sport in a new way with some of the greatest swimmers in the world giving a bit of a showcase.”

Dara Torres addresses parents. Photo by Hunter Bates.
Dara Torres addresses parents. Photo by Hunter Bates.

Farrell began the event by outlining a confluence of reasons why now is a great time for parents to get kids involved in swimming: the city’s unprecedented new access to some of the world’s greatest swimmers for this week’s nationals and next summer’s Olympic training, the city’s strong and inclusive youth programs, and the fact that swimming is a safer alternative to contact sports where impact and overuse injuries are more common.

Five-time Olympian Dara Torres addressed the “swimming myths” from personal experience as a competitive swimmer and her experience as a mother of a 9-year-old just beginning her path into competitive swimming.

One misconception Torres addressed is the belief that swimming isn’t a team sport.

“Yes, you’re up there individually, on the starting blocks doing your event, but I’ve never been around a sport where there’s so much camaraderie and so many people cheering you on,” she said.

Torres addressed another common misconception of parents: it is too difficult to find a venue or club for their kids. She admits that after moving to a new state years ago, she too was unsure where to start looking for a local club for her daughter. Yet SwimToday.org has a simple solution to this problem. Visitors to the site are prompted to enter their zip code and are instantly given the names and locations of 20 nearby pools and the names of clubs that swim there.

Torres brought up a number advantages of swimming over other sports: it keeps kids continually involved and active instead of suffering stretches on the sidelines, it’s easy on the body, and it does wonders for one’s physique.

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Above all, Torres emphasized that swimming is and should be the fun — SwimToday’s social media mantra is “#funnestsport.” She strongly cautioned parents against pushing kids beyond their comfort zone while they are learning to swim and against pushing them too hard in competition as they get older. Torres referenced gifted swimmers she had known who ended up burning out from the stress put on them by a parent or coach.

In raising her daughter, Torres downplayed her own career and tried to be as hands-off about Tessa’s choice of sports as possible.

“I don’t want her to have to do what I did,” she said. Eventually, Torres explained, Tessa chose swimming for herself and has been competing on a team since she was 5 or 6 years old.

After the discussion, Farrell led the group on a tour of the natatorium and the outdoor competition pool, both of which were filled with Speedo-clad male and female swimmers with bodies to make Renaissance sculptors marvel. The camaraderie among competitors of different clubs that Torres mentioned was in full display.

Matt Farrell addresses mom-bloggers at a SwimToday event. Photo by Hunter Bates.
Matt Farrell addresses mom-bloggers at a SwimToday event. Photo by Hunter Bates.

One of the blogger moms, Melanie Mendez-Gonzales of the Latina lifestyle blog QueMeansWhat was impressed by the tour.

“It wasn’t until we went into the natatorium, where they were doing the competition — it never really dawned on me that it could be such an exciting event for kids of all ages. You know, I’d only really seen it as a competition in the Olympics, to be honest,” she said.

The tour concluded at the instruction pool, where Torres invited the kids into the pool with her for a swim clinic while the parents took photos and baked in the sun. She showed the kids how to kick their feet, how to blow bubbles underwater, and how to fully submerge and kick back to the surface.

After leaving the swim center, Mendez-Gonzales was surprised to find that her two sons, ages five and eight, who had only swum with floaties up to that point, left the swim clinic eager for more.

“I was surprised by that. When we got home and explained to Dad what we did today, he asked if they would want to do it as a sport, and they both agreed. … I never really thought about it as a sport,” she said. “We do karate, and we’ve tried various other sports like basketball, and soccer, and baseball through the Y, and swimming was never really something we thought about as a sport. But after the tour, after seeing the whole facility, I think it would be worth a shot to try it as a sport.”

*Featured/top image: Dara Torres gives kids playful lesson at Northside Swim Center. Photo by Hunter Bates.

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Taylor Browning (left) and Hunter Bates (author). Courtesy photo.

Hunter Bates

Hunter Bates is a native San Antonian. He teaches developmental English at Palo Alto College, where he also directs the student literary journal. Make a fast friend: talk to him about the Spurs, '60s music,...