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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Parenting In The Open Water - Part 2

Many open water swimming associations around the world have put limitations on the age of children who can swim in its events or venues, from the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation and FINA to many national governing bodies. Many of these organizations have set the minimum age as 14 years old.

The question frequently comes up in local races how young the youngest competitors can be. Is 12 years acceptable? What about 11? 10? 9? 8?

Does the minimum age requirement change if the conditions get rough or the water cold?

Is it the child's die-hard goal to do a certain open water swim? Are they capable? If they are encouraged early in life to do swims, will they enjoy it and will continue with the sport?

Opinions vary. There is always the precocious child, the rare exception in the athletic world, and the motivated child who is well-trained and capable in the open water. These young individuals deserve every right to realize their dreams of competing in the open water. But there are also ambitious parents who push their children where others would not. Other parents are simply accommodating to their child's wishes and are supporting the child as best they can while balancing safety and their own worries.

Sid Cassidy, one of the most knowledgeable and experienced open water swimmers and coaches in the world, explains well with first-hand experience. "I am not usually in favor or parents pushing their kids too early or too far in open water water events, but I do remember our son Quinn swimming his first mile at the age of 6 in Atlantic City. At that time, the famous Yates Swim was done on an incoming tide so he could have floated to the finish in 25 minutes.

Quinn was a very good young bodysurfer at that time and we finished together (190th and 191st. That day, the jellyfish got so thick in the middle of the channel that I ended up swimming backstroke with a trudgeon kick to stay just ahead of young Quinn who was not happy with the jellies even though they were not really stinging us ... just annoying little clear ones everywhere.

He has done a number of races since then and never really complained, but it was easy to see distance was not his forte and that he was navigationally challenged. Perhaps that is why I was very proud to see him make some strong tactical moves to win his first ocean race earlier this month at the ISHOF Rough Water Swim.

I think overcoming the challenges that any open water swim offers can serve as a microcosm of the challenges our kids face in life. Every time they step into that unknown it's a bit scary, but coming out of it - win, lose or draw - it's up to us as parents to acknowledge that they've grown a bit stronger because of that experience

Parenting In The Open Water - Part 1 is posted here.

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