Swimming has a long list of benefits: it’s suitable for all ages, promotes fitness, and develops coordination, strength, and endurance. Swimming can be done individually or in teams. It teaches lifelong lessons about sportsmanship, listening to your coach, working in a team, and winning (and losing) gracefully. As with other sports, swimming can motivate kids to set a goal and achieve it, building a positive attitude and self-esteem in the process. Last but not least, swimming can be a life-saving skill. Whether you have a baby whom you would like to introduce to the water or an older child with aspirations to be the next Michael Phelps, Beijing has options to suit every requirement.
Mookey Swim Club (Ages 3 Months-3 Years)
First things first: You’ll want to make sure that your child grows to like water from a young age. Not a difficult task, if you consider that newborns just came from the warm pool that was their mother’s womb. Being in water has a calming effect on babies. In addition, our bodies have an inborn buoyancy that helps keep us afloat before notions of fear set in.
To preserve this instinct, babies as young as three months and toddlers up to 3 can attend swimming classes at Mookey Swim Club. Established in 2010 by husband-and-wife team Shane and Sunny Novak, the earliest version of the program featured their own son, now 4 years old.
Classes consist of parent and child immersing themselves in water together. If you’re not a swimmer, there’s no need to fear; the pools are shallow. What’s more, it’s important for one parent to be present in order to calm and hold their child. The classes also offer an opportunity to bond through frequent eye contact and skin-to-skin contact.
In addition, being in the water allows babies to move freely and engage in actions that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to manage. Even though it’s gentle exercise, the movements provide a complete physical workout and help strengthen developing inner organs. Regular participation can also help babies improve eating and sleeping patterns.
Hygiene is paramount at Mookey Swim Club. Pool sizes are kept small to limit participants and regulate the amount of chlorine needed to keep the water clean. Whereas most pools in Beijing are chlorinated every 24 hours, Mookey’s pools are disinfected with a proprietary mix of salt and chlorine three times a day to avoid the usual skin and eye irritation associated with regular chlorine.
Recently, Mookey installed toddler-sized shower rooms. They’re regularly cleaned by ayis who are also on hand to assist moms. Towel service is included, saving parents the trouble of lugging wet towels home.
Sports Beijing (Ages 5-15)
As children age, they’ll graduate to lessons that are geared towards teaching competitive swimming strokes (freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly) and proper technique. Sports Beijing, the non-profit multi-sports organization, has a number of programs to help your little swimmer along their way.
The basic Learn to Swim program is appropriate for beginner swimmers. It includes activities that familiarize kids with water to alleviate fears and apprehensions. Kids also cover flotation and buoyancy skills, basic movements and stroke development, and water safety. Prices start from RMB 1,350 for 15 sessions of 45 minutes each.
Once a child exhibits confidence in the water and can perform two or three swimming strokes, they are able to move up to intermediate level. Here, they learn stroke technique and efficiency, undergo drills, and participate in activities that boost fitness and health. They are also introduced to competitive swimming skills such as turns, dives, and breakouts. Again, water safety skills are emphasized. Lessons start from RMB 1,500 for 15 sessions of 60 minutes each.
If your child is serious about improving their technique, they may be eligible for the advanced-level program. Aspiring swimmers must be able to swim 100m using at least three strokes, as well as execute complex training routines. Swimmers are trained in stroke technique, flip turns, starts, and racing strategy. The program uses a wide range of coaching equipment, including poolside video analysis. Admission into the program is decided by a head coach and starts from RMB 1,200 for 10 sessions of 60 minutes each.
Aqua Warriors (Ages 5 and older)
Founded two years ago, Aqua Warriors currently trains more than 300 swimmers. The club’s motto is “Belief, Teamwork, Commitment” and is very clear about its core objectives: Building swimmers’ interest in the sport, providing individualized training, and promoting wellness in the international school community.
Aqua Warriors partners with schools and extracurricular organizations such as Sports Beijing and Boy Scouts Beijing to offer training in water safety, even teaching scouts how to assist in emergency rescue. Aqua Warriors also involves parents of their club members by providing information on training nutrition and free swimming lessons. The club frequently organizes training camps and swim meets, ensuring that there are enough classes to meet demand. Classes for all levels are held at different locations throughout the week, and swimmers who make the cut for the swim team are sent to different competitions.
One such student is 9-year old Michelle Lee, who has won several awards – including a trophy at an invitational swim meet in Taipei. Though she was already a competent swimmer by the time she joined the club, Michelle was still intimidated by the swimmers who could “swim like a dolphin.” Wanting to be as good as them, she pushed herself hard; when she was tired, she would pretend that a shark was chasing her and swam as fast as she could. Training was rigorous, but Michelle says her coaches helped keep things fun. Her dream? To be the best swimmer in the world.
Dragon Fire Swim Club (Ages 4-17)
Dragon Fire, the longest-running international swim club in Beijing, started out in 1994 with just 20 swimmers. In nearly 20 years, they increased their numbers over tenfold, presently counting more than 300 swimmers as members. Currently, the club is preparing to bring its training programs to Shanghai. Dragon Fire is also expanding to include not only international students, but local students and even their parents.
Of the various swim clubs, Dragon Fire has the largest coaching team, with 10 experienced and qualified coaches, and offers the most classes per week. In addition to weekly training, team members compete at national and international events and monthly inter-team meets. To further foster a team spirit, Dragon Fire also arranges for kids to be involved in fundraising activities. For instance, the club raised nearly RMB 30,000 in 2007 for the Special Olympics in Shanghai.
Dragon Fire founder and head coach Kevin Hua believes that joining a team also brings a lot of benefits for the swimmers in the club. The children, aged from 4 to 17, learn how to overcome obstacles and understand the value of persistence. And because swimming is a low-impact sport, it is considered a relatively safe one with little chances for injury by collision.
Beyond helping develop the children into competent swimmers, Dragon Fire knows that they are helping grow the spirit of their members. Once a young person joins a sport, they learn how to work towards a target and compete, therefore bringing out the best in themselves.
Photos Courtesy of Mookey Swim Club, Aqua Worries and Dragon Fire.
This article originally appeared on p40-43 of the beijingkids August 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com