August 30, 2008
Olympic Attention Boosts Interest in Swim Programs ; Coaches Caution That Developing a Competitive Ability Takes a Lot of Commitment.
By Dave Long Staff Writer
It's happens during and after every Olympics.
Certain sports get a spike in growth due to hours and hours of television coverage.
Gymnastics is usually the one to see more mothers wandering into their facilities, hoping a coach can turn their daughter into an all- around world champion within six months.
This year, though, swimming will probably get more new people into the pool thanks to Michael Phelps and Dara Torres.
If you think you saw a lot of Phelps on TV during the Beijing Olympics, wait until the marketing blitz starts on all forms of media.
"Having a superstar giving your sport exposure always helps," said Kevin Weldon, coach of the Dayton Raiders Swim Club for the last 19 years. "We always have more calls and e-mails from kids and parents interested in swimming after an Olympics.
"But there's been a lot more than usual in the past couple of weeks, probably because of Phelps. It's the same with the other coaches I've talked to.
"It's great to see more kids and families getting into the sport. How many of them will stay with it is the big question."
Most young swimmers begin splashing at the neighborhood pool or at a local YMCA.
As they begin to master different strokes and do well in small summer meets, the question becomes if they want to become a year- round competitive swimmer.
"The question we always ask beginning swimmers and families is are they ready to make the time commitment," said Weldon. "It doesn't matter if you're with a United States Swimming affiliated club like us (the Dolphins) or at one of the area Y teams.
"You have to be ready to put in the time."
For the swimmer that means getting up at 5 or 6 a.m. for morning workouts and coming back at night for a couple of more hours.
For the parents that means driving kids to and from practice, a lot of long days at weekend meets along with helping out with team functions.
"August is usually the only down period we have during the year," said Weldon. "Our big meets are done for the season. We begin to gear back up in September. So it's almost a year-round activity."
Most coaches agree the difference between USS clubs and Y teams is cost and level competitive intensity.
Swimming for the Raiders can cost up to $1,500 a year per swimmer when you factor in coaching salaries, pool rental time, meet entry fees and travel costs.
Swimming for a Y usually consists of membership to the overall organization plus any fees added for specific activities such as swimming.
"You have to remember the goals or the organizations," said Weldon. "The goal of the Raiders or other swim clubs is specifically to develop swimmers to the highest level of national and international competition.
"So the training is going to be very intense and the competition at meets very deep.
"I've worked for some Ys and the emphasis is on overall family, fun and fitness. There are plenty of very competitive Y programs right around here like Beavercreek, South Dayton or Countryside in Lebanon. You get to the nationals and there are Y teams which are tougher than a lot of club teams.
"It just depends on the organization."
Details on the Raiders organization can be found at www.daytonraiders.com. Contact the local Y in your area for details related to memberships and its aquatic program.
Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2251 or dlong@DaytonDailyNews. com.
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