Why should kids swim? What do kids get out of being on a swim team?
Kids swim competitively for a wide variety of reasons. For some, it's a natural next step after lesson programs at places like the 'Y', and a chance to further develop their skills, strength and basic competence. For others, it's a source of general fitness and training. For some kids, it's about the fun of being on a team, building friendships and working together towards a common goal. For still others, it's about pushing themselves further and striving to reach higher levels of achievement in the sport. Swim Ithaca seeks to support all of these goals, while building a fun, challenging and mutually supportive environment for swimmers and swimming families in our community.
How do I know if my child is ready for Swim Ithaca?
The answer to this depends a lot on your child, their past swimming development, and their interests and motivation in the sport. In general, we are not a lessons program, so if your child hasn't received any formal instruction in the past (doesn't know basic strokes, etc.) they may want to consider group or private lessons to get started and build basic skills and technique. That said, the different clinic levels (bronze, silver, gold) are designed to accommodate a range of skill levels. So if your child has come all or most of the way through the 'Y' lessons programs, can stay in the pool for the entire practice time (1 hour at the bronze level), and/or can swim continuously for 50 yards on their front and back ( 2 lengths of most standard pools), they probably have the basic skills to get started. The only real way of telling, though, is to come in to practice and let the coaches see you swim - if you let us know in advance that you are interested in this, we can make arrangements for this to happen.
Some of the readiness questions aren't about skill, though. To succeed in clinic and on the team, your child should be able to pay attention to the coaches and follow directions. Above all, they should be at a point where they want to swim; while everyone has their ups and downs (and swimming is hard work!), your child should genuinely enjoy coming to practices and meets. If they're not there, it might be best to pause and wait for that enthusiasm to emerge or return.
What's the relationship between the clinic and the team?
In general terms, the clinic provides our core training, and the team provides the competitive component. All team swimmers practice at the clinic (since this is where most of the training and conditioning happens). Not all clinic swimmers will choose to join the team however (and we're fine with that!) Within the clinic, there's no separation between kids there just for the training and those there to prepare for meets. So kids training in the clinic will be meeting and swimming alongside members of the team on a weekly basis. The only expectation to this rule is during breaks in the IC clinic (especially over the winter holidays, when Ithaca College is closed). During these periods, swimmers on the team will be doing additional training (usually at area high schools) to prepare for a series of meets coming up in the January-February window.
What kinds of meets do you go to, and when and where are they? Can I choose which ones to go to?
The meet schedule for our current season is available on our website. There are two basic seasons for Swim Ithaca (and most other 'club' teams): a winter season running from October through March, and a summer season that runs from April through early August. There are two basic levels of meets. The Southern Tier Swim League ('STSL') is our local swim league and is made up of teams from Horseheads, Watkins Glen, Elmira and other towns within an hour or so drive of Ithaca. These are open meets organized by age, and appropriate to swimmers of all levels and backgrounds. in addition, we compete in a variety of larger and sometimes more competitive meets at the Niagara District level (which is our USA Swimming regional affiliation). Many of these meets happen in places like Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse. Several of them have cut times (i.e. speed thresholds swimmers must meet in order to qualify.) Our older and more advanced swimmers also compete in a variety of higher-level meets at the regional or national level, some of which take place in the NYC area or further afield. Most of our meets (and all the STSL ones) happen on Saturdays, though there are some multi-day events (usually at the higher levels) which happen Saturday-Sunday, or even Friday-Saturday-Sunday.
Through much of the season, swimmers can expect to compete in meets approximately twice a month, thoufh this number can climb during the peak times of january-March, and as seimmers graduate to higher levels of competitiion. All meets are voluntary, and you and your child will be asked which meets you'd like to go to, and in may cases what events you'd like to swim (though it's important for coaches to have input on that decision, to avoid kids defaulting or limiting themselves to perceived favorites.)
What if my child is nervous about competing?
That's okay (most kids are, at least initially!) We try to be aware of who's new to meets, and coaches and other swimmers take special care to make sure the kids are comfortable, answer any questions, etc. If your child would like a 'buddy' to help them through initial meets, we're happy to assign one (though alot of this happens naturally.) Our local 'STSL' league meets tend to be small and very friendly, with kids of a wide variety of levels (from pure beginner through to some pretty fast swimmers). Kids are organized by heats, so in most instances they'll be swimming with kids of very similar skill level (and therefore may have the thrill and experience of winning heats, even from a very early stage). It's also the case that mostly you're swimming against your own times (i.e. the idea is to improve on your own past performances, not so much 'beat' the swimmer swimming in the lane next to you). If your child would like to focus on training before diving into the competitive side, that's completely fine, too. Some swimmers get started in the clinic and as their confidence level builds, join the team down the road - and because the clinic and team train together, they'll be getting to know and make friends with kids on the team. Your child is also welcome to come and watch a meet before competing, if they'd like to get a feel for what it looks like and how it operates.
Who are your coaches? What's their background and how are they selected? How is the coaching staff coordinated, and how do you maintain cohesion across the number of coaches involved?
Clinic and team coaches are selected by the team head coach (Kevin Markwardt) in consultation with the team board. Many of our clinic coaches are members or graduates of the Ithaca College men's or women's swimming team, so kids are learning from swimmers with long experience and high levels of achievement in the sport. All our team coaches (the ones who travel with the kids to meets) are fully certified USA Swimming coaches, with certification in coaching technique, lifesaving and basic first aid. Clinic and team coaches use consistent teaching language and drills that are coordinated through regular communication across the coaching staff, to ensure consistency across groups and levels. The coaching staff also coordinates on season planning to ensure that training is appropriately balanced between our goals of learning, skill development, conditioning and meet preparation.
How much does it cost, and where does the money go?
Swim Ithaca has a membership fee of $250 for October to March (the 'winter season'). The fee will be about the the same for the April to August summer season. These fees go primarily toward funding coaches wages and travels to meets, some additional practice times during periods when the IC pool is unavailable, and general team expenses like the website, which is used for team administration, bill collecting and meet entries.
To swim in meets you also need to be registered with USA Swimming, the national umbrella organization supporting amateur competitive swimming in the United States. In addition to these expenses, some meets (typically larger and more competitive ones) may have additional deck fees and /or entry fees. Deck fees are a one time fee to enter a meet, while entry fees are charged for each event swam. These are typically run $15-$20 per day per meet. Most of our 'local' meets in the Southern Tier Swim League don't charge deck or entry fees (with the exception of the STSL Championship meet.)
USA Swimming and Swim Ithaca have scholarship programs! If you qualify we will work with you to make it accessible for your family.