After working for several decades with swimmers of all ages, it struck me the other day that young swimmers are like dogs.
This is a touchy subject, so prior to starting to write, I did a quick Internet search and discovered that I’m not the only one who thinks that kids are like dogs. While I could have titled this article "Swimmers Are Like Dogs," that would be too encompassing. To further preface this post, it has to be said that first, I love kids and young swimmers. They’re the biggest reason I do what I do here at Go Swim. I love seeing the breakthroughs and the enjoyment that youth brings to the world. Second, I love dogs. Nearly all my life I’ve had a dog, and usually a yard, but now that I live in NYC, I daily show my love for my dog by following him down the street with a little plastic bag to… well… clean up his waste. It’s not pretty, but it’s worth it. Heck, we as parents spent plenty of time doing that with our own children… so similarity #1 is taken care of. Of course, we just hope our kids grow out of us having to do that. 😉
What I want to get across in this article is the similarity between how dogs and young swimmers are taught…and the similarity between how they respond to the teaching.
DOGS – Training a dog to go outside to do his business takes time and constant effort. If you didn’t take the proper steps to train a dog that they’re not supposed to pee in the house, one can only imagine how embarrassing Thanksgiving dinner would be with Fido marking your guests. First you have to teach the dog how to pee on a newspaper. Then, step-by-step you teach them that the ONLY acceptible place to relieve themselves is outside. It’s a painstaking process that takes time, consistency, and patience, but the end result is a much happier dog (because they don’t get yelled at), and a much happier (and cleaner smelling) household. Watch the following video, and imagine we’re talking about a swimmer, and not a puppy.
KIDS – Training a young swimmer to be puncutal is basically the same thing. Kids, when left to their own devices, aren’t typically the most prompt beings. They have a tendency to allow their minds to wander, and to focus only on what they want to focus on. It’s up to the coach, (adult trainer) to teach them step by step that when they commit to attending a practice, they have a responsibility not only to show up but also to show up on time. Sometimes this means a stern look, a shake of the finger, or making them sit in the corner while you hold their treat (getting in the pool) at bay.
DOGS – Speaking of treats, let’s say you wanted to teach the dog to SIT on command. Again, this is done via a step-by-step process that typically involves a reward. That treat is gained only after the accepted task is performed. It’s a long process of repeating, repeating, repeating, and repeating until the trick, or task, is learned and becomes understood. Watch the following video, and listen to the commands… not just given once.
KIDS – When we train swimmers, many coaches get frustrated because they end up telling the kids the same thing… over and over and over and over again… with the same results. Yet if they give one "good boy" too soon in the process, the result is that the swimmer will chomp the treat too soon the next time. Think of how many times coaches have had to tell a swimmer to streamline, only to look at practice, and see a large percentage of the dogs, er kids, still pushing off with the arms apart. Let’s face it…we have to tell swimmers constantly to do the simple things. It’s simply part of the job.
DOGS & KIDS – Getting them to do what they don’t want to do is never a fun thing, like taking a bath. In my opinion, getting a dog to take a bath is just like getting young swimmers to jump in the pool in the early morning. The difference here is that we can eventually corner the dog, pick them up, and drop them in the tub. I know that, with my dog, once he’s iN the tub, he remains motionless until the ordeal is over, but getting him in there is typically a lengthy convincing process that takes place prior to the event. The following video pretty much sums up what kids would want to do if they could when asked to get in to the pool.
While we could go on and on with this list, it all comes down to giving dogs and swimmers a consistent message, which requires discipline and you can’t always be the nicest person to get what you want. To get the desired result, which is happy dogs, happy swimmers, and happy coaches, the dogs and swimmers are going to need to do what they’re told, and they have to be told those required messages again and again.
The great thing is, when a dog is happy, and a swimmer is happy, it turns in to some of the best times and memories. It makes all the effort worth it, and eventually, the discipline that had to take place is forgotten, and good habits come out.
In this final video the kid is, of course, way too young… but it’s hard to watch without smiling. It brings together the joy in both that we’re all looking for. It may not be perfect, but it certainly ends this well.