New Program Aims To Prepare Competitive Swimmers

Gracin Black of the Blenheim Blast Swim Team

Gracin Black of the Blenheim Blast competitive swim team – Contributed Photo

With the hot weather arriving, pools across Chatham-Kent are flying open, and for many youth, it’s an opportunity to fall in love with swimming.

While swimming lessons are a likely first step for local youth whose parents want to teach their children about swimming safety, often, a passion for the water emerges, and youth may want to take the plunge into competitive swimming.

To bridge the gap between swimming for fun, and competitively swimming, fundamentals programs are popping up across Ontario, including in Chatham-Kent, run by CK Recreation.

According to Kristen Pegg, the Aquatic Coordinator at Gable Rees Rotary Pool in Blenheim, a fundamentals program encouraging area youth to try competitive swimming, such as CK Recreations new FUNdamentals of Competitive swimming program, has long been a goal of hers.

“One of the main reasons I wanted to offer this program is for children to learn some of the basic fundamentals of the competitive swimming sport before jumping into a full season on the swim team,” says Pegg, who also coaches with the Blenheim Blast competitive swim team. “When a family registers for any competitive sport it is a huge commitment on the child and parents part,” added Pegg about the opportunity for youth to developing and practicing skills prior to committing to a team.

“It also makes the kids entering feel more comfortable that they understand what a coach is asking of them,” added Pegg, who describes the FUNdamentals program, which begins this June, as a place to familiarize with the expectations of the sport through play.

And how would Pegg know the benefits? Not only is she the Gable Rees Aquatic Director and coach, but she’s a competitive swimmer parent, as her 10-year-old daughter Emma, who has set several personal bests at regional meets recently, swims with the Blenheim Blast.

Pegg isn’t the only Blenheim Blast parent seeing the benefit of fundamentals programs, as Blast head coach John Van Herk also attests to the value of pre-competitive training. Van Herk has coached, and watched his own kids, Brendan, Shania, and Justine star for the Blast, winning dozens of gold medals in recent seasons, with Justine now competing in OUA swimming with the University of Guelph Gryphons, and Shania moving to University swimming next year.

“These programs are a great introduction to water skills and stroke fundamentals,” says Van Herk. “They set the base. Without these skills, a potential athlete could not consider competitive swimming as a sport option.”

For parents looking to find a sport for their child, Van Herk also believes swimming, and preparation for competition through a fundamentals program, is valuable, and can spark a love for sport youth who enjoy the feeling of personal improvement.

“Competitive sports teach a number of valuable life lessons,” says Van Herk, who has coached the Blast since 2003.”Swimming, in particular, has a strong, yet simple basis as a sport. Generally, hard work pays off for a swimmer. For the most part, we focus on self improvement of the athlete, not against their peers.”

And for a child looking to find a place where they can be successful, fundamental swimming is a great start.

“The more a swimmer or any athlete is aware of a fundamental pertaining to the sport, the more success they have in a competition,” added Pegg, whose new program for children ages 5-12 aims to teach new skills such as starts, turns, underwater swimming, and effective breathing techniques through fun games.

With other local swim programs flourishing, including the outdoor Tilbury Vikings, who have produced athletes including Aaron Norg and Jessica Cook, along with the Chatham Y Pool Sharks, who currently feature budding star Madison Broad, along with the Blast’s own group of University bound swimmers, a demand for early ages competitive swimming development is now being fulfilled with CK Recreation’s new program.

In a few years, these athletes will potentially find themselves on the podium, inspiring another cohort of swimmers in Chatham-Kent. And even if they don’t choose to continue into competitive swimming, youth will have developed important safety and fitness skills that can be applied in recreational swimming, lifeguarding, or other sports

“They establishe water safety skills for the athlete and may also lead to lifeguarding opportunities.,” says Van Herk, of the FUNdamentals program. “For the parents, the value is in peace of mind from a water safety perspective. “

“Swimming,” adds Pegg, “Is a life skill they will always have and usually always be able to do.”

To learn more, or register, call 519-360-1998, email, or Click Here.

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    kym mercer 6 years

    A quote for the Tilbury Vikings from your old coach on deck. You swim for yourself. Aim high, swim strong and always be proud of who you are and how you finish. Swimming is a discipline. It gives you strength and confidence in yourself to be the best you can be. Strong arms and hard kicks. You are the most special group of young people I have ever gotten the chance to coach. Ever one of has given me so much pride. The Tilbury Vikings has let so many swimmers experience different levels of competitive swimming that probably no one would ever expect. Jessica Cook and Cody Lavoie recieving scholarships to Universities. Aaron Norg and Maddie Lavoie experiencing high levels of competive swimming. Meghan Mercer experiencing what is is like to swim at the highest level of high school swimming. Competing at Ossaa in Brantford this year. There are also many other young swimmers competing on other teams like the Lasers and West. These swimmers are dedicated and work hard and they enjoy the sport.