If you’re a teenager living in Oman, a parent with a young child, or even a young twenty-something who’s been dragged to a dinner party, chances are you’ve probably seen a precocious child being shooed away from the dessert table by his mother. It’s hard to have feelings of déjà vu at that stage: you’ve probably been at either end of that conversation. You might’ve probably been at both ends of it as well. In the wake of that particular episode, it’s not uncommon to see a fretting parent worrying about his or her child’s health, and while a number of ideas might crop up, with one often overlapping the other, ‘why don’t you take your child swimming?’ is a near permanent suggestion at these shindigs.
Truth be told, it’s a great idea. Swimming is an excellent exercise for children and adults in Oman to reach and maintain good health. As with the activity, though, there is more underneath the surface than that which meets the eye.
Don Pradeep Kumar is a certified swim instructor and currently serves as Recreation Manager at Al Falaj Hotel. With accredited qualifications from the American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA), Swim America and the UK’s Swimming Teachers’ Association, he is well positioned to emphasise just how important it is to not just swim, but swim the right way.
“Swimming is a sport with a scope as large as the ocean, which can’t be learned in 10 lessons, in two weeks or in a month,” said Kumar, who was formerly swim programme coordinator and head coach at Fitness First in Dubai, and the Rainbow Swimming Academy in his native Sri Lanka. “To be an elite swimmer, it will take years and years of training, regular correction of strokes, rhythm, techniques, and practice both in and out of the water.
“To attain a high standard in swimming, positioning of body, right force in the right place, minimise resistance, master proper diving including the start, turn and finish, strength and endurance, proper nutrition, rest and good mindset, and above all finding a good coach to guide and train are very essential,” he added.
A trained lifeguard instructor, Kumar also knows the importance of patience and keeping calm in the water, in more ways than one. “As a team of swimming instructors, we often hear parents asking us to work on their children’s speed in the water,” he revealed.
“A swimmer should learn techniques before focusing on endurance and speed. Once an individual has gained a solid foundation of water skills and stroke techniques, then and only then should they focus on the next step i.e. the ability to maintain excellent technique over distance and under pressure.
“Whilst we all enjoy success and performance, speed comes through one of two ways, either strength or technical skill,” explained Kumar. “If the speed of a young swimmer is gained through pure strength then over time other athletes will progress further and eventually the faster swimmer will plateau and get overtaken as others physically develop.”
Those who focus on good technique and take ownership of their skills will achieve real results through efficiency, because the stroke is born first. The speed comes after that. Kumar also spoke about a long-term vision for all those involved in grooming a swimmer.
“As a coach it is relatively easy to stand poolside and encourage a swimmer to build more raw strength to achieve better times in the pool, however this alone will not build a world class athlete,” he said.
“An athlete has to learn the foundations of any sport before turning to speed. Technique in the water is the key and the speed and pace are by-products of the skill and efficiency learned. Often, swim teachers, coaches and parents are in a rush to build swimmers to be fast in the pool, and the detail is neglected.
“As parents or coaches it is our responsibility to support each swimmer to fulfil their potential by focusing on areas of development which is preparing our athletes how to learn. Dick Hannual, the elite swimming coach who runs a swimming club in Tacoma, Washington, who wrote a book called Coaching Swimming Successfully says a swimmer has to learn to train, train to train, train to compete and compete to win.”