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Mickiwewicz/My Turn: Knowing how to swim

As the YMCA in Greenfield’s aquatics director for the past 23 years, I have seen a lot of changes in children over the decades.

The majority of children today are pudgier and/or less fit and their average swim skills are very poor; so poor they would not be able to save themselves if they had to swim just 15 feet in deep water.

The second leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 14 in the United States is drowning.

Only 33 percent of children get the doctor recommended 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity on a daily basis. Unfortunately, playing sports like baseball won’t give children the exercise they need because they stand around most of the time.

Sports like soccer or swimming provide a better level of cardio fitness. If a child is overweight at age 5, they are four times more likely to be obese by the eighth grade.

We have a slogan at the Y that “Learning to swim is not optional.” As a note to parents, it takes time for a child to acquire good swimming skills, which I consider “Fish” or intermediate level. Just being able to dog paddle or go underwater is not “good” swimming. Once a child has these “fish” skills, they have them for a lifetime of fun, enjoyment, fitness and safety. Those teens who take our lifeguarding course have a certificate that can help them get a job at any pool or lake.

Speaking of teens, when children turn 13 or 14 and they can’t swim, many are too embarrassed to take lower level classes so they won’t do it.

Once they become an adult, “fear of water” sets in making it even more difficult to learn.

Also parents, money should not be a reason not to enroll your child in Y lessons. We have a sliding fee scale that can cover up to 80 percent of each eight-lesson session. Partial funding for this financial assistance comes from the United Way of Franklin County and the Y’s annual campaign.

So parents, for safety, exercise and obesity prevention, think swimming lessons. The next eight-week session of swim lessons begins the week of April 28 for children ages 1 through 14. We also have lessons all summer and then again September through June. For more information, go to ymcaingreenfield.org and click on “brochure” or stop by the Y.

I would also like to compliment Susan Hollins and the other leaders of the Greenfield Public Schools for thinking outside the box. This school year is our fifth year of providing swim lessons to area schools; over 400 second- through sixth-graders from 21 classrooms are coming to the YMCA during their school day for 10 swim lessons. If this program continues into the future, 80 to 85 percent of Greenfield’s sixth-graders will have advanced beginner or better swim skills; very few school districts anywhere in the U.S. can say that.

Pam Mickiewicz is the aquatic director for the YMCA in Greenfield.

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