…is a different kind of swim program. Years ago, an opposing coach-- now long gone from the local swim scene-- referred to us as “the fun team.” Our coaches weren’t offended; we are a fun team, and that’s by design. Our coaches know that little kids who have fun swimming stick around long enough to become teenagers who have fun swimming. And happily, swimmers who enjoy swimming become fast at swimming. So, while an Otter practice routinely includes tough kicking sets and IM ladders, it also includes Monday morning water polo, “sharks and minnows,” and crazy relays. While there are the obligatory drills and sets and ab exercises, there is also mini golf at Yogi’s and “Burger and Steak Night” at the Gardner farm. There is Jim “encouraging” the unlimited girls to get in for early morning practice by shaking their car bumpers and chasing them around the pool deck with icy buckets of water. There is Mary carrying in sheet cake after sheet cake, sometimes for birthdays and sometimes just because.
There is, however, more to the Otter experience than fun and fast swimming. Our coaches don’t believe that “swimming is life;” they believe that swimming is a training ground for life. And so, their goal is not just to build competitive swimmers but also to build whole, healthy, caring adults or, as Mary likes to say, “decent human beings.” Our coaches stress that progress is measured not by comparison to others but by comparison to each swimmer’s inherent abilities and stage of development. They celebrate hard work, determination, and sportsmanship, no matter what the time on the stopwatch is. They promote “swimming” service to others through Easter Seals, Special Olympics, and autism support organizations, even if it means their swimmers miss practice time to serve. In short, they care about character.
They also care about team unity. We are, first and last, a TEAM, not a collection of isolated individuals who race against each other and other teams when the calendar says Saturday. We are instead a community of swimmers who race with each other toward a common goal. There are no “favorites” here; you will hear our coaches and swimmers cheering for the first place swimmer and also the last. Away from the pool deck, it is common for our swimmers (and coaches) to hang out together, to attend team members’ drama performances, musical concerts, and soccer games, to someday get invited to Otter alumni weddings and baby showers. It is common for lifetime friendships and mentoring relationships to be forged here, even among the parents. To us, it is a rare community of goodwill and belonging, one that welcomes those of all abilities and addresses to a space in a lane.
Based on the example of our coaches, that goodwill extends outward to the other teams and swimmers we meet each season. Respect and congeniality to opposing teams are modeled by our coaches and expected of our swimmers, who are taught to honor the dedication and achievements of their opponents. Otter swimmers are trained to fiercely compete while the clock runs but to extend the hand of genuine friendship and respect once the race has concluded. That, in sum, is swimming the Otter way.
CHARACTER. COMMUNITY. CONGENIALITY.
VALUED. NURTURED. MODELED.