Little Sharks learn and compete at Belle Haven pool

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Sharks are the most feared, yet graceful creatures in the water. Even baby sharks are gifted swimmers, swimming away from their mothers with ease right after they are born.

In the spirit of acquiring that same elegance and speed, 80 young sharks in Alexandria have been developing their aquatic skills this summer in a dynamic swim program at the Belle Haven Country Club under the direction of Head Belle Haven Swim Coach and Pool Manager Tim Boyd.

The program can be seen in full swing on most weekday evenings at the Belle Haven pool, or shark tank as it is called, when the Little Sharks or their older counterparts are either practicing or competing in a meet against another area team.

Lifelong memories are made at these meets as young swimmers experience the rewards that come from commitment and hard work, Boyd said. I have also seen lifelong friendships develop over the years between swimmers and the families of swimmers, because the sport and the volunteerism it depends on really foster a sense of community.

The program began three years ago, when Boyd, who has coached the Belle Haven Sharks swim team for eight years, noticed the need for a more robust program for the youngest swimmers who are ages eight and under to help them develop the skills they need for successful team swimming.

Together with his assistant coaches, he created a program that assesses each childs skill level and offers individual instruction and group lessons to enable them to swim at least one length of the 25-meter pool freestyle and one length backstroke unassisted, both of which are required to participate in team practices and meets.

The developmental program is already seeing results. In early June of this year, 80 young swimmers eight and under signed up for the Little Sharks program. Thirty of those 80 swimmers began the season in the specialized group lessons, with five coaches helping them improve their strokes and prepare to compete. All 30 children are now able to swim the requisite lengths of freestyle and backstroke, and some are now also able to swim and compete in the breaststroke and butterfly. 

Our goal was to create a program where everyone is a winner and where each child always has something higher to attain, Boyd said. Rather than focusing on the color of the ribbon they receive after a heat, we want them to learn to enjoy swimming for the sake of swimming and to focus on improving their own personal bests in the different strokes.

To reinforce some of the mental benefits of swimming, Boyd also periodically gives out rewards such as goggles and other swim merchandise to swimmers who have worked particularly hard or who have encouraged their team mates and thereby demonstrated the core values of self-discipline and good sportsmanship. To foster good sportsmanship, Little Sharks are taught to cheer for their teammates, to stay at the wall in their lanes until the last swimmer finishes, and to shake hands with the swimmers in the lanes beside them when each race ends.

I love swimming, and I love the excitement of working with children ages eight and under, Boyd said. They need nurturing, support, and good solid teaching, and I think we have all those components in this program.

Boyd hopes he is setting a foundation for the young swimmers that will stay with them over the years. Many Belle Haven Sharks who have become attached to the sport through the team have continued swimming during the rest of the year and throughout their lives. A number of high school-age swimmers have gone on to swim in college, and it is not unusual for the Belle Haven coaching staff to include one or more former Sharks.

The Little Sharks participate in three meets that have been designed just for 8 and unders.

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