The Talmud states that, among other expected values and morals, you must teach your child to swim.
According to writer and Jewish Educator, Miriam Shwartz, this teaching “indicates that we are obligated to teach our children skills that will allow them to survive independently of our help when the need arises. And I think this principle is perhaps the essential function of effective parenting.” (1)
In addition to serving as a life skill and spiritual purpose, as a sport, swimming is an excellent form of exercise, taking less of a toll on the body than many others and increasing its longevity in the participant’s life. Like other sports, swimming can help children maintain a healthy weight and heart, strengthen their muscles and immune system, and improve coordination. Athletes also tend to do well in school because they have a greater need to manage their time. Additionally athletes pick up numerous skills transferrable to the classroom through sports: communication, memorization, goal-setting, and determination.
When I was a competitive swimmer, I remember the feeling of pride and excitement when the timer read back a time that was faster than I’d ever gone before. It didn’t even matter how I placed in a particular race, so long as I was improving myself.
Our swim program at the J has grown exponentially in the last six years. In 2012, our summer swim team of 75 summer swimmers did not win a single meet. The following year, the team won its first meet. Two years later, the team won its division in the North Brandywine Swim League, earning a move from the bottom division to the middle. This summer, just three years since that move, our team of 130 swimmers went undefeated in the middle division and will compete in the top division next summer for the first time in our history.
Swimming is both an individual and a team sport. Team sports, in general, allow children to make new friends, work with others towards a common goal, and celebrate others’ successes. Swimming offers the opportunity to swim both as an individual and as a team in a relay, with each contributing to the success of the team as a whole.
“My older daughter tends to swim a little faster in relay races than individual,” says Lynn Hanna, swim team volunteer and parent. “She says this is because she knows that others are depending on her.”
This reliance on a group of peers to be successful, coupled with learning to navigate their independence, helps round out a child’s understanding of the world in which they live and how they relate to it. It develops their awareness of unity, reinforcing how instrumental their own achievement is to the achievement of the whole.
Most parents are grateful to any program that includes swimming in their child’s curriculum, generally because they want them to be safe in the water.
And yet instinctively they know it’s because of so much more.
(1) Teaching Our Children How to Swim, myjewishlearning.org, October, 2013