Archive for Thursday, July 20, 2006

Diving through the dog days

July 20, 2006

Rebecca England is a coach -- that much was obvious Monday morning even though she was directing what wasn't even yet really a team.

She planned the practice and issued orders. She had her athletes partake in drills and she introduced strategies. She raised her voice when she was trying to correct mistakes, she taught a group one thing and offered individual instruction in another.

England coached, and though the town of De Soto doesn't exactly have a swim team yet, she's preparing for that reality.

The California native teaches an early-morning competitive swimming class at the De Soto Aquatic Center. The participants -- there were seven Monday -- are just learning the basics.

It's all fine for now, England said, but it's only the first part of an ambitious plan.

"I'm coaching these kids so maybe De Soto can have a competitive swim team," England said.

The returns are mixed thus far, England said. The aquatic center offered sessions in both June and July and initially, the reaction was positive. Several participants dropped out of England's June session, however, and had the seven that remained not chosen to return for the July edition, the club's future may have been in doubt.

The club now has 10 members for the July session, and while only seven swam Monday, England said she's beginning to see the excitement she was hoping for.

"This year, since the pool is new to us, we wanted to see how many kids would get involved," she said. "So far, it's good and bad. I'm glad to see the same kids came back for July, but at the same time we wanted more. You can probably start a swim team with 10 or 15, but it would be very costly."

And make no mistake -- turning the swimming club into a competitive swim team is England's overall goal.

Age and experience varied greatly Monday. Laura Lambert proved the fastest of the bunch through a series of drills, and the 13-year-old said she plans on lowering her times.

Competing with a team in Olathe for the last two years, Lambert jumped at the chance to fine-tune her stroke in her home town of De Soto.

So far, so good.

"Coach England is one of the best I've had," she said. "She's very personable."

Standing in stark contrast to Lambert's experience was Lindsey Fowks.

The youngest swimmer on the day at 8-? years, Fowks was still picking things up and enjoying the experience, her mother said.

"She's doing great. This seemed like the natural progression because she had mastered the regular swimming classes," Sheila Fowks said. "Maybe competitive swimming could be in her future."

England is hoping it is, along with the rest of the club.

A decision will be made at the end of the year about whether or not the club will return as is, or bump up to competition. Until then, England is concentrating on training her pupils the way she learned.

First taking up the sport at seven, England said she practiced four hours a day, six days a week and eventually excelled on the highly-competitive California prep scene. She was so successful, she said she was offered a full ride to UCLA, but turned it down in a moment of teenage rebelliousness.

She began coaching with a large team in Kansas City when she moved to the area with her husband 12 years ago, and now hopes she can encourage a De Soto swimmer to follow her steps.

"When we first decided to do this group, we figured if we got the elementary through the freshman year high school kids in it, maybe we can get them to come out and we can build them up to where we want them to be," she said. "Maybe we can get these kids to a level where they can have a swim team or help start up a high school swim team."

If the club ever does graduate to competition, England said she's been training the group with victory in mind. She said she's been stressing work on all four of the main strokes -- butterfly, back, breast and freestyle -- to allow the kids an advantage.

"We're trying to do the 100-meter intermediate medley," she said of a race that combines all four of the strokes. "When new swimmers start, their basic swim is freestyle and back stroke because it's the easiest stoke to do. I don't see a lot of swimmers who schedule themselves to do a 100 IM, so I'm trying to get the kids to learn it so they have an advantage."

Just when that advantage will kick in for a De Soto swim team, England wasn't quite ready to answer.

She remained convinced the sport would catch on, however, and said even if it's only as the instructor of a club team, she'll gladly be back next summer.

"It's an all-around sport," she said. "There is no better sport as far as enhancing the muscles and building all that endurance. I wish they knew how swimming is so good for you."

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