Young Swimmers

9 years 6 months 2 weeks ago March 13, 2007 Mar 13, 2007 Tuesday, March 13 2007 Tuesday, March 13, 2007 7:49:50 PM CDT in News

Tucker comes from a water-oriented family. Wagner taught lessons at the swim school and his wife, Julie Wagner, also started swimming as an infant and went to the Illinois Junior Olympics when she was 12. She swam competitively throughout high school.

Although Wagner said it is not his main motive to prepare Tucker for competitive swimming, he said he'll continue to enroll his son in swimming classes and wont stop until he's in the Olympics.

"Swimming classes for infants are not uncommon," Julie Wagner said.  "Babies have a natural instinct to hold their breath underwater. Parents always accompany their babies in the pool."

MU psychology professor David Geary, who specializes in cognitive development, said infants probably hold their breath underwater due to a reflex developed from being submerged in amniotic fluid when in the womb.

"Most reflexes, wherever they come from, eventually go away," Geary said.

Columbia's Activity and Recreation Center offers a similar class for infants and toddlers at Hickman High School.

Heather Summerville's seven-month old daughter, Olivia, is one of the ARC's students.

"I want her to feel good about her surroundings and not be afraid," Summerville said. "If we ever have a pool in the future, she'll know how to swim."

Chris Bell, father of six-month old Chloe, said he wants his daughter not to be afraid of the water and learn water safety.

Macher Swim School owner Joanne Macher said infant swimming lessons could help with physical, emotional and social development.

"I believe it is good for a parent to provide opportunities for their children to become good swimmers so the child can be safe in and around the water," Macher said. "Swimming is an important life sport that can be done well into the 'senior years'. This is more important than developing competitive swimmers."

Geary said the babies will most likely not have any memory of having been in the pool as they get older, but they are developing their behavioral skills.

"They will remember [in] parts of their brain involved in coordinating brain actions and the muscles that allow them to swim are getting wired up," he said.

Not everyone advocates putting babies in a pool so early. Pediatrician Vincent Iannelli, creator of Keepkidshealthy.com, said the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you not begin formal swimming lessons until kids are at least 4 years old.

Iannelli said learning to swim at infancy probably would not give a child a competitive advantage later on. He cited a study by the University of Western Australia called Children's Readiness for Learning Front Crawl Swimming.

"Learning to swim early is not necessarily a benefit of early swim lessons," Ianneli said.

According to the study, whether children started lessons at two, three, or four, by the age of five-and-a-half years they were at the same performance level.

"The biggest negative is that some parents think that if a younger child does learn how to swim, then they don't need to be supervised in the water," Iannelli said.

Alison LaCarrubba enrolled her son Henry in the Macher Swim School when he was six-months old. Henry is two years old now and LaCarrubba said he loves the water.

"There is that fear that he would approach water and not be afraid to jump in," LaCarrubba said.

Travis Floyd, captain of the University of Missouri's mens swim team, has been swimming competitively for 16 years. In high school, he won the Texas state championships, and was voted district and regional swimmer of the year numerous times.

Still, he did not begin formal swimming lessons until he was five years old.

"It depends on the swimmer," Floyd said. "You also have Olympians who started at 16 or 17 and two years later they're in Olympics. It really depends on the work ethic and talent of the swimmer."

His teammate Max Jaben began lessons when he was six-months old and swam competitively at the age of four. He doesnt believe the head start in training gave him an edge over his teammates.

"Probably up until the first couple years of high school, I still had an advantage," Jaben said. "Eventually everyone gets to the same spot."

Whether or not Olivia joins the ranks of MU's swim team is not a concern for Summerville.

"Right now she really likes the water, I hope it continues just so shes not scared of it, but later on it will be up to her if she wants to swim competitively or not," she said.

Produced by Vinti Singh and Andrew Lynch

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