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30-year school-club link encourages young Manurewa swimmers

Overview

It’s not a formal school-club partnership. There is no written agreement and no set deliverables or expectations. But while the partnership between Manurewa Swimming Club and Manurewa Central School is low-key—it’s worked well for a very long time.

The partnership is backed by enthusiasm and commitment from both sides. The school gains invaluable coaching and support; the club gains members. Most importantly, all Manurewa Central School’s children are encouraged to participate in swimming, and those with talent get a great head-start to take it further.

Background and partners

Manurewa Central School is decile-three primary school with around 550 children. Over 23 percent of the students are Maori and over 20 percent Indian. The school has an 18-metre outdoor pool.
 
Manurewa Swimming Club used to be just down the road, but they’ve since moved 6km away. However, the distance between club and school is no barrier, as most of the children already travel from outside the school zone.
 
The partnership began in the 1977, instigated by club coach Jane Logan and long-standing school sports teacher Kevin Hunt, who are both still involved. With no written agreements, the partnership has always been based on friendship.
 
“My children went to Central from 1974 to 1995. During that time I always volunteered to help the keen kids that made [the Manurewa] Interschool swim team each March. I would train them with Kevin Hunt. Nearly every year we would win at least one of the several relays that were held at the Interschool swim sports,” Jane recalls.
 
While not directly involved in the partnership, the local Sikh temple leader has been very supportive in getting the school’s Indian families involved in swimming. Similarly, the local Council has supported wider swimming opportunities for the children (see below for details of both).

How it works

“It’s not a huge relationship. It’s very casual. But it works for us,” iterates schoolteacher Ann Sowden, who now organises activities. The partnership is based around the school’s swimming season, held in the first seven weeks of the school year. It aims to help the school’s top swimmers prepare for the Manurewa interschool swimming sports, which involves around 15 of the city’s 25 primary schools; as well as getting all children swimming before they reach years five and six.
 
“When my children moved on from Central [in 1995], I was Head Coach at Manurewa Swimming Club. It made sense to continue to help with the interschool team in the hope we would gain new club members,” explains Jane. Since then, despite work commitments, she’s helped out at least one lunchtime a week during the school swim season.  
 
Morning swim coaching. Ann and Jane do a “recruitment drive” every summer. This involves inviting the children to swim at Manurewa Aquatic Centre (a 2m deep pool where the club trains) twice a week before school from 7.15am to 8am.
 
“For six weeks they learn how to cope and swim in deep water. It’s free of charge, thanks to the Aquatic Centre which does not charge pool hire for children,” says Jane, who leads the coaching. In 2010 the lessons involved about 25 to 30 children. Afterwards, the club gives certificates to all participants. “We usually have a few children every year join the club after doing this promotion.”
 
Lunchtime lessons. Due to the roll of 550, the children of Manurewa Central only get the opportunity to swim three times a week during class time. So at lunchtime, Ann, Kevin and Jane take additional swimming lessons in the school pool. “This is usually to extend the children and to prepare them for the interschool competition,” says Ann.
 
Involving the Indian community. “The school is so good at getting everyone working together no matter what ethnicity they are,” says Jane. In the early years of the swimming partnership, many of the school’s Indian children weren’t enthusiastic swimmers: that’s very different now. “Some of our top swimmers this year were Indian kids,” says Ann.
 
The shift came about after the school approached the leader of the local Sikh temple about the senior school camp, and other matters including swimming. The temple leader interpreted at a meeting with Indian parents. The relationship soon saw the middle school visiting the temple. “The [Indian] parents were so pleased we’d made the effort to come to the temple. They have really got behind the school in many different ways, one being encouraging the children to be part of the school swimming programme,” Ann says.
 
Field of Dreams. There’s another aspect of the school swimming programme that is not directly linked to the club. The John Walker Find your field of Dreams Foundation (www.fieldofdreams.org.nz) has the vision to get every seven and eight-year-old child in Manukau learning to swim. In 2009 all the school’s Year three and four children were bused to the Manurewa Aquatic Centre for seven swimming lessons. “The lessons are helping all the children to gain water confidence,” says Ann.

Key benefits

  • Encourage all children. “Only about two or three of my class [of seven and eight-year-olds] can’t move through the water. The rest can all swim,” notes Ann. “Overall, although our children aren’t [competing] at such a high standard as a few years ago, we’re getting more children swimming.” The school-club partnership is a big part of connecting children to the right swimming opportunities.
  • Support swimming achievement. Manurewa Central School has an outstanding record in interschool swimming. In 2009, the school had the country’s top ten-year-old swimmer.
  • Boost club recruitment. In 2010, around 10 children from the school are club members. A few years ago numbers were higher, but as Ann says: “There’s so much more [sporting] choice for the kiddies than there used to be”. At the end of each school swimming season, Ann writes to the parents of those children who have shown potential. “I suggest they join the club and give them all the contact details. It’s just getting them interested,” she says.
  • Get parents on board. When a child is a keen swimmer, it’s important to involve their parents, says Ann. “Every year we try and get the parents on board. Once you tell them [their child has potential] they are really good—they get involved.”
  • Remove barriers. Involving the Sikh community is a good demonstration of the importance of mutual understanding and open communication in running a community programme. Visiting the temple demonstrated commitment—and commitment was returned.
  • Get a role model. The power of a role model can’t be over-estimated. One of the school’s reliever teachers is Winkie Ashby (Griffin) who from 1949 to 1956 won nine national championship swimming titles; plus a relay silver medal at the 1950 British Empire Games. Now well into her 70s, Winkie is a club member and still competes in masters swimming. “She comes into school every Friday. The kids have this amazing role model—she usually gets in and swims with them every year,” says Ann. She often says at the end of the day, “I’m off for a swim now, the tide is in.”
  • Encourage ‘swim for life’. Getting all the children comfortable in the water at an early age is important. “If children can master and achieve at swimming between seven and 10 years of age, they will often go back to it later,” notes Jane. “That could be aquatic related, like doing Bronze Medallion at high school or joining a school water polo or underwater hockey team, or surf club—or just as a weekly fitness session to cope better on the netball court or rugby field.”

Looking ahead

Looking ahead, as it has been from the word go, this school-club partnership will remain relaxed. “It’s all about encouraging the children,” concludes Ann.

“Swimming is an important life skill and the lessons learned during training equip youngsters with excellent time management and coping skills,” says Jane. “Where they go afterwards is their choice.”

Contacts and links

To know more, please contact Ann Sowden on anns@mancent.school.nz or Manurewa Swimming Club President Keith Melvin on keithmelvin@xtra.co.nz