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during camp to have a positive expe- rience by preparing them ahead of time—in part by recognizing that swim checks can produce anxiety, especially for those who fear swim- ming in a lake or river where they can’t see the bottom. Still, the swim check is a vital

demonstration of a boy’s ability to take care of himself in the water. And it’s important to remember that a member of the camp’s aquatic staff will work one-on-one with any Scout and recheck the boy during the week if he wants to advance from nonswim- mer to beginner to swimmer. How can you reduce your Scouts’

anxiety about the swim-check process? Follow this advice from adult leaders, child psychologists, parent volunteers, and experienced swim instructors.

THE BSA SWIM CHECK, compul- sory for everyone who participates in aquatics activities, classifies the

swimmer’s ability, explains Bill Hurst, chairman of the Boy Scouts of America’s Health and Safety Support Committee. To obtain the “swimmer” classification, a Scout or leader must jump into water over the head, swim for 75 yards in a strong manner, turn, and swim 25 yards using a resting stroke (elementary backstroke). After that, he must float and rest. “We want you to demonstrate that you know how to react in deep water,” Hurst says. The test parameters are similar to those of the American Red Cross Swimming and Water Safety Program and the YMCA. “There’s real purpose to the swim

check,” says Dave Smith, an assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 214 in Salina, Kan., and an aquatics director at Camp Hanson. “If the canoe flips in the middle of the lake, you may not be able to swim the entire way to shore. You need to demonstrate that you can do a resting stroke and know


All youth and adult participants are classified as swimmers, beginners, or nonswimmers based on swimming ability confirmed by the BSA swim checks. Each group is assigned a specific swimming area with depths consistent with those abilities. The classification tests should be renewed annually, prefer- ably at the beginning of the season.

SWIMMER Jump feet first into water over the head in depth. Level off and swim 75 yards in a strong manner using one or more of the following strokes: sidestroke, breaststroke, trudgen, or crawl; then swim 25 yards using an easy resting backstroke. The 100 yards must be completed in one swim without stops and must include at least one sharp turn. After completing the swim, rest by floating.

BEGINNER Jump feet first into water over the head in depth, level off, and swim 25 feet on the surface. Stop, turn sharply, resume swimming, and return to the start- ing place.

NONSWIMMER is anyone who has not passed the beginner or swimmer tests.

32 S COUT ING ¿ MARCH • AP R I L 2 0 1 1

how to float when you’re exhausted.” Smith says that the key for the

anxious boy is explaining the purpose of the swim check: keeping him safe in the water. “You really have to over- emphasize this for some of the boys,” he says. “In their minds, it’s a test of all

their masculine vigor and boyness,” says William S. Pollack, Ph.D., an assis- tant professor of clinical psychology at Harvard Medical School and director of the Center for Men and Young Men at McLean Hospital. Those who don’t “measure up” may retreat into themselves and avoid the group. In his book Real Boys: Rescuing

Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood, Pollack calls this behavior following “the Boy Code.” This code includes unwritten rules along the path to manhood that prevent boys from expressing their feelings and make them feel ashamed of failure or even of having interests that are not con- sidered masculine, which is almost anything outside of sports. “Boys are brought up not to show

vulnerability, to always be tough and strong,” Pollack says. They’re unlikely to let on when something is trou- bling them. A case in point: Chris Thurber, a

Ph.D. and faculty member at Phillips Exeter Academy, has spent 20 years on the staff of Camp Belknap, a YMCA property on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. A clinical psycholo- gist and author of The Summer Camp Handbook, Thurber is an authority on dealing with homesickness in chil- dren. He has a long-held interest in exploring kids’ emotional adjustment to summer camp (see “Not a Happy Camper” in our May-June 2008 issue or at Several years back, Thurber polled

Belknap boys 28 hours after their arrival about their first impressions of camp. Thurber asked the kids, who were ages 8 to 16 and a mix of first-year and return campers, to write


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