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ence began with fun games such as ultimate Frisbee, tennis-racquet base- ball, and table tennis tournaments. “We front-loaded the day with a lot of fun, which eliminated making kids have to change their clothes and jump into a cold lake as soon as they got to camp,” Thurber says. The swim check still produces

some anxiety, but it’s a lot less without the scary name. Now, before the expe- rience Thurber tells campers, “You may be happy or disappointed with your classification, but no matter if you are a guppy, minnow, or shark [YMCA swimmer classifications], you will have fun in the water.” A year after implementing the

changes to the first-day-of-camp process, Thurber polled the campers again. This time, the swim check didn’t even show up in the top 10 of campers’ worst impressions. “Semantics and structure can change kids’ entire experience,” Thurber says.

Take steps before coming to camp to reduce their anxiety about getting into the water:

DO WARM-UP DRILLS. “A Scout leader should know who his swimmers and nonswimmers are long before getting to camp,” says Jeff Stern, committee member and past Scoutmaster of Troop 377 in the Suffolk County (New York) Council. Identify Scouts who might have anxiety around the water or with the swim-check process. Stage a troop swim night at a pool several months before summer camp and make the BSA swim check part of it. “Everyone takes the test, even

leaders, so you’re not singling out the new Scouts as special,” Stern says. His troop often invites Webelos Scouts who’ll be crossing over to Boy Scouting to the troop’s swim night. “It’s an opportunity for everyone to get familiar with one another, establish trust, and get a sense of who

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

might need swimming instruction long before they get to camp.”

ASK THE PARENTS. Early in the year, talk to the parents to identify boys who cannot swim or who have a fear of water so they’re not placed in a stressful situation by accident. “Before you can address the

problem, you have to identify who is fearful,” says Jeff Krieger, director of Strategies for Overcoming Aquatic Phobias (SOAP), a program that helps children and adults overcome their fear of swimming. “It’s something parents may not offer without being asked.” Also, talk to the boys about their

comfort level around the water, while discussing requirements for Second Class and First Class advancement.

PREPARE FOR THE CHECK. Familiarize your Scouts with the process. Explain the purpose of the swim check and how it will be conducted, that each

boy’s ability will be different, and that the better swimmers are expected to encourage and support those with lesser abilities.

LEARN A NEW LANGUAGE. Swimming- instruction experts say the worst thing you can do is force someone into the water who’s afraid. Remember the Boy Code: Boys aren’t likely to admit their fear, but you can pick up clues by reading their body language. “Watch their muscles when you

describe the test to them on the dock. Do they tense up?” says David Smith, a Scout-camp aquatics director in the Coronado Area (Kansas) Council. “You can see the lack of confidence in a boy’s eyes as he looks at the water; it’s fairly easy to spot the hesitance and stop him from jumping into water over his head.” Some signs: nail biting, fidgeting, shivering and holding themselves, wide eyes, and fear while watching others swim.


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