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The Competitive Lane

By Jeannie Howard

Photo Credit Richmond Sailfish

Swim meets are where swimmers compete against the clock to reach their personal best and cheer on their teammates as they race.

Participating in swim lessons are a popular youth activity and after a few years of participating, many families want a more intensive level of training but the leap into recreational or year-round competitive swimming can seem like an overwhelming commitment. John Schonder, head coach of the Richmond Sailfish team, said that being a part of a year-round swim team is a bit more of a commitment but the benefits are worth it.

Swimming offers kids, and adults, several health benefits, according to Schoner, such as being a cardiovascular and strength workout, because of the thickness of the water, but without the risk of injuries often experienced in other sports. Schoner also emphasizes the social benefits of being on a swim team. “Although swimming is a team sport, it’s more of an individual based sport; it’s you against the clock and trying to get a personal best time. So, it can be less stressful for kids who many not have felt comfortable in team sports, like baseball or basketball,” he explained. “You get all of the benefits of being on a team—you get to make friends and have that positive support system—but you don’t have that pressure of having to make the winning goal for someone else’s success.”

Unlike seasonal, or recreational, swimming teams or lessons, which are often only a couple days each week in the summer, competitive teams will typically practice daily. While some teams do have a minimum attendance requirement, Schonder said that the Sailfish team does not. “We offer practice Monday through Friday and the only swimmers that have an attendance requirement are those that receive a scholarship rate. They are required to maintain a sixty percent attendance rate.”

To help encourage families from a wide range of economic backgrounds to join the team, the Richmond Sailfish offer a fifty percent scholarship rate to qualified families. “We give about 25 percent of our team spots each year as scholarship spots,” said Schonder.

In addition to scholarships, the team also helps families with gear and spirit wear. “We provide most of the training equipment for the swimmers. So as long as they can show up to the pool with a swim suit and goggles, we provide them with swim capes and all the other equipment,” he said. “We do a lot of grant writing to help subsidize the cost of our team tee shirts, sweaters, and the parkas the swimmers wear to the meets. We don’t want any of our swimmers to feel excluded from the team cause they don’t’ have the right equipment.”

For families interested in becoming a part of the team, Schonder welcomes would-be swimmers to stop by the pool during practice, between 4:45 p.m. and 6 p.m., for an in-water evaluation. “Swimmers five to 18 years can join as long as they meet our minimum swimming requirements, which is being able to swim independently in the deep end of the pool and complete one length of a 25-yard pool without stopping,” he described. “The evaluations usually take about five minutes to determine where in the four groups a swimmer would fit into or if we would recommend some additional swim lessons to get them ready for the team.”

After a passing evaluation, new families can take advantage of the team’s new swimmer trial. “We accept new swimmer all year round and offer a two-week trial so they can see how they like the program and how it works with their schedule before they pay any team fees,” said Schoner.

Richmond Sailfish practice at the Richmond Swim Center, 4300 Cutting Blvd., Richmond. (510) 620-6654.;

If you are outside of the Richmond area, check out some of the other swim teams in Contra Costa County:

Pinole Seals Swim Club: Offers competitive and lesson swimming for kids three to 18 years old. Contact the team for more information about cost and practice and meet schedules. 2450 Simas Ave., Pinole; Seals Swim Team (510) 758-7566; Pinole Swim Center for Rec and Lessons (510) 724-9025;

Piranhas Swim Team: This recreational competitive team operates during the spring and summer. Youth ages five to 18 years old who pass a swim assessment will be placed at an appropriate level. Contact the team for complete information about practices, clinics, and costs. (510) 799-8291,

Hercules East Bay Silver Dolphins: (510) 799-8229;;

Crockett Swim Team: As a co-op competitive swim team, the Crockett Swim team welcomes swimmers ages three to 18 years old. Please contact the team directly for more information. (510) 787-2567;

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