Youth give all during SWAT practice
Six days a week, young athletes spend time at the Sanibel Recreation Center perfecting their swimming and gaining the skills they need to excel at their meets.
Coach Curt McIntyre said Sanibel Water Attack Team (SWAT), a sister team of Swim Florida, began in 1974 as a summer outlet for the kids because they had nothing to do on the island. SWAT remained a summer activity until 2012 when he was hired.
Before the Sanibel Recreation Center was built, SWAT practiced at hotels, one of which was Casa Ybel for five years.
“They decided they needed a pool, so the original Rec Center had a small gym and a six lane pool that was built,” McIntyre said.
Now SWAT’s home is at the Rec Center where they practice six days a week year round.
The first year he became the SWAT coach, 13 swimmers joined McIntyre year round, before increasing to 25 the second year and 35 the third year.
“Last year we got as high as 60, but ended up carrying 45 all year,” McIntyre said about the number of swimmers. “This year, right now we are at about 45. These 45 are all sticking with me. They have been with me for a while. My goal is to have 100 on the team.”
The younger swimmers practice for an hour at a time, Monday through Friday, while the older swimmers practice for two hours Monday through Saturday.
“Even with that we are at a disadvantage because a lot of teams practice twice a day,” he said. “The pool is not open for us to do that. We can only do one a day, but we get our yards in.”
SWAT has one beginner league meet a month, and one invitational traveling team meet a month. During high school season, there is typically one meet every week.
“We average about two meets a month,” McIntyre said.
The next meet is at Florida Gulf Coast University for the traveling team.
Endurance, speed, stroke techniques, and lifting weights for strength are some of the focal points during practice. The season starts off with practicing more endurance before the focus changes to more speed.
The practices include a warm up, freestyle work, stroke drills and individual medley (swimming all four strokes) and particular strokes.
“Some days it’s distance work. Some days it’s speed work. Some days it’s a mixture of the two. We tend to do more speed work than a lot of teams do,” McIntyre said.
In the past, all of the island’s great swimmers had to go into town to swim somewhere after eighth grade. That changed, as high school swimmers joined SWAT for the first time this year.
At last Wednesday’s practice, McIntyre was working with the older swimmers. They were alternating their breathing sides to balance their stroke. The technique also helped them practice seeing where their opponent was in the next lane.
The swimmers also did short rest set, five or six second rests between swimming, to help with endurance and control of breathing.
“I like to watch them improve,” McIntyre said. “If you don’t have an ego, you really shouldn’t be a coach. I get a lot of satisfaction watching my kids beat other athletes.”
The practice was to help prepare the older swimmers for high school districts and states, as well as a big meet that is typically held at the University of Florida. McIntyre said it’s an important meet for the high school swimmers because a lot of college coaches are present.
“That’s a big meet that we look forward to, especially for guys like Cameron,” he said of the qualifying meet.
Cameron Dolly, 16, a junior at Fort Myers High School, who was at practice last week, he said is arguably the top swimmer in the area.
“He is the top seeded back stroker in this area this year,” McIntyre said. “He has aspirations to swim at a major college, which is not easy.”
Another high school swimmer at practice, Canterbury School junior Camillo Lillestratten, 16, he said will probably be the best breast stroke swimmer this year. His sister Arabella, 14, also at practice, will probably be one of the top freshmen in the area, McIntyre said.
Henry Whitman, 12, who just joined the team after moving from Columbus, Ohio this summer swam with the older athletes. McIntyre said he was one of the top swimmers in his age group.
McIntyre said they have a lot of really great young swimmers. He works with swimmers 5 to 17 years old. There are two 5 year olds on the team, who the coach is teaching how to swim.
To become a member of the SWAT team, he said they just have to show up. They can join the team anytime throughout the year.
“I do like kids to swim a lap of the pool under their own power. I don’t care if it’s a correct stroke or not, but I don’t have time with 40 something kids to get in and teach them,” McIntyre said. “With that said I do have two kids that started and couldn’t and one boy within two weeks can do two laps without stopping. I won’t necessarily turn them down.”
They are also required to join United States Swimming, as well as bring a bathing suit; goggles and girls must wear a swim cap. He said the little swimmers are encouraged to show up three times a week for practice, while the older swimmers are required four, or five times.
The swimmers do not have to be Sanibel Recreation Center members to join. Registration is reasonable for members, and nonmembers.
“If they are not sure, they can try a couple of practices before they have to join. Usually I give them a week to try it,” McIntyre said.
Swimmers, McIntyre said end up being great students.
“It teaches you discipline. You learn time management. You learn success at something that is very hard,” he said. “If they are successful swimmers, they will be successful in life, I guarantee it.”
McIntyre has been in and around pools for 58 years, due to him starting to swim at the age of 5.