Hard work. Commitment. Excellence. Sportsmanship. These are the core values instilled in the young people of the Fox Cities when they are brought together by a common mission. The home for striving toward these ideals is the swim program at the YMCA of the Fox Cities.
“Swimming is a sport unlike any other,” says head coach Angela Monty. Monty started in the Fox Cities as an age group coach seven years ago, but had an opportunity to take over the head coach position within her first year. “You have to be willing to commit to it, to devote time each day.” Infants can learn to swim, and most people can keep swimming their entire lives. As Monty points out, it’s the only sport that can save your life.
In the Fox Cities, the YMCA Swim Team is fostering a community that also can enrich many lives. “On this team we focus on the whole athlete,” says Monty. “We want them to be good people outside of the pool — to show good sportsmanship, to be a good teammate, to be a good person. We’re interested in them as individuals, as people.” YMCA goals of honesty, respect and responsibility are central to the swim team’s mission.
The Fox Cities “swamily” — as Monty and others involved in the team refer to it — consists of one team, five locations, two full-time coaches, 12-14 part-time coaches, one team registrar, six different groups and 100-200 athletes, depending on the season. “We have four junior groups and two senior groups,” explains Monty. Junior groups include swimmers aged 12 and under, and seniors are 13 and over. “We put our athletes into different groups to try to get them into like levels based on age and ability range.”
The young athletes practice and compete all over the Fox Cities, from the Neenah-Menasha, Appleton and Greenville YMCAs to the natatorium at Lawrence University and the outdoor facility at Erb Park in the summer. The team hosts or co-hosts six meets a year, including the 17th Annual Bird Bath Invitational that took place last weekend at the Erb Pool. More than 950 USA Swimming and YMCA swimmers competed in the three-day meet, bringing together young athletes from all over the state.
“We start very locally with opportunities to compete right here in Appleton,” says Monty. “We work all the way up to the national level. We have athletes that go to YMCA nationals and junior nationals. We have goals to send athletes to Olympic trials.” The next U.S. Olympic Team Trials will take place in Omaha, Nebraska, next summer. Even if the Fox Cities team doesn’t send an athlete to the trials, Monty has a feeling some will go anyway to cheer on other swimmers they know. The athletic community stretches beyond the home program and connects people with little in common, but their passion for the sport.
In addition to many competition opportunities, practices and practice schedules vary to accommodate and challenge swimmers of all levels. “New athletes start practicing for an hour up to four times a week,” explains Monty. “As they become older and more committed, practices go to an hour and a half and eventually two hours. During the summer, someone on a senior team who can compete at the state or national level can swim up to eight times per week, do dry land two days a week and run two days a week.”
Seeing athletes work hard and accomplish what they set out to do is one of the most rewarding parts of coaching a team like this. “I love watching a new athlete have an ‘a-ha’ moment, figuring out how to do a flip turn or things like that. I love watching our seniors achieve a new national cut or a state cut,” says Monty. “Each athlete has their own set of goals and it’s very rewarding to know them and to help them achieve those goals.”
With such a large swamily, there are many opportunities to make friends and strong connections that will last for many years. However, there are challenges that go along with a team of this size as well. “We always try to know every athlete, form a great bond and make sure everyone stays connected,” says Monty, acknowledging the difficulty coaching staff and athletes sometimes face feeling united — swimming can be very team-based, but it also can be very individual. “We want to make sure everyone feels welcome and excited to know each other. They’re all part of one team.”
Ultimately, the Fox Cities YMCA Swim Team is a tight-knit, but diverse group of young people working toward individual goals as well as growing in a strong team atmosphere. From swimming fast in the pool to working on mental training, from participating in community service projects and team bonding, the young swimmers of the Fox Cities are part of something truly special.