As we head into midsummer, kids across the country are heading to summer camps, Scout camps and community center pools and beaches. And that means swim tests—for many kids, an anxious and stressful event, but one that helps ensure better safety for campers. With a little forethought, parents can help their kids gain confidence and come up with a plan to give them the best chance to pass.
Even fairly strong swimmers can be intimidated by these tests—they are watched by adults and fellow campers, and if the test is near the limits of their ability, the added stress could make some kids prefer to opt out.
We encourage all kids to swim to their best level—swimming is fun and one of the highlights of camp (in our humble opinion) plus campers with the highest swim rating often can participate in activities others can’t—maybe taking out single-person watercraft, using a rope swing into the water, or other fun activities.
Step one, of course, is to enroll your child in a learn-to-swim course with a qualified swim school. Swimming 100 yards continuously (one common standard) doesn’t happen overnight, or even after a single quarter of classes.
Here are some thoughts on inspiring confidence and giving your child the best possible chance of passing.
The short version: Research, plan, and practice
The first step is to talk about the swim test early. Tell kids exactly what to expect and give them time to practice and prepare—don’t wait until the night before camp. This goes even for good swimmers. A surprise the day of the test could create doubts and make a child less confident, which can affect performance.
If you have a swimmer who has some anxiety about the test, here are some things you can do in the weeks leading up to camp to ease worry.
Get the exact details of the test:
Tests vary by camp. The Cub Scouts and BSA Scout Camps for boys and girls have a nationwide standard of 100 yards, 75 using any front stroke and 25 on the back to be considered a “swimmer,” but there may be variations in distance, what strokes are allowed, or other requirements like timed floating. Knowing what is required allows practice to build confidence and removes the stress of uncertainty.
Know the water:
Lake swimming is very different than pool swimming. If your swimmer is used to a pool but the test is in a lake, try to visit a similar body of water so kids can feel what it’s like with waves, colder water, lower visibility and other factors that can intimidate swimmers.
Slow and steady:
Remind your swimmer that swim tests are not a race. Kids sometimes get anxious and overexert themselves, which may leave even a strong swimmer too tired to finish. Practice slow swimming if your child is worried about the distance.
Plan a strategy:
If a test requires certain strokes, practice them. If you are allowed to use a mix, figure out which strokes you can put together to allow you to maximize distance. The front crawl and breaststroke use different muscles, for example, so switching partway may help extend range.
Qualify in advance if it’s an option:
Some camps let swimmers take the test ahead of time with a qualified tester. Ask your camp – this can let your swimmer test under the best possible conditions.
Reassure kids it’s OK if they don’t pass:
As long as a child has done their best, there is no shame in not passing. Camps have lots of water activities for every swim level. A good try on the hardest test may be a “pass” for the next level down, and many camps allow a retest. In fact, some kids find that not passing a swim test is motivation to do better next time.
Most important: Have fun and be safer in the water!
Whatever level a swimmer is at, the water is a great source of fun at summer camp. So get out there and enjoy!
The important thing to remember is that the test is about safety, not about comparing kids against each other. The camp’s goal is to allow everyone to have a good time and be safer. So set aside the worry, be prepared and do your best!