SARASOTA — Six-year-old Alexander Getzels crouches down at the side of the pool and gazes out at the sparkling water.
With his blue goggles strapped firmly into place and his fins and paddle board on the pool deck, the Willis Elementary School first-grader prepares to plunge into the water.
A few lanes down, 6-year-old Isabelle Valcarcel receives some last-minute stroke instructions from swim coach Chelsea Rademaker.
Then it’s the moment Alexander and Isabelle having been waiting for all practice — race time. They and five Piranhas teammates dive into the pool and head for the opposing wall.
With no time to rest, the swimmers approach the wall with relative ease and make their way back across the pool. Midway through their final lap, the swimmers show slight signs of exhaustion, but that doesn’t deter them from finishing the freestyle race.
The seven swimmers are part of the School of Fish Piranhas Aquatics Program, which officially launched June 23. The Piranhas Aquatics Program is a preparatory program for competitive team swimming with the goal of preparing 5-and 6-year-olds to become competitive swimmers.
“This age is so fun for this, because they are just starting to get that maturity level to understand the team dynamic,” Rademaker says. “They really get into it. It’s all about developing their stroke skills and (showing) them the social aspect of being on a team.”
The swimmers meet twice a week for practice at Sun-N-Fun Resort & Campground, in Sarasota. The girls meet Tuesdays, while the boys meet Thursdays for individual practice. Every Wednesday, boys and girls join together for team practice, which includes the competition aspect of the program.
“I like finding the dive rings in the pool,” Alexander says. “I wanted to do swim team because I’m so good at swimming that I wanted to swim in Sun-N-Fun’s pool because it’s a bigger pool than at home.”
During each practice, the swimmers work on technical proficiency, including starts, strokes, turns and finishes, strength, endurance, speed, competition strategies and sportsmanship.
Before hitting the pool, the swimmers gather their gear, which includes fins, buoys and hand paddles, and move to their assigned lanes. Then, they stretch before returning to the pool for 30 minutes of drill work. Following drills, the swimmers spend the final 30 minutes of practice racing.
After each practice, the team gathers for a team cheer, and each swimmer says one positive thing about the team and his or her teammates.
“She loves it,” Erika Valcarcel says of her daughter, Isabelle. “She loves to swim. It’s her favorite thing to do, so it’s great for her to be able to come out and learn the strokes and about competition.
“It’s good for them to be in a group as opposed to private lessons because now they can learn from each other,” Valcarcel says. “They are learning a lot.”
School of Fish founder and Lakewood Ranch resident Maria Barringhaus came up with the idea for the swim team program after several of her clients, whom she had been giving swimming lessons to since they were 18 months old, were interested in expanding their swimming to more than just basic lessons.
“They’re excited about swimming,” Barringhaus says. “They’re still a little young for a (regular) competitive swim team, so this is more of a recreational swim team. You have to be mentally, cognitively and physically ready, and right now they are learning all of that.
“It’s a big step from private swimming lessons,” Barringhaus says. “It’s so fun to seem them (progress). You can see in such a short amount of time how well they’ve done and how much they get along.”
The program currently has four girls and three boys enrolled, but the School of Fish plans to expand its 5- and 6-year-old program, as well as launch a level-two program for swimmers in third through fifth grade.
Each Piranhas module includes four 60-minute sessions. Cost is $60 for all four sessions. Registration is ongoing, and class sizes are limited.
Contact Jen Blanco at j[email protected].