Joy Magazine

Different strokes

New YMCA swim program prepares kids for competition
Taos Cabarette Stewart of the new Rogue Sharks swims the butterfly stroke at the Rogue Valley Family YMCA in Medford.Photos by Jamie Lusch

Your daughter wants to join a swim team, but her school doesn't have a program. Your son's high-school season is over, but he needs structure and coaching to improve for next year. What's a parent to do?

The Rogue Valley Family YMCA introduced a year-round swim program in February for kids ages 8 to 18. "Rogue Sharks Swimming" is a program designed by coach Tim Manley to draw kids into the sport he loves.

"My goal is to keep kids in the sport, to have fun. I mix it up, make it more enjoyable. When I was 12, I just swam lots of laps, and it wasn't fun," Manley says.

On a Friday afternoon, Manley has his students in three lanes, divided up by ability. The "Black Sharks" are new to competitive swimming and are between 8 and 12 years old. They swim four laps and hop out. Manley shows them the "front plank," in which they hold a push-up position for 20 seconds. This develops abdominal core muscles. Next it's back in the pool for more.

The "Orange Sharks" are older and have more experience. Manley directs this group to strap on a pair of fins and swim a few laps.

Each "high-performance" swimmer ties a belt around his or her waist that attaches to a mesh bag filled with sea sponges. Just like world-class sprinters who run with parachutes trailing behind, swimming with these bags builds strength.

"This is great resistance training; it's 30 percent harder. The fins are great for speed work," Manley explains.

As a prerequisite to join the program, a swimmer must have taken lessons and be able to demonstrate that he or she can swim one length each, correctly, in three of the four competitive strokes: freestyle, breast, butterfly and back.

Of the 14 students who signed up initially, three competed in the state meet this winter. His top competitor is 13-year-old Grace Jovanovic, a seventh-grader at Hedrick Middle School in Medford, who last year was ranked in the top 30 nationally in her age group.

"Grace has worked with Tim in the past," says Grace's father, Mike Jovanovic. "With Tim, it's about having fun. He's all about athlete accountability. You've got to want to do it. It's not a screaming-and-shouting attitude."

For his students of all abilities, Manley encourages them to take at least one day off a week. Classes run from 4:30 to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.

"I want to avoid burnout. The younger kids don't come every day. They need a day off when they're getting started. Even the high-performance kids a need a day off."

Manley learned the hard way.

After an intense high-school swimming career, he lost interest and turned to triathlon, a sport in which he continues to compete. Manley has coached swimming now for 12 years, the past two at Superior Athletic Club.

Manley hopes the program will continue to grow, so a bigger group will increase the enthusiasm.

His goal is 40 to 50 swimmers in the Medford YMCA program. He's also in the process of starting an Ashland program at Southern Oregon University's pool.

Manley points to the success of Dara Torres, who in 2008 at age 41 was the oldest Olympic swimmer ever, as a way to explain his lower-intensity approach to coaching kids.

"In this sport, people are competing longer and older," Manley says.

For more information about the YMCA Rogue Sharks program, visit

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