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Swimming as easy as A,B,C

by Gaelle Fourcade
with Onica King

Mom-1: I heard “Swim Like A Fish” has a really good swim program.

Mom-2: Yeah, I’ve already registered Katie there.

Mom-3: Isn’t your Katie just 4 years old?

Mom-2: Yes, but there’s a waiting list and I want to make sure she gets a spot on a day we can be there. Your Jacob is turning 4 right, where are you thinking of registering for swim lessons?

Mom-3: Ahhh, um. . .

Sounds familiar?

I first discovered the importance of Dutch swim lessons for children just as I began asking around for information about schools for our eldest daughter. At first, I thought it was a bit early to start thinking about swim lessons, yet alone already registering my 4 year old for swim class. But ongoing conversations and the evident parental stress associated made it seem just as important as choosing a good school.

Out of my depth

You see I’m initially from France. There, schools still provide swim lessons to students. So of course, I had no idea what to look for and what to expect with respect to swim diplomas in the Netherlands.

Diploma A, B, C, badje 1-2-3, colored armbands, etc. I quickly became overloaded and confused with this new vocabulary on swim lessons. Oh, and of course, it‘s all in Dutch — a language I understood very little of at the time. It took me months before I understood ZWEM-ABC (literally SWIM-ABC) referenced the various diploma levels. Diploma A was the first swim diploma that included basic swimming techniques and specific swim distance requirements.  The progression to Diploma B adds more techniques and longer distances. C indicates the most advanced level of the diplomas in this category.

Letters, numbers, colors and more

After a bit of research and experience (we’ll soon be taking my 3rd through the process) I quickly became intimately acquainted with the mysteries of the ‘badjes’ A1 through A6, and its associated color armbands, red, blue, green, yellow orange and bronze. All beginners start in badje A1 with red armbands. As they begin to better coordinate their movements and master the required skills and techniques of each badje, children receive the ‘reward’ of a new colored armband — much to their pleasure and excitement — before progressing to the next badje.

All this culminates in their ability to swim at least 50 meters using both breast and back strokes and swim 3 meters underwater through a large ‘escape’ hole. Those requirements increase to 75 meters and 6 meters under water for the B certificate. The C diploma requires 100 meters of surface swimming with a few additional obstacles.

The NRZ (The National Board of Swimming Safety) publishes a list of requirements (in Dutch) for each diploma.

Time and money

When we decided to inscribe our daughter, we had no clue how long it would take to achieve completion of ZWEM-ABC. It took us almost 4 years!

Ok, we did not attend during summer holidays (which can be a really good way to speed up your diploma). Our daughter also had ear tubes, so she suffered intermittent ear infections. Either way, I shudder to calculate how much her diplomas cost in total. However, be prepared to invest some time and money. The swim school we attended suggests, “the average duration to obtain the A-diploma is 50 hours, for B- diplomas it’s 10-15 hours and for C-diploma it’s 12-15 hours.” DMM’s recent “Get Out!” blog lists the various swim schools in Delft. Check around to find out more about various types, times and costs of swim programs.

A tropical oasis

So every Thursday afternoon we gathered the swim gear, our daughter and her little brother to head to the swimming pool.

Now that’s some heat and humidity for you. It is literally like entering a sauna!

During the winter, you have to remember to dress in layers, and then proceed to unload yourself of those endless layers as you enter the tropical environment that is the swim school. Then in the summer, you observe the children with envy wishing you too were able to spring in the water to cool off just a bit.

Oh, and let us not forget the entire pre- and post-preparation and seating to contend with. Parents and children alike converge upon the changing room entrance 5 minutes before class time in anticipation. Once the green light flickers to ‘signal go’, everyone enters to help their little 4, 5 and 6 year olds change into their respective swim clothing. Should your session start as another ends (or vice-versa), that means there’ll be as many as 30 – 60 little swimmers and their parents — some like me with younger children in tow — trying to find a corner to maneuver.

Finally, after 5 minutes of rushing to get little arms and legs in and out of clothing, you emerge (more often than not, sweating) from the changing rooms in search of a place to sit and observe your budding swim aficionado, while in my case — also entertaining another toddler. Thank goodness for the well-positioned contained play areas on offer at most of Delft’s swim schools, provided specifically for the welcomed distraction of non-swimming little siblings.

Oh the pomp and circumstance

“Afzwemmen” another Dutch word one becomes well acquainted with in the journey towards ZWEM-ABC completion.  Once your child progresses through their respective swim lessons, they are then invited to ‘pass’ for their diploma. Time for them to demonstrate their newly acquired swim prowess before receiving each of their swim diplomas. It’s also time for fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings and the entire list of proud friends and family members to come together in a hot, humid swim school to celebrate the accomplishment (and let’s not forget freedom) of completing a swim diploma.

The whole event is actually a bit of a show. By the time your little swimmer gets cleared for afzwemmen, they have already passed everything necessary in the lessons. Afzwemmen just serves as a final step to acknowledge the investment made by all.

Respect 👊

To be honest, despite the sarcasm and slight inconvenience, I have been impressed by the way my children learned and mastered different swimming techniques at their individual pace. The instructors were nice, some very funny and popular. They always had a little time of “grappig” (fun and laughter) during the lesson, and they knew our kids well. I could always ask information about their level and their competencies.

I admire the kids being so strong and courageous for such an intensive hour, and I am so pleased that they learnt to swim in clothes, which in this country — maybe more than others — makes absolute sense!

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