Expat kids can gain a lot from growing up in the Gulf: a broad outlook on life; the ability to curse in many languages. . . and the chance to be a tremendous swimmer. Thanks to compound living and a warm climate, many kids here think having a sparkling turquoise swimming pool in your back garden, or just round the corner, is as normal as having a washing machine in the kitchen. It means that many of them grow up to be excellent swimmers, whether for fun or to compete.
We arrived in Doha with a two-year-old who was terrified of water – five years on she can swim like a demented torpedo, and has to be warned against back flipping into the pool in case she brains herself on the side of the diving board. Swimming clubs are flourishing in Doha where there are excellent facilities – although sometimes clubs have to negotiate for a long time to get access to the country’s good indoor pools.
One of the newest clubs, H2O, is based at the American School, but is open to anyone. It was started by Canadian Seema Pascoe, who moved here from Dubai and was surprised by how few clubs there were in Doha compared to the UAE. Her son, Joshua, is a keen competitive swimmer, so she got to work and set up her own swimming club. It caters for everyone from three-month-old babies to adult swimmers and has a two-pronged approach, with competitive swimming and leisure swimming available – and swimmers can switch between the two if they get the racing bug. ‘Some kids just want to enjoy themselves and have fun,’ Seema explains.
‘There are pools all around here, and parents – for safety – want kids to learn how to swim.’ But Seema points out that these children love to compete too, and they have a gala where races have only three children competing – so everyone gets an award. ‘They get a real sense of achievement being able to demonstrate what they can do,’ she adds. The other swimmers, taking the purely competitive route, really put the hours in, with some swimming six times a week, as well as doing fitness and strength work on dry land. ‘A few kids really stand out, they are so diligent,’ says Seema. ‘I’m very proud of them, and one day I’d like to see them represent their country or win a scholarship to a good university.’
Seema strongly believes in the benefits for swimmers in and out of the water: ‘Getting into swimming improves confidence and focus in life in general.’ She also explains how young swimmers gain skills which will set them up for life: they have to be disciplined enough to put in the practice; they have to be organised to remember all their gear; they also have to be good at taking direction and working as part of a team.
Arlene Green, head coach at Doha’s oldest club, Tidal Waves, agrees that swimming is about far more than a fast lap time: ‘Kids that are with us for a while, go off and get their degrees and they say that swimming has given them staying power – mentally they are very strong.
This is the greatest thing they can do when they’re young.’ Children also start learning earlier about treating each other with respect. She was very proud recently when she saw the more experienced swimmers spontaneously begin clapping to encourage new slower swimmers to the finish. ‘It was lovely,’ says Arlene. ‘And I always tell them that at the end of a race they should turn round and shake hands with the person next to them, it doesn’t matter who came first.’
Keen to boost swimming in Qatar, H2O has organised major competitions in Doha bringing together swimmers from local clubs, and also from clubs around the region. ‘Raising the level of swimming in Qatar is really important. The kids train long and hard and want to see results, and to see them beating their own personal bests is wonderful. The more clubs in Qatar the better for all our kids,’ says Seema.
Evangelical about the benefits of swimming, Seema urges everyone no matter what their age to have a go. ‘Come along, you never know what you might achieve unless you try,’ she says.
Join the club
Swimming practice for kids: Al Khor Torpedoes (686 0896), Doha Dolphins (411 7911; www.qmotion.com.qa), H2O (556 8631; www.h2oswimclub.com), Stingrays (454 7065; www.stingrayswimclub.com), Tidal Waves (413 4910; www.tidalwavesswimsquad.com)