Feature Article - October 2009
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At the Forefront of Fun

Up-and-Coming Sports to Expand Your Offerings

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Synchronized Swimming

What is it? Synchronized swimming (known as "synchro") is "the perfect mix of athleticism and grace," said Jen Muzyk, assistant director for synchronized swimming at the New Canaan YMCA in Connecticut, home of the Aquianas. "Successful synchro swimmers need to be strong, flexible, extended and within the same routine they might need to move quickly and explosively and also lightly and fluidly," she explained. Synchro, is after all, a water-based performance in which team members move in precise coordination with one another, often while completing acrobatic-, gymnastic- or dance-style moves. "This sport teaches coordination, balance, rhythm, teamwork, cooperation, creativity and so much more," Muzyk said.

Who will love it? Synchronized swimming often attracts dancers, as well as girls who feel particularly at home in the swimming pool. "A few years ago we had a recruiting push where we offered a lot of trial classes and 'bring your friend to practice' days, and we were very involved in the swim lessons offered by the Y," Muzyk noted. In each 12-week session, the swimming students get to try all three aquatic sports offered at the New Canaan Y: synchro, diving, and swim team—a perfect way to channel piqued interest into active participation.

"We always see a spike in membership just prior to and right after the Olympic Games," said Taylor Payne, media relations director for U.S. Synchronized Swimming. "The West Coast provides the majority of our National Team athletes, so this is where most of the more established clubs are located," she added.

Essentials for getting started? "It is a relatively inexpensive sport to fund," Payne said. "If you already have a pool that a swim team is using, more than likely you are halfway there." Synchro teams need 9-foot depth throughout most of the pool, and an underwater speaker so they can hear their music while performing. Then they just need to look good and get on the road. "Competition suits and travel would be the majority of the expense after the pool and speaker are taken care of," Payne said.

Story of success: The Aquianas have been around since 1977, and they've been based at the New Canaan YMCA since fall of 1980. There are currently 81 participants (ages 5 to 18) in the program, which includes instructional classes and competitive teams. The most competitive team practices six days a week, more than 20 hours each week (in and out of the pool) beginning in September. They attend seven to nine competitions each season (January through July). Beginner teams practice three days a week for about six total hours and compete in four competitions.

Not many high schools offer synchro, so those who participate do so through a club team. However, many Aquianas go on to swim in college, including five graduating seniors this past year, who are attending top-notch schools such as Stanford and Ohio State. Two Aquianas have also been on the Junior National Team and are nationally ranked after starting as 10-year-olds at the New Canaan Y.

"Our team is definitely growing," said Muzyk, who recently traveled with the Aquianas to Peru. "Just two years ago we had only 35 members. Now our program has outgrown our pool space." Last season, Aquianas traveled to another area YMCA's pool to practice two days a week. Muzyk credits the Aquianas' YMCA affiliation as an important component of their success. "The people at the Y are very caring and have taken a genuine interest in our successes and challenges," she said. "The underlying structure of our program is based on the [YMCA's] four core values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. With those concepts we've been able to produce great athletes in and out of the pool."

Resources? Contact U.S. Synchronized Swimming via www.usasynchro.org to find out how to receive a synchro start-up kit, which includes videos, flashcards and suggested lesson plans, Muzyk said. Learn more about the Aquianas at www.newcanaanymca.org/synchro.