“We have neglected swimming in recent years,” warns ex-swimmer Franziska van Almsick.
As a former world-class swimmer, Franziska van Almsick (44) has been involved with a foundation named after her since 2008 to help children learn to swim. “We have made it our mission that every child who leaves primary school should be able to swim safely,” explains the multiple Olympic medal winner at the first “Schauma Family Day” in an adventure pool near Hamburg.
The Schwarzkopf family brand has also made it its mission to help children learn to swim. With four selected leisure pools, the company is focusing on topics such as children’s swimming and fun in the water. “Learning to swim was an important topic many years ago and will remain an absolutely important task in the future,” Franziska van Almsick clarifies and also reveals who taught her children to swim.
Every second child in Germany cannot swim. Why is this and how can you remedy it?
Franziska van Almsick: We have neglected swimming in recent years. It was important that the children learn a great musical instrument and take Chinese lessons in the first grade. We completely lost sight of the fact that elementary things like learning to swim are part of it. In my opinion, this is a fundamental right of children. We have to work together to ensure that it gets a place in family life again and also in the lives of the children in general. The main responsibility does not lie with the schools, but with the families. Part of the foundation’s work is therefore to keep talking about how important it is for children to be able to swim safely. Swimming is also the number one health sport. At some point everyone is of the age where they can stop cycling and playing football, tennis or golf. Swimming, on the other hand, can be done well into old age.
What exactly does the work of your foundation look like?
Franziska van Almsick: We have made it our mission that every child who leaves primary school should be able to master a certain type of swimming. It’s just like riding a bike – once you learn it, you can do it for life. We organize trips to the swimming pools through the foundation and coordinate the schools with each other. We also provide assistants. With a class of 25 to 30 children, half of whom cannot swim, it is often a huge mess. It helps if there are two or three of you.
Why is it important for children to start swimming at an early age?
Franziska van Almsick: Children have fun in the water. Forbidding young children from going to the water doesn’t work. We encounter water everywhere and the little ones are magically attracted to it. What is nicer in summer than going to the outdoor pool or the lake? That is why it is so important that the children can swim. They have a lot more fun themselves when they know they can. And the parents are also more relaxed because the offspring are safe in the water.
Is there a trick to getting kids used to the water? When should you start learning to swim?
Franziska van Almsick: Swimming is a very demanding sport in terms of coordination. You move your legs differently than your arms, and the breathing rhythm comes into play. As a rule, most children are ready by the age of five or six and can easily take a swimming course. But at best, getting used to the water starts beforehand: with bathing and showering. The offspring can learn to have water on their face. And the children learn that water is a friend and not an enemy. This playful introduction in the family also makes it easier for the children to take part in the swimming course later.
How did you learn to swim as a child and when did you discover your love for the sport?
Franziska van Almsick: I can’t remember exactly how I learned it. I have a brother who is five years older than me and picked me up from kindergarten. If he couldn’t bring me home, he would take me swimming and I would watch from the outside. I watched what he did and wanted to imitate him. According to legend, at some point I jumped into the water – and it was my element. That was when I was five years old. I was able to swim very well relatively quickly. Four years later I got my first medals. Today I cannot put into words what my relationship with water was or is. I don’t swim regularly anymore because I’ve been in the water for more than half my life. But when I’m in the water, it’s indescribable.
Do you sometimes miss the earlier competition today?
Franziska van Almsick: Not at all. I do sports regularly. If you’ve done seven hours of sport a day for half your life, you’re somehow always on the move. But today I avoid measuring myself against others. For example, I’m extremely bad at playing parlor games because I’m very dogged. Either all or nothing. I’d better not be challenged at board games.
And how did you teach your own children to swim?
Franziska van Almsick: Of course that was my top priority. I can’t have a foundation and my children swim miserably. However, parents or grandparents should not teach their children to swim. In the work of the foundation, I advocate saying: “Put your children in the hands of those who have learned this and who know what they are doing.” I mean, you take driving lessons with a driving instructor, right? I always told my children that when it comes down to being faster than the others later on, I’ll give it a go. Because my children also learned to swim from a swimming instructor. But now they are slowly getting to the age where the question of speed is likely to arise soon.
Have your children ever considered pursuing a professional swimming career themselves?
Franziska van Almsick: No, they never have. But they have a lot of fun in the water. What’s funny is that as soon as I get in the water, my kids leave the pool – for whatever reason. But I have to admit that if I had a mother who was once so good in the water, I wouldn’t necessarily want to take her in the water now either. But actually both would be predestined for a swimming career. My kids are both big. My older one has a real athlete’s figure and is 1.90 meters tall – at just 15 years old. But he has found a completely different passion, he is very musical. But I don’t care what career my children choose, as long as they are happy.