US Olympic Sychronized Swimmer
Credit: wikipedia commons public domain - Adam Silversmith

Your daughter says she wants to give sychronized swimming a try.  Aside from seeing sychronized swimming on Olympics telecasts you likely don't know much about the sport.  What is involved and why should my daughter participate?  I'll give you some basic information about the sport and what is involved.  As to why your daughter should participate, it's great exercise and fun for the kids!

My daughter was a sychronized swimmer during her later elementary and middle school years.  She was always a very graceful swimmer, even if she wasn't the fastest.  She looked so natural in the water.  Getting her started in "synchro" seemed like a natural fit.  We have a local team not too far away and she was excited to start.

Who Can Participate?

If your daughter cannot swim, then sychro isn't for her if she can't.  Sychronized swimming coaches don't coach basic swimming skills.  Basic swimming ability is a given.  Speed is absolutely not a requirement.  The girls don't race across the pool, but your daughter needs to be comfortable in the water and must be able to hold her breath under water.

Some flexibility is required.  In synchro competitions the girls do splits and scissor kicks with Synchronized swim team underwater with legs upCredit: wikipedia commons public domain - Sam and Jeff and Leigh from Los Angeles and Madison, US heads under water and their legs in the air.  They don't need to necessarily have the flexibility of top flight gymnasts, but more flexibility is better than less.

Many girls start synchro in their early elementary school years.  By the third or fourth grade they can be strong enough swimmers to handle building the additional synchro skills in the water.  Starting a child in the sport before she can easily swim laps or tread water with ease would be a mistake.

Basics of Competition

A new sychronized swimmer is classified as a novice.  The next steps are intermediate and age group.  The idea is to have the girls compete against others with similar experience levels.

In each group, the competitions involve doing figures, which is something like compulsories in figure skating.  Each girl wears the same type of black suit, then line up and do the same move in front of a panel of judges.  

After figures, the girls can choose to do singles, duets, trios and team (four or more swimmers).  At the novice level, the routines for each of these is the same for all girls.  They use the same music and do the same routine.  At higher levels, they play their own music, which is audible in the stands as well as piped in underwater speakers.  

For the singles, duets, trios and team sets, the girls each wear fancy suits with head pieces and underwater make up.  The head pieces are held on their heads by many many bobby pins.  Their hair is slicked down with geletin.  They hold their noses shut with nose pieces.

Unlike nearly every other sport, the coaches themselves often act as the judges.  Sychronized swimming has not has wide enough participation over the years to have a deep stable of judges.  For statewide or similar competitions, the expense of bringing in other judges would be excessive, so the coaches do the judging themselves.  In my humble opinion, I never noticed any irregularities from having the coaches to the judging.  I always thought the scores were fair for everyone, even if my daughter didn't score as high as she would have liked.

You will note that the girls say they are going to compete, not perform.  Although there are show type aspects to the competitions, they are not a show.  The girls do athletic moves in the water and are scored on their ability to swim to the music and swim together.  The moves can be difficult enough to do with their heads underwater, much less synchronizing those moves with music and other competitors.

First Competition

In all likelihood, you will need to travel for your girl to compete.  There aren't any local synchronized swimming leagues.  In order to have enough girls to compete, the participants will need to come from a wider area.  The travel tends to make synchro competitions more of a family event than games in other sports.

A special word to dads: show up!  I the years my daughter participated in synchro, there were some dads I never saw and some I only saw maybe once a year.  I know it's a girly sport and they put on make up and have gelatin in their hair.  I know you won't know much about the sport.  I know it's a sport primarily run by women.  None of those things are acceptable excuses for missing out on your daughter's competition.  Go watch and cheer.  You might even find you enjoy it after you've watched some competitions.

Canadian Synchronized Swim TeamCredit: wikipedia commons public domain - Kevin Hamm from St Petersburg, Russia competitions have schedules, but they are very loose.  In my experience, you need to plan on being at the pool for quite some time and cannot just jump in at a specific time to watch your girl.  Swim race events are tightly choreographed in terms of timing, synchro competitions are not.  Things happen when they happen.

For a novice competition, remember to bring some headphones to listen to your own music.  They play the same song over and over and over again as the girls do their routines.  You might go brain dead if you don't bring an alternative.  You should also bring plenty to read or a cell phone with gaming capability.  These competitions have lots and lots of downtime.  

If you have other children attending, make sure they have plenty of things to do.  When my daughter was a synchro swimmer, her younger brother would get bored.  Thankfully, one of the other girls had an younger brother and they could play together during practices and competitions.  This is another reason for dads to go to competitions, the mom can help the girls with their suits, make up and hair, and dad can stay with brothers and sisters.  

A Few Odd Tidbits

My daughter never ever got nervous prior to swim races.  In contrast, before competing in sychro she really suffered from nerves.  She used to go throw up prior to competing.  The other girls jokingly called her "Ralphie."  I think it was something like stage fright in which she was deathly afraid of getting out in the pool and forgetting the routine.  After a time, the nerves became more managable, but I don't think she was ever  able to completely overcome them.  The word to the wise here is to know your child and do what you can to assist.

Oddly enough, my daughter is now several years beyond her synchro experience and she still has amazing skills holding her breath underwater.  Those girls have to be able to hold their breath for long periods as they do their routines.  One skill my daughter really never mastered was smiling during the routines when her head wasn't under the water.  The girls are scored better if they smile and my girl always looked slightly crazed when she smiled.  I understand that part of that different look came from wearing a nose clip, which does make the whole look somewhat different.  In any event, smiling toward the end of a routine, after you've been holding your breath and are getting tired, is very difficult.  Although froufrou in appearance, the sport is quite challenging to do at a high level.

Help your daughter enjoy her synchronized swimming experience.  You'll both enjoy it!

Sync or Swim
Amazon Price: $24.99 Buy Now
(price as of Feb 21, 2014)