VILLA PARK – Standing at the edge of Jefferson Pool in a blue windbreaker on a recent morning, Jen Burns encourages a young swimmer as he performs rocket jumps in the shallow water.
The training technique, intended as a way to practice streamlining, involves keeping the body straight as the legs push off the floor of the pool in a spring-like motion.
"Sometimes, especially for the younger kids, their brain hasn't really caught up with their body yet," said Burns, head coach of the Villa Park Mariners Swim Team. "Their hands and and legs are all over the place. I wanted him to think about his push-offs and get him reset and ready to go."
The Mariners, a youth competitive swim program with the Villa Park Parks & Recreation Department, is one of 13 teams that make up the DuPage Swim and Dive Conference. The team is comprised of about 130 youth swimmers, broken up into five age categories from 5 to 18.
"We try to be one big family – we help each other out and push each other on," said Burns, who as a youth was a Mariner and has since had several stints coaching the program.
The Mariners use Jefferson Pool as their "home" and practice five mornings a week in the summer. The season runs from May through July and includes 10 dual meets and two conference meets.
"By the end of the season, we want everybody swimming a legal stroke, meaning good starts, turns, two-hand touches and arms and legs together," Burns said. "We want to see them get faster and more streamlined.
"Of course, we also want them to have a good time."
One of the biggest traits Burns and her coaching staff look for in a swimmer is a perseverance to succeed, she said.
"Swimming can be tough because you're using every muscle in your body simultaneously and holding your breath. ... How many other things that you try to do well do you have to hold your breath and keep moving as fast as you can?"
Along with perseverance, young swimmers need to develop a stubbornness and work ethic to get better each day, Burns said.
The Mariners program has grown considerably in the past five years – from about 40 swimmers to 130. Swimmers are mainly from Villa Park, but the program also draws from Lombard and Glendale Heights.
"I hope it continues to grow," said Sue Roucka, volunteer board president for the program. "Especially when you have families with little ones who don't want to leave the pool and who are [potentially] future swimmers."
Currently, Burns is focused on recruiting more males to join the program, a task that is often tough with baseball and other sports to compete with, she said.
Many Mariners graduate from the program and go on to join the Willowbrook-Addison Trail co-op team in high school.
"If you love to swim and want to compete against other people, then this is for you," Burns said. "We'll help you go to the next level."
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If you go
What: DuPage Swim & Dive Blue Division B Conference Meet
When: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 19
Where: Jefferson Pool, 341 N. Harvard Ave.
More info: Visit www.swimdsdc.org