Kennan Soulé Word was born into a swimming family and, from the age of 4, spent her summers swimming with the Kenilworth Superstars Swim team.
When she was old enough to ride her bike there — she grew up just down the road on Kenilworth Parkway — she’d spend the entire day at the pool.
“I’d get there at 9 a.m. and stay until 6 p.m. just about every day,” she said. “It was never up for discussion. I never fussed about going to the pool.”
It wasn’t all about recreation, though.
“It made a huge difference for me. It allowed me to develop independence — to become my own person,” Word recalled.
So when she had children of her own, this parenting decision was a no-brainer. “When I was pregnant with my first, I always said, ‘They are going to do swim team.’ ”
Mary Elizabeth, 8, Madison, 6, and John Barrett, 4, are holding up the family tradition with no complaints, she said.
Though the Words live in Southdowns now, there was also no question either about where they would swim. All three are Superstars.
Head coach Kelly Smith knows exactly where Word is coming from. Smith, 20, who also swam for Kenilworth starting at 4, said the skills she learned in the pool can be easily translated into life lessons.
This is her second year as head coach, and before that, she spent four years as an assistant coach.
“The little ones are the most challenging to coach — 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds. Some start out really shy, but then they build confidence. It’s really cool to watch that over the season,” Smith said.
For swimmers who are that small, she said, the water can look a million miles away from the starting block, but learning to make that leap is just the start of building confidence, independence and focus in the middle of the chaos of a meet.
The pool has a family-friendly atmosphere, Smith said, and the swim team itself is like a family unit.
She and the assistant coaches, Aaron Belanger, 18, Ally Bridges, 17, Mackenzie Mire, 15, and Chase Brouillette, 16, play the role of big brothers and sisters.
“We do whatever Kelly tells us to,” Belanger said, but he knows the responsibility he has to his team.
“The little kids look up to us, and I try to hang out with the boys, not just during practice,” he said.
He learned quickly that swimmers are always watching their coaches and learning from them how to conduct themselves both in and out of the pool.
And the swimmers aren’t the only ones learning valuable lessons.
“I’ve taken more from it than I thought I would as a swim coach,” Bridges said. “You really learn how to communicate with all kinds of people and to put yourself in other people’s shoes.”
Most of Belanger’s jobs to date have included working with children on some level, he said, and this job has taught him a lot about that. “Your patience level goes way up, fast,” he said. That has served him well as a baseball umpire, where patience and the ability to keep a cool head often come in handy.
Smith agrees. “You learn that the way you talk to kids is very important, because you will get the same question from the same kids 20 times an hour.”
Some kids, she said, need a little push to get started, but others need to be coaxed through the scary parts, and a big part of a coach’s skill is in learning who needs what motivation.
“You definitely have to ease some kids into it,” Brouillette said, and once they learn these skills, they will have them for life.
In addition to all those benefits, Mire said, learning to see things from a coach’s perspective on the side of the pool has helped her improve her own swimming technique.
“I can see examples of what I’m doing wrong when I see them doing the same things in the pool,” she said.
That has made her a better swimmer, for starters, she said, and learning to catch and correct her own mistakes has also made her a better coach.
For more information on the Kenilworth pool, visit the facility website at kenilworthclub.com.