Opening letter to Summer Dreamers enrolled in Swim & Water Polo


Dear Students, Guardians and Community:

This letter is long.

The information here is epic.

Reading this may save your life.

Some day in the future you’re going to come home from a day at the pool, or perhaps the lake, river, beach, boating trip or even vacation, and say to yourself, “I’m glad I had Swim & Water Polo with Coach Mark and learned how to be a strong swimmer. With my aquatics insight – I knew what was happening, and we all avoided a tragic disaster.

We have a serious approach. Swim & Water Polo is about life and death. Furthermore is is about empowerment, opportunities and playing well with others.

It is our best, more positive, hope that some day in the future you’ll return from a water polo tournament and say, “I had a great time. That was hard work and a total blast.” You’ll travel, make lots of new friends, be more successful in school as an athlete, get into a more competitive college program and succeed long-term in careers and challenges, in part, because as a youngster you applied yourself and mastered valuable skills and continued to learn all that you could.

Swim & Water Polo teaches physical skills, PLUS, teamwork, sportsmanship, technology and literacy. The digital learning and empowerment are part of a full-on commitment is coached with the youth of Pittsburgh.

Amp it up while at camp, and understand, that in six weeks when summer ends, we are not finished. More programs and events come in August, September, and October. Last winter, we swam at the Saturday Swim School. We’ll play varsity water polo and compete at state championships. Coach Mark wants to turn Summer Dreamers into Year-Round Achievers. Everyone should plan to attend post-camp game days, open-water swims and competitions around town.

Helpers are welcome. Serve as an assistant coach. To guide new staff members, deploy these simple scripts:

One word: Try.

Two words: Try again.

Three words: Close your lips.

Four words: Float like a boat.

Five words: Do what Coach just said.

Cheering, encouragement, praise and support is welcome at every turn. And, we do lots of 360s. Youngsters in Swim & Water Polo make improvements in lifetime skills – swimming, sports and fitness, of course. If you can’t swim today – we practice, learn and compete.

Everyone‘s best behaviors is expected. We listen, try and respect the water, equipment, and teammates. We demand safety, self-control and have always had great success and fun. There are methods to the madness in play here. Over the decades, coach’s leadership and approach has been applied in programs and teams with more than 10,000 youngsters – and it changes. We listen and the kids teach us too.

Get a swim suit. Hold onto it. You might want a second, back-up suit, especially if you come to school from different locations. Boys, try to get a suit that ties. Girls try to get a one-piece suit. Bring your swim suit every day. We try to swim every day including the first day and the last day.

Get swim goggles. Goggles are optional, but the underwater clarity and comfort helps. The PPS Promise Store often has goggles that can be earn through reward behaviors. Giant Eagle sells low cost swim goggles too. When playing water polo, it is often better to take off the goggles. Wear the goggles around your neck or put them with the lifeguard or coach. Remember where you put your goggles. Keep them safe. It is handy to have a back-up pair of goggles at home.

Tip: Put your swim gear in a specific spot at home so it can be easily located and packed for camp every day.

Be prepared for quick locker-room changes. Many kids and staff wear their swim suits to school, under the other clothing. When getting dressed in the morning put your swim suit on first and you’ll never forget or lose your suit. Plus, you’ll be able to skip changing rooms.

Use skin lotions at home. After swimming, some of the kids like to put on lotion. Save that for home.

Apply sun-screen spray and sun-block in the mornings at home. Let’s not get any sunburns. Be prepared. Remind the kids. Insist that your kid seek out sunscreen, even if a temporary inconvenience.

Students play outdoors often. Recess, nature walks and other activities can happen before our squads go to the outdoor pools. We expecting to swim outdoors some days. Most of the swimming is indoors, but one or two days a week, we expect to hike to area Citiparks pools for special practices and games.

Poor weather stops other sports, not us, generally. Rain is not a worry. We love getting wet. Baseball, golf, and tennis do not play in the rain or on wet ground. We are lucky to have indoor and outdoor pools, so rain might bring a wet walk, not run, to and from the pool. If it rains when we are at an outdoor pool, we continue swimming. Thunder and lightening at an outdoor pool is a show stopper.

Tip: Wear easy, comfortable sneakers. We hike to pools, on city sidewalks. From time to time, we play field games and run races.

Try to learn the names the others in our activity. We encourage everyone to say to others, “Hi, my name is ___. (I forgot.) What is your name?” We are together for many days. Learn everyone’s name including other students and teammates, lifeguards, junior coaches, key-guest competitors and adults.

Here are some of the names of some staff members among our various sites: Mark Rauterkus, Executive Head Coach, Toby Junker, Sylvester Hanner, Sam Cahill, Emma Cahill, Kate Sekinger, Gwenivere Winters, Rebekah Jade Ong, Julia Melnyk, Kyra Stief, Clifford Curtis, Tan Kocyildirim, Joie Marhefka, Damien Gabis, Andrew Klein, Mr. Singleton, Ms. Pegher, Miss. Brently, Ms. Tate, Ms. Collins. Some members of the staff have been involved with Swim & Water Polo for many years.

All the swimmers at Summer Dreamers 2017 are ROOKIES. Everyone is new. None were able to do Swim & Water Polo last year as in 2016 we were only placed at Camp Carmalt and had older students.

Tip: Use the hashtag, #SDA17, and wiki category SDA17 for Summer Dreamers Academy 2017. Also, #TPP17, for The Pittsburgh Project 2017. In the mornings, water polo happens at The Pittsburgh Project. In the afternoons it happens with Summer Dreamers.

Get good rest and extra sleep. Swimming is high energy. Camp, school and other activities can add to the drain. Our kids are growing. Welcome naps and long sleeps at home.

Sometimes kids sleep in school, and even at the pool. It has happened. While others say how disrespectful, but that may be where and when it is safe to sleep. We got to be present with our children. Our hope is to be mindful and sensitive to the subtle messages. If a kid takes a nap at the pool, now and then, let’s not be overly alarmed. We get to engage, participate and swimming should be a participation program, not spectator sport. Watching, sitting out and even low tides happen. Staff: No sleeping for sure. Staff does get plenty of day-to-day flexibility for travel, college visits, interviews and competitions.

Communicate health conditions. Every guardian needs to fill out this form.

See the first link on the menu on the site, We are LIFE GUARDS. Help us do our jobs.
Case in point: A bee sting for one student might be treated with a pat on the head and an ice cube. Meanwhile for another student a bee sting requires a 9-1-1 call and a trip to the hospital.

Student data from PPS is NOT SHARED with us. What was reported at to the camp or to the student’s home school might be common knowledge, but it is UNKNOWN to us at the swim pool and on field trips outside the school. Use the form to tell us what needs to be understood about your kid’s health.

Food allergy info is desired too. Let’s avoid problems. Please chime in about problem foods.

SMILE! We use photos, videos, artwork and communication tools to grow our individuals, squads and programs. At the end of the season, we will have a great slide show and share our images and stories with you, and the world. We stay positive and want your support with the photo / model release consent. Thanks for the trust and the opportunity to build our knowledge base and continue to motivate. This is a multimedia-rich, public, venture.

Whistle signals change behaviors. The players in water polo learn that the whistle is used often, it has meaning and consequences. Rookies need to hear the whistle, stop immediately, look for clues, and then act accordingly. Pools are noisy, hard-to-hear settings. Heads up and eyes on the coaches / adults provide dynamic interactions.

Transitions are important and need to be speedy. When it is time to exit the pool, get out! Never swim without permission nor without the lifeguard.

Every day is different at Swim & Water Polo. We change the rules. We adjust the exercises. We build upon the skills from yesterday. Missing practices hurts. We review, but the somersault feeds the streamline and then the flip turn for a three-day sequence. We have plenty to cover, all four strokes, game-play, diving, race strategies and so on. And, the stream comes at different times in different measures.

Guardians: Plan to see your kid swim. Better yet, swim with your kid outside of school. Work to make extra, optional times to be at the pools together this summer.

True story: One recent summer, a young Summer Dreamer (his photo is below) went to camp on the first day with his fearful parents. He was among the worst swimmers at the start. Every week, twice a week, this student and a parent went together to a Citipark pool for optional practices. Three weeks later he passed his deep test and by the last week, he was among the best swimmers of the 50+ in the camp. (He is one of the guys in this photo taken at the Sue Murray pool at one of our optional evening practices.)

Boys at poolside with water polo caps at Sue Murray.
Optional, evening water polo practice at Northside’s Sue Murray Swim Pool included a most improved Summer Dreamer.

Tuesday nights, weather permitting, students and families are invited to come out to swim and play games at 6 pm at Citiparks Ammon Rec Center Pool, corner of Bedford Ave and Memory Lane in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. Pool is about 6 blocks from the Penguins arena. Come there – every week if you can. Get a car-pool together. Friends welcome too.

On the final day of camp, from about 2 to 3:30 pm, Wednesday, August 2, come to our game day at the pool as part of Summer Dreamers. Come and be a fan. Cheer for the kids.

Other game-day opportunities are expected within camp and after camp ends. We hope to have a city-wide water polo festival with plenty of teams. Games with kids playing against their guardians are expected too in the evenings and weekend. Our SKWIM game is an excellent inter-generational activity and lots of fun, even for non-swimmers.

We’ve invested and obtained new swim fins. We use official SKWIM fins. Kids that grow up near the beach always swim with fins. You might want to buy a pair of fins for vacations and swimming elsewhere. They are available through a Florida outlet, Buy SKWIM disks at too.

The island SKWIM goals and lagoon boarder are new. but shared at different pools. It is okay to toss balls and disks, but not fins and other equipment. The equipment needs to be organized and put away after use.

Hydrate. Drink lots of water this summer. Make a point of it. Sugar drinks, not so much.

Some kids play other sports, such as baseball, softball and football. All other sports blend well with swimming. Swimming and water polo can help you be a better football player. Do both. Don’t ask to dial it back at the pool because of other sports activities.

Frustration and failure are part of the day-to-day challenges in serious sport settings. We work hard and push to do things that have not been done before. Don’t quit. Give your best effort. As you kick hard, it might feel like your legs are going to fall off, but they won’t. Keep plugging. No cheating. And when the official / referee makes a bad call, live with it. No complaining. More on to the next play. Play hard to the game or task is finished – then stop. Generate positive self-talk.

Swim & Water Polo is stresses sportsmanship and teamwork. Make new friends, travel to new pools, and play among other teams. The technology and literacy efforts in Swim & Water Polo is special too with website courses, digital badges, and interactive courses.

Every student gets a USER NAME and Password for the digital content at The opening password is SDA17. That can be changed by the user. Guardians are encouraged to help the students with the on-line materials. Do a quiz together. Explore on the same PC or screen. Friends and family who are interested in our digital courses and activities are able to get their own accounts. Just ask via email. Online lessons and quiz content continues to grow. We’ll publish a new book this fall.

Strong is gorgeous. Tip: Spending money on hair appointments, perms and getting fab nails this summer, while going into the pool makes no sense. We are going to get our hair wet. The finger and toe nails should be short so as to play without inflicting scratches.

More paperwork is pending. Permission slips and off-campus swimming are expected. Guardians, be on guard for some extra paperwork in the first week of camp with dates, times and locations for game play.

Northside students go off campus every day.

U-Prep students are expected to go off campus to swim and play games once a week.

The field trips and off campus swims sessions happen within normal times of Summer Dreamers. Everyone returns to the school and is able to board the buses home by 4 pm.

Extended day swim meets (field trips) are a possibility, as an OPTION. Any special event would come with plenty of advance notification and eligibility is limited to those with signed permission slips, good behavior, and pick-up for transport home. For now,we will delay the discussion and details for a later memo and just focus on the afternoon Swim & Water Polo within camp times.

SKWIM is an aquatic game played with a disk. In Pittsburgh, we’ve used SKWIM as an alternative and supplement to water polo for nearly ten years. We play both SKWIM and water polo. The two games have similarities and differences. Water polo is an Olympic sport and popular in many nations around the world. Water polo was the first team sport introduced in the modern Olympics. You can watch and learn lots about water polo for both men and women on YouTube.

SKWIM’s camp rules:

– Players can hold the disk for three seconds. Passes, shots or held disk beyond three seconds are a turn-over, and the other team gets the possession of the disk.

– The disk must touch the water before a pass to a teammate and before a shot on goal. No air-to-air passes.

– The disk must stay at or above the surface of the water. No sinking the disk.

– Defense can’t touch the person with the disk or steal it from the opponent’s hand. No physical contact.

– Rough play sends a player to the penalty box (much like hockey) for 20-seconds. Play nice or sit out.

Another important site at is the Google Calendar. You can subscribe to that and watch the events throughout the year.

Any questions: Feel free to call, email or visit on Tuesday nights at Ammon pool.

Thanks for your support and encouragement. Help Swim & Water Polo continue to as the most attended and highly desired activity in Pittsburgh Public Schools Summer Dreamers Academy.

Mark Rauterkus
Executive Head Coach
Swim & Water Polo
Head Varsity Coach at Pittsburgh Obama Academy
412-298-3432 = cell

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