The SwimMirror Interview with Amanda Beard
SwimMirror’s Exclusive Interview with the 7-Time Olympic Medalist
Amanda Beard is the recipient of eight USA Swimming National Titles, holds the FINA World Record and World Champion title for the 200-meter breaststroke, is a 7-time Olympic medalist and has recently been inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. She’s also a mother and the co-founder of Beard Swim Co., a company dedicated to teaching people of all ages how to swim.
We’re honored that Beard has endorsed SwimMirror and that she gave us a few minutes out of her busy schedule to talk about teaching kids to swim, water safety and more in the interview below.
SwimMirror: We’re excited to talk to you today, Amanda! It’s been a little over a year since you opened Beard Swim Co. with your husband in Gig Harbor. What’s been the most rewarding part of the experience?
Beard: Oh my goodness! So many different things. To be honest, it’s probably just seeing all the little kids that come through our doors who maybe had a fear of swimming or who had a fear of swimming or lacking confidence with their swimming skills or little babies who didn’t know how to swim. Watching them walk out the door a couple months later having that confidence and having that skill. Being able to provide something like that to kids is a pretty cool thing to do. We have a lot of fun here.
SwimMirror: Is that a common fear you notice in kids? Are many of them afraid of water?
Beard: More common than I really thought it would be. The fear is also in adults. We have adults and we have teenagers. All ages can be nervous about the water, but as they get older it gets harder to face. As you become a teenager or an adult it becomes more of an embarrassment thing, because you don’t want to go learn how to swim. ‘Cuz you’re like, “I never did and I don’t know how.” And you feel very vulnerable in the water. It’s definitely a lot more common than I ever knew, to be honest. But I’m glad that even though these kids are nervous and scared of the water that they’re coming in and we’re working with them every week to slowly break away all that fear.
SwimMirror: That’s incredible to hear. How has SwimMirror helped you and your instructors with your swim lessons and training?
Beard:Oh gracious, in so many different ways, to be honest. I have kids that just want to look at themselves and play. The fun aspect of it, ‘cuz there’s something really cool about being able to see yourself when you’re in the water. Then I like to line up a bunch of them in a row for my older kids to swim across and watch their technique. My one favorite thing with my older kids is it helps with their head position. So many kids pick their head up and look forward when they’re swimming! With SwimMirror, they’re distracted and they’re looking down at themselves, which fixes so many things in their stroke. It instantly helps them.
With little babies, we’ll do a back float and we will hold the mirrors even above them, then we’ll have them back float under it almost like a little cave or tunnel. That way, they’re looking up at the mirrors at themselves. And we put it in the water for them. We will actually put it against the wall so when we push them into the wall they can see themselves swimming in and they float towards themselves. There’s so many things that we use them for, it’s endless, and we’re always finding a new thing that we can do with the mirrors.
SwimMirror: We mostly hear from swimmers that are using SwimMirror for training, but it’s been gratifying to see the positive reactions from children learning to swim.
Beard:It’s pretty versatile. It doesn’t matter if it’s a little 6-month-old infant or a 60-year-old adult. It’s useful and that’s what’s so fantastic about it. It can be applied in so many different ways to help with all these different skills we’re trying to achieve. It can be just getting a child confident enough to be able to dive down to the bottom of the pool. We have the mirror with a bunch of toys sitting on it. They feel less nervous when they see themselves honestly. It’s a mind trick on them: “Oh, I can do it because it’s just the mirror and myself down there. It’s not the endless bottom of the pool.” It’s pretty cool. It really helps a lot of kids break down some of those fears. When they use it in a more playful way, then it’s definitely breaking a lot of those fears as well. It’s pretty awesome.
SwimMirror: Is this a technique you and your instructors came up with?
Beard: I won’t take all the credit, but between me and my instructors, absolutely. I’m always trying to think outside the box of what we can work with, ‘cuz every child is so different. You can’t just have this ABC of “this is how you teach a child.” You have to really adapt and change with each kid. We’ve noticed that the more creative we get with our teaching style, the better we can teach the children. And that was just one of those things where we’re like, “Hey! What if we…?” ‘Cuz the kids, they don’t want to float on their backs, they want a distraction. And then when they see themselves, especially little babies, they’re like, “Oo, I’m so cute! And look at me wiggle and giggle.” Then they’re floatin’ for days out there just staring up at themselves.
SwimMirror: That’s really clever. What advice can you give to parents who are starting to get their children familiar with the water?
Beard:I think as far as that goes, there’s never a wrong time to get your kid signed up for swim lessons. Always important. Doesn’t matter what time or season it is or how old they are. If they’re little, just getting them acclimated to being in the water and starting to teach them some of those skills. We have teenagers that come in here that are starting to learn for the first time. I would say if you didn’t get your child in the pools when they were little, get them in now. And if you have a little one, get them in now. It’s really important and it can be a really great bonding experience for parents with their kids when they’re little. Being able to share that experience with them. It could save their life and you’re giving them a skill. They might not be a swimmer, but they might go into kayaking, or surfing. There’s so many different aquatic avenues they could take while having that swimming skill in their pocket.
SwimMirror: Swimming definitely opens a lot of doors.
Beard:Oh yeah, it’s pretty cool actually. We did a whole synchronized swimming thing for little girls and they went on to join these synchronized swimming competition teams and stuff. Just making them realize that you don’t have to go swim laps in the pool. Although I love kids that wanna go swim laps in the pool! But I have another kid that just wants to join the kayak or canoe race team that we have in our town, but he doesn’t know how to swim. And another that wants to learn how to go scuba diving or snorkeling or whatever. And another kid who just wants to chill in the pool. (Laughs)
SwimMirror: How has being a parent influenced your relationship with swimming as an instructor and as an athlete yourself?
Beard: I was always involved in water safety and drowning prevention, but I think when you have your own children it definitely puts things into perspective. I got my kids in formal year-round swim lessons when they were six months old, and watching their progress and seeing them really blossom as they learned how to swim, just giving them that gift really inspired me and encouraged me to then build my own swim school so I could give back to other parents with children. I think for me, it put a personal touch on what I do and actually truly made me understand everything that I’ve always been passionate about.
SwimMirror: Definitely. And you started in the Olympics at a pretty young age, too, where your teddy bear and your breaststroke both made an instant impression on the swimming world.
SwimMirror: Looking back, if you could give your younger self any advice, what would it be?
Beard: I was really hard on myself, which is probably why I became so successful, but I’d probably tell myself to loosen up a little bit and enjoy all swimming had to offer. I know there was definitely a good seven-year span in there where it was just rough and tough and exhausting. It was a battle of trying to stay with it and wake up at four something in the morning and go train before high school. I would have loved to have told myself to focus on the joy that I had with it and making memories and swimming with my friends, and not stressing about times and techniques and stuff like that. I feel like once you learn to love it everything comes together.
SwimMirror: Is that advice you often share with the more advanced swimmers you work with?
Beard: Yeah, absolutely! And I think a lot of the coaches hate me too because I always tell them, “Don’t tell your coaches I said this, but it’s okay to take a vacation with your family. It’s okay to have a life. You have to have an identity outside of the pool, and it will make you a better swimmer inside of the pool.” If you’re totally consumed with being an athlete and going to the pool and train, train, train, train, train, if that goes away, what do you have? You have to have other things going on. You have to have that balance. I feel like it brings a little bit more enjoyment to everything that you’re doing. Which I feel in turn makes you more successful with everything you’re doing.
SwimMirror: It’s that difficult balance between work and fun.
Beard:Exactly, it’s something that you have to apply to your life no matter what you’re doing. It’s really easy to get consumed by work, even if you’re a stay-at-home-mom, or whatever you may be. Being so consumed by what you do that you can’t see outside of that world.
SwimMirror: Right. And you’ve achieved a lot in your career, too, as a seven-time medalist and new member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame. What achievement are you most proud of?
SwimMirror: Aww. That’s sweet.
Beard:I think as far as life in general, definitely my children. As far as achievements professionally? It would probably be in the 2004 Olympics. I won my very first individual gold medal, and leading up to that moment there were so many ups and downs throughout my career and my personal life. I really felt like I fought my butt off to get there. It was really a really cool feeling and I shared it with all my family members that were there. It was awesome.
SwimMirror: I bet! What do you think new swimmers miss the most when it comes to the breaststroke?
Beard: Oh my gracious! (Laughs) That’s really hard. What I usually tell the kids that I work with is that it’s the most technical stroke that you can do. It can be very frustrating, because if everything isn’t perfect then it’s not gonna come together very pretty. With that being said, there’s gonna be a day where you jump in the pool and you feel awful, and then you’re gonna jump in the pool the next day and you’re gonna feel awesome. So, trying not to get totally focused on getting too frustrated with how you’re feeling and just knowing that you’re putting all the little pieces together and if that changes constantly…
But, as far as technique, I would say head position is just so huge and having really strong legs so you have a really powerful kick. I always tell kids your legs are your motor when you’re swimming. If you want to be a speed boat, your motor has gotta be working hard. Those legs have to be really building up some good strength.
SwimMirror: That ties in to what you said before about training with SwimMirror, too. It helps you see that position a little better.
Beard: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Especially if you’re kicking and you have a kick board and it’s out in front of you and you can look down at the bottom of the pool. One, when your head is down like that, when you’re looking down, you put your body in a much better line. Riding a lot higher on the surface and then you can just kinda have fun… being able to see what your feet are doing… I can’t tell you how many times you think you’re doing something or it feels right, or it feels like this, and then you see it and you’re like “Oh gosh! That’s not what I thought it looked like.” Making those instant changes is huge. Absolutely.
SwimMirror: Is there anything new coming up for you and Beard Swim Co.?
Beard: Oh! Always! Since we’ve only been opened our swim school for the first year, we’re really focusing on continuing to work here and make this grow. We had our very first summer league swim team this past summer, so building on that as far as going with the competitive swimming side of things. We’re working on hopefully a couple more Beard Swim Co. locations in our future. We’ve been in a lot of fun meetings discussing a lot of that stuff. A lot of work. (Laughs) But that’s all fun stuff.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.