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Swimming is for every child: Who can learn to swim!

Blog guest - Amel Kapo, a swimming coach and the founder of the swimming club “Spid” Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

This is a story of a coach and a swimmer. A story of swimming without prejudices. A story of para swimming and its swimming heroes. Because all children have the right to swim and enjoy the water! You may wonder: Who can learn to swim? Every child can learn to swim. Swimming and water give children equal opportunities. So, give children the opportunity to learn to swim.

This story will give you a chance to meet two big hearts of para swimming: Amel Kapo, a swimming coach and the founder of the swim club "Spid" from Sarajevo and his water champion, Ismail Zulfić, from Zenica, a primary school lad, who swims despite having no hands and who enjoys the water.

As a Swimming Dad #Blog guest, Amel Capo is explaining: How “easy” it is to teach children with disabilities how to swim and be safe in and around the water. How to win water battles and is there anything that can prevent children from learning to swim? He is also telling us about a "recipe" for coaches who want to motivate children, parents having no "fins", to spread their "wings" and swim?

What motivates you to go to the pool every day and work with children with disabilities?

I am super motivated by the desire and will for life of the population I work with. That smile, that desire to prove to themselves that they can do it. Because there are people telling them that there are many things that they can’t do, a number of those things they actually can’t due to their "limits". But when you give them an equal opportunity, then they really accept it and demonstrate it, but they also prove to themselves and others that they can do a lot. They just need an opportunity, a bit of will, knowledge and faith of other people. That is my biggest drive. Their smile. Because "In the water we are all equal."

Do you remember the first day, when the future champion, Ismail, came to you? What did his parents want, and what did the boy want to make out of swimming?

I remember it very well. It was a sunny Sunday when his parents came to our pool, which was 75 km away from their home. His parents' wish was to correct the kyphotic position of his spine, and Ismail just wanted to play.

When you accepted the water challenge with Ismail back then, did you believe (in yourself, him) that he would win medals one day?

Let’s say I was dreaming about it, having a picture of it in my mind. But I could not believe or even think of it happening this quickly.

How long did it take you to see the first results with Ismail Zulfic?

As Ismail doesn’t live very close to our pool, due to the high cost of the trip, we had only one training session per week. Once we managed to sort out the cost issue and when he started coming to the training twice a week, there was a huge progress. After 8 months of training, the frightened boy who was afraid of water turned into a boy swimming the 50 m backstroke in his first international competition all on his own. Not only did he swim but he also won a gold medal in his S6 class. It was fantastic.

Did you have any experience in para swimming before him?

Before Ismail, I didn't have much experience in para swimming, since the club was founded only three months before his arrival. I was trained in Istanbul to coach swimmers with disabilities and this was basically my first direct contact with para swimming. I had several cases in the elementary swimming school where I worked as an external associate for the Olympic swimming pool in Sarajevo. Until then, I had experience working with people with disabilities who trained and played sitting volleyball, which is also a Paralympic sport.

Ismail, as a three-year-old boy, was afraid of water. How did you motivate today's swimming champion to get into the water and swim?

First of all, that fear of water was there even before we started with trainings. I tried different methods to get him motivated. Since I knew Ismail loved the ball a lot, I brought him one in the shape of a ladybug. There were also other inflatable props such as turtles, fish and stars. Thanks to some pedagogical "tricks", I managed to get him into the water. It was a long process because the most important thing in the first lessons is for the child to start loving the water, especially when he is afraid of it.

What battles did you fight (against yourself, or against others, the environment) once you decided that every child has the right to swim?

Since we live in a society that still see people with disabilities as different, most often in a wrong way, I did have a lot of struggles. At first, when they came to swim, we could feel those strange looks on us, finger-pointing followed by whispering and stirring. Most of our society see the things people with disabilities cannot do. We all know that. But let's see what they can do. Only in this way can we make our society a better place.

When we started making the first visible progress in children, that opinion started to change a bit. People would approach and support those children and wonder out loud:"How come that he can swim even without his hands, and my child has everything but still doesn't know how to swim?". Then we realised what motivation our champions can give to the society.

Now when we show up at the pool, we hear comments like "here come those champions" and the like.

We’ve managed to change the mindset of our microenvironment.

And we want to go on with that!

How much did water and swimming help you in this struggle?

I’ve been also asked quite a lot why I am doing it for free. My answer was that every child has the right to the opportunity to do sports. Sports should be free. Because if we want to have a healthy nation, a healthy population, we have to do sports.

Our task as sports teachers is to preserve and improve the health status of people. That's what we do. Water and swimming are a fantastic medium which can help us achieve this, which is not a case with any other sport in the world. We have our members who use wheelchairs, walkers, props, so they are not very mobile on the dry. At the same time, they are fantastic swimmers in the water, they move without any help of the mentioned props. That is why we are all equal in the water.

How "easy" is it to teach children with disabilities to swim, and feel safe in and around the water?

My opinion and practical experience show that it is much easier to work with people with disabilities than with children of typical development. It may be a little harder for us coaches to organise everything, but practically, they acquire and solve the set tasks much faster.

Children of typical development have many opportunities for everything they want to achieve in life, while people with disabilities do not. And when you give them a chance, they grab it and come to trainings with a smile and they solve tasks.

How many children do you work with today when it comes to para swimming?

As the primary goal of the club was to do only para swimming, but we soon realised that there were many children who did not belong to para swimming, we decided to give everyone a chance. People from the spectrum of autism, Down syndrome, developmental disabilities and those with physical deformities - they are all members of our club.

When it comes to people with disabilities, we currently have 95 active members. At the same time, some of our projects cover the work with 60 more people with disabilities. As far as the competitive drive is concerned, we have 10 para swimmers who regularly participate in regional competitions, and beyond.

Is there a "recipe" for coaches who want to motivate children, parents without "fins" to spread their "wings" and swim?

There is no recipe by definition.

All you need is a good will, desire, empathy towards people with disabilities, and the knowledge is crucial.

As our Ismail would say: "EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE".


Mature in the pool, but also on the dry, Ismail, together with his parents, explained to us why swimming was important, why all children should swim, and what he did when he was not in the pool ...

Why do you think it is important for children to learn to swim and enjoy the water? What would you tell children of your age, your friends?

Because swimming is not just an opportunity for having fun and relaxing, it also has a positive effect on our health. In the water, children feel free and protected at the same time, they can perform all kinds of acrobatics without getting hurt.

What has swimming given to you, and what has it taken away?

Swimming is definitely a sport that brings a lot, you are constantly in shape, it makes you healthier and more resilient to disease, it is fun, relaxing, you get rid of anxiety and stress, you have a better sleep, but at the same time it requires sacrifice and commitment. All in all, the advantages are far greater than the disadvantages.

Do you think that all children today have the right to swim?

Swimming has a positive effect on the overall development of children, but also on social development, because swimming means socializing and having fun with other children. And because of that, I think that all children do have the right to swim and socialise through swimming.

Ismail keeps talking...

What do you like most about swim training?

I like to swim the butterfly style the most.

Who do you like swimming and playing in the water with?

I like swimming with my friend Ismail the most, and I love all the friends at the pool, but Ismail Barlov is special.

What do you like to do when you're not in the pool?

Aside from swimming, I like playing football, cycling, and I also love all the board games with the kids!

Life is more beautiful when you are swimming!

In 2015, Amel Kapo, a swimming coach, founded the first and only swimming club for people with disabilities "Spid", Sarajevo, in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In a short period of time, he enrolled over a hundred people with disabilities with different types of degrees and forms of disability in the primary school of swimming and made excellent results, including the best para swimmers who have participated in international competitions.

As a selector of the national team of para swimmers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, he participated with his para swimmers in the Mediterranean Games in Tarragona, Spain in 2018, the European Pairs Swimming Championships in Dublin, Ireland in 2018, where they achieved notable results for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Today, Amel Kapo teaches children the life skill of swimming every day!


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