Youth Development – a Focus for ANA Synchro and the Y!

Today, every Y across the country, and even the world, is united by three common pillars:  Youth Development, Healthy Living, and Social Responsibility.  What exactly does this mean for ANA Synchro?  What does it mean for any team competing under a Y banner?  In this first part of a three-part series of posts, ANA Synchro talks to Alex Turek, Executive Director of the Andover/North Andover Y, about what it means for ANA Synchro athletes and families that the Y is so focused on Youth Development:
Alex Turek, Executive Director of the Andover/North Andover YMCA, home base of ANA Synchro.

ANA Synchro: What does “being for Youth Development” mean to you?

Alex Turek (Executive Director): The three pillars – Youth Development, Healthy Living, and Social Responsibility – really encapsulate all that we do here at the Y.  I often think of modeling and reinforcing the four qualities of caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility as what we do for youth specifically.  There are a lot of different things within each of those four qualities that we teach every day in all our Y teams and programs.

ANA Synchro:Why should a parent or an athlete care that the Y and ANA Synchro have a focus on Youth Development?

Alex Turek (Executive Director): When a program like ANA Synchro, or any of our teams for that matter, constantly works on developing those four qualities in young athletes, I think you get a lot more out of the youth sports experience.  Kids and families might look at belonging to the team as just an activity where their kids do synchronized swimming, but the goal of the Y is much bigger than that.  Of course we want them to reach their full potential and compete at a national level, but we also want to develop the whole athlete.  We want to build their self-confidence and set the stage for lifelong wellness through physical activity.  We don’t want them to burn-out, we want them to learn to compete intensely and professionally with respect for other athletes, and we want them to learn the importance of winning as a team.  This is not to say, of course, that you can’t get the same experience anywhere else, but I believe that we here at the Y are more intentionally focused on it.

ANA Synchro: How does the Y do this?  It seems complicated enough just to teach the skills for a sport and manage the competitions.

Alex Turek (Executive Director): It’s a combination of hiring the right people, training them the right way, and providing them with resources they need.  When you do all that, you can expect great things.

ANA Synchro: And you’ve just hired Leah Pinette, former captain of the US National Team!

Alex Turek (Executive Director): Yes!  And I’m excited for our direction.  Knowing what Leah has done just in these first couple months, and seeing how she interacts with the athletes, families, other coaches and staff, I’m confident that our ANA Synchro team will grow and achieve great things.  Leah is a coach who understands the concept of developing the whole athlete.

ANA Synchro: What do you mean when you talk about training for the coaches?   It seems like they know all they need to know about the technique of the sport.

Alex Turek (Executive Director): I’m interested in helping all our coaches understand a little bit more about positive youth development.  It’s something we talk about a lot and even include as goals for individual coaches. Plus, I’m researching some training programs specific to positive youth development – not just for synchro, but for all the Y coaches.  I’d love to see this as being part of what the Andover Y does for our own coaches and maybe even what the Merrimack Valley Y does for all youth sports coaches in our area.

ANA Synchro: Why are you so interested in this?  Is it just because of the national Y directive to be for Youth Development?

Alex Turek (Executive Director): That’s part of it certainly.  But I’m also a coach myself!  I went to school for it, and I coach basketball today.  I’m also a parent of young kids who want to play sports.  So I naturally concern myself with these issues and how youth sports coaching can continue to advance.  I see how my own kids are treated as athletes and how our kids here at the Y are treated as athletes.  And I want to be doing the best we can to arm our coaches with the knowledge and tools to provide a positive youth sports experience for these kids.

ANA Synchro: Do you think you sacrifice anything, competitively, to maintain this focus on developing the whole athlete?

Alex Turek (Executive Director): Absolutely not!  The best athletes are well-rounded and balanced people – not those who compete at any cost.  ANA Synchro has a long history of participating and competing at the national level, and that’s not going to change.  Leah and I both believe that the relationship between being competitive and developing the whole athlete is very strong and can’t be separated.  We believe we can absolutely have high-performing, but well-rounded athletes who care about the people around them and who are going to be well-adjusted adults.  That’s the ultimate goal – to develop kids to be strong people both in and out of the pool.


Readers…Stay tuned to the blog! In the coming months, we’ll take closer looks at the “Healthy Living” and “Social Responsibility” pillars of the Y and what they mean for ANA Synchro athletes and families.

For more information on Leah Pinette and the coaching staff at ANA Synchro, click here: ANA Synchro is the competitive synchronized swimming team of the Merrimack Valley YMCA’s Andover/North Andover Branch.  To visit the ANA YMCA’s website, click  here: