Confident kids in the water
A European product may change the way Minnesota families spend time at the beach

For most Minnesota families, having fun in the water is a big part of summer – and water safety is a big concern. Colleen and Steve Yockey are no different. So, when they learned about a European product that helps beginning swimmers, they decided to share this product with parents in America.

The Yockeys lived in England for 11 years, and their three children – Katie, 9; Callum, 7; and Nick, 1 – were all born there. At the beach on England’s south shore, they saw children wearing jackets that helped them stay afloat. Unlike life preservers, though, these jackets kept the kids in the right position for learning to swim.

A company called Konfidence sells the jackets in England. The Yockeys met with the owners and negotiated the exclusive rights to offer the same products in the United States. They were already planning to move to the Twin Cities to be closer to Colleen’s family and believed the swim jackets and UV-protective swimwear would appeal to parents and grandparents in Minnesota.

The Original Konfidence Jacket, as it’s called, has eight floats that can be removed as the swimmer becomes more proficient in the water. Made of a comfortable and durable, brightly colored neoprene, the jacket looks like sportswear, not safety gear. It provides 50+ SPF sun protection as well, and the colors make children easy to see.

Steve has been showing the jackets to swim instructors and aquatic therapy specialists and says the response has been very positive. The company also offers adult-sized swim jackets that can help people who are learning to swim later in life, or recovering from an injury with the help of water exercise.

“The Konfidence Jacket is a great tool for all beginners,” says Trina Radke, an Olympic swimmer from Minnesota. Radke should know; as a motivational speaker, psychotherapist. and three-time world record holder, she understands the importance of self-assurance in the water. She and her husband, Ross Gerry, offer swim clinics and seminars through their company WeCoach4U. Radke says the jacket offers the same kind of reassurance she and Gerry give through coaching.

Gerry agrees. “It lets children and adults feel their natural buoyancy and get over their fear.” Gerry has coached swimmers at Stanford University, in NCAA championships, and in the Olympic Games some to American and world records. The sun protection is an added bonus, he says. “We spent a lot of time in California, where sunscreen is critical; the Konfidence Jacket offers even better coverage.”

Like Colleen and Steve Yockey, Radke and Gerry moved to Minnesota because it’s a good place to raise children. Their daughter, Shanti Rose, was just born this year. Considering who her parents are, she may never need a Konfidence Jacket. But for other parents of young swimmers, the jacket could make all the difference between the fear of failure and the pride of success.

Clayton Bennett is a Minnesota writer, the parent of two young children, and a very poor swimmer.