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The Unfortunate Path that Many Swimmers Follow:

The swimmer’s career often starts with 8/under success and high parental enthusiasm. The child is encouraged by parents and others to excel and a big deal is made out of every accomplishment. As the child changes age groups and moves into the 9/10 group, even the most successful child may struggle because he or she has a harder time finding success against 10 year olds. What successes are achieved may not be as noticeable. Unfortunately, as many as one-third of the young swimmers and their families do not make it past this point.

By the time swimmers are 10 or 11 years old they (or their parents) may realize that twice a week practices or summer only swimming is not enough to compete with others who are practicing more frequently. Physical ability and natural coordination can still help athlete to stay competitive and have success but it is getting harder to stay on top. More big changes and rude awakenings are lurking in the future.

The first Big Change: From 10/under to 11 & 12

  1. Events become longer going from 25’s and 50's to 50's and 100's and even some 200's and distance freestyle events. 

  2. Competition changes from sprint competition to race/pace/competition. 

  3. In some programs, one half of the athletes and their families do not make this change. They never give the coaches or the program a chance to help the athlete adapt to the changing nature of swimming competition.

 The second Big Change: From age 12 to 13&14/Senior swimming. 

  1. Events change again. Now it is all 100's & 200's along with 400/500 and 1000/1650.

  2. The athlete must develop a work ethic and intensify the training aspect of swimming.

  3. Physical changes affect both male and female athletes. Athletes get bigger and stronger, but many, especially the girls, may struggle to cope with their “new bodies.”

  4. This can one of the most rewarding phases of an athlete’s career, yet many will give up.

The third Big Change: A focus on college swimming

  1. Swimmers who remain in the sport start to look at the possibility of swimming in college.

  2. Questions arise concerning the choice of colleges, the level of swimming, the possibilities of scholarships and the willingness to compete and train for another four years.

Let’s put these changes into “real” numbers:

Suppose a team has 12 Novice swimmers.


  1. Only 8 will remain in swimming past the first Big Change

  2. Only 4 will remain in swimming past the second Big Change.

  3. Only 2 will remain in swimming past the third Big Change.

The Role of the Parent in Navigating the Big Changes:

Sometimes, unfortunately, it is the parents who are responsible for their child leaving the sport. For example:

  1. Parents who are former athletes, especially former swimmers, may have unreasonably high expectations.

  2. Parents believe that they are in charge of the athlete’s happiness and that only “winning” can bring happiness.

  3. Parents believe that early success equates with long term success. The 8/under star will, of course, become an Olympian.

  4. Parents may not understand the need for technical and skill development before “swimming fast.”

Parents must examine their own motives. Form a philosophy that emphasizes the process, not the outcome. Be the guides on the “fun path” not the “victory path.” When parents use these words, their emphasis is misplaced:

We - Beat - Win - Fast - Lost - Try - Only - My

What Can Parents Do to Reverse the Trend?

Parents must develop, progress and grow the just as athletes do. Experience is the key and communication is the mode. Swimmers already have coaches, friends and teammates. They need a parent to fill the parental role. “Coaches coach children, parents raise children. “

Here are some of the benefits your child will garner if he or she sticks with swimming:

Life Lessons: Only one swimmer can win the race. Does this mean everyone else is a loser? Of course not! Swimmers need to constantly be reminded that a top-notch effort on their part will result in personal satisfaction and a contribution to their team. Most USA Swimming clubs design a program of competitive training and competition for our younger swimmers based on long term development. Therefore, we may not stress early competitive success with a great deal of fanfare. Remember that swimmers under the age of 12 are very inconsistent which can be frustrating to a parent or to the swimmers themselves. Fun and patience are the keys here.

Leadership: In many cases, our team leaders and successful Senior swimmers were not outstanding age group swimmers. Those who “stick with it” often develop into outstanding leaders, having learned patience, dedication and commitment. Steady progress and understanding the meaning of various accomplishments will make a motivated, well adjusted Senior swimmer.

The Myths and Misconceptions about Swimming for a Year-Round Club By Jim Rusnak, Managing Editor of Splash Magazine (USA Swimming)

Many country club and summer recreational league swimmers have the wrong idea about their counterparts on USA Swimming clubs. Maybe they catch a glimpse of them swimming at the local pool or at summer league meets and think there’s no way they could ever be as good as these club kids, never mind swim on the same team as them. They must practice six hours a day in a pool full of aspiring Olympians. Whatever myths and misconceptions may exist, they are keeping some summer league swimmers from the fun of participating on a year-round club team. And that’s too bad, says Pat Hogan, a former club coach with the Mecklenburg Aquatic Club in Charlotte, N.C., and director of club development at USA Swimming. “If a young person has enjoyed a seasonal swimming experience with the YMCA, country club, rec league, whatever, and they like the feeling of being in the water, then giving year-round swimming a whirl is something that makes sense,” Hogan said. “I think 50 to 75 percent of summer league swimmers who choose to swim year-round do so to get better for their summer league, and it opens up a whole world that they didn’t know existed.” Hogan’s colleague, USA Swimming’s eastern zone coordinator Sue Anderson, agreed. “If they think they might be interested, they need to try it – at whatever age,” Anderson said. “They should just try it. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to keep doing it. You can always go back to what you did like.” According to Hogan, Anderson and the rest of the folks in USA Swimming’s Club Development Division, there are any number of concerns that keep summer league swimmers from joining year-round clubs.

Here are some of the biggest myths and misconceptions, coupled by the facts that should help debunk most of them:

Myth #1 – I’m not good enough to swim with a year-round club. “That’s probably the most ridiculous one,” Anderson said. “Clubs have kids at every level. Some might have some very good swimmers, but every club I know has novice swimmers. Clubs are not going to survive if they only take stars.” Hogan says the source of this myth often stems from the fact that a lot of the kids winning events in summer league meets are year-round club swimmers. The average summer league swimmer sees these kids and thinks he’s just not good enough. “Part of what you’ve got to do is talk one-on-one with the parents and educate them on youth sports dynamics,” Hogan said. “In swimming, just like in other sports, kids who mature the quickest aren’t always the best as they get older. It’s the late bloomers that tend to be the best, especially in their teens.”

Myth #2 – The time commitment is too much. The truth is, most good clubs structure their programs so that time commitment increases gradually as the swimmer develops and improves. Hogan says club teams tend to be their own worst enemy when it comes to this myth. “We’re so proud of how hard our kids work, we emphasize all the hard work they do and all the time they put in, but most of the time, we’re talking about the best swimmers on the club, not necessarily the regular kids,” Hogan said. “We end up painting a picture that’s not real attractive to novice swimmers. “It’s important to swim on a regular basis, but you don’t have to be doing doubles at age 8 in order to develop. For new year-round swimmers, the commitment is not what it will be at 15 or 16.”

Myth #3 – I won’t be able to participate in other activities if I swim. There’s an ounce of truth to this one, says Anderson, but mostly, it’s a matter of choice. “Most clubs structure themselves so younger kids can participate in other activities,” she said. “It gets tougher for high school-aged kids, but again, it’s a choice. If you want to dabble in every single activity, it could be very tough.” A well-rounded athlete will be a more successful athlete, so Hogan says most good clubs will encourage younger swimmers to participate in other activities in order to promote success in swimming over the long term. “It’s very important that programs structure themselves in such a way for 12-and-under kids that swimming is just one of the things they do, not the only thing,” he said. “Programs have got to be structured in such a way that kids are encouraged to do other activities and give everything a try.”

Myth # 4 – Year-round swimming is too serious. This one comes down to each individual’s definition of what is too serious. Most year-round swimmers say they like being with their friends, like being on their teams and enjoy competing. “This one always seemed kind of silly to me,” Anderson said. “If there’s a high-pressure parental situation, it’s probably too serious. But if it’s something you enjoy doing, serious swimming can be fun.”

Myth #5 – I’ll burn out if I start swimming year-round too soon. “I hate that word,” Anderson said. “Burn-out is a very serious physiological-psychological condition that’s not going to happen to a kid swimming five days a week for an hour and a half each practice. “If a kid is enjoying it, having fun and not under a lot of pressure, it’s not an issue.” What most kids experience is discouragement rather than burnout, and most of the time, it has nothing to do with swimming year-round. “The reason it happens is that the kid’s experience is not planned for,” Hogan said. “Some kids mature quickly, have success early, then stop succeeding when other kids catch up to them. These kids get discouraged more than burned out.”

Myth #6 – It’s too expensive. Swimming year-round costs no more than many other comparable activities, and when parents factor in all the costs of operating a program, it’s actually a very good deal. “Compared to activities like gymnastics or anything else that requires professional coaches and facility rental, it’s actually pretty comparable,” Anderson said. “I used to figure out what it cost my swimmers, and it came out to less than a dollar an hour. “It’s unfair to compare swimming to recreational soccer leagues. You have to compare apples to apples. I always tell parents to compare it to the cost of day care.” Hogan points out other factors. “A lot of other activities are not as forthcoming with their fees,” he said. “We tend to advertise all our fees up front, so swimming often appears to be more expensive than it really is.”

Myth #7 – I don’t want my 10-year-old doing double practices. “People have this misconception that 8-year-olds train twice a day,” Hogan said. “People who don’t know anything about the sport don’t realize there’s a progression to get to that point.” The bottom line is, no novice swimmer will be expected to swim double practices, especially if he or she is under the age of 13. That’s a step that comes much later, after the swimmer has gained some experience in the sport, and after the body has matured physically. “If you’re on a team where 10-year-olds are doing doubles, then you need to find a new team,” Anderson said. “Any intelligent coach won’t have 10-year-olds doing doubles.”