Raising a Competitive Swimmer

Over the decades I have often been asked about how much swimming does a young ager grouper need?  When do they need to start swimming on a team? When is it too late to start as a swimmer? As I try to provide some guidance to parents on how to help their young athlete evolve please remember two concepts:

  • First, no one formula fits every child.
  • Second, I am always interested in the child’s full career, not one year. I want to prepare younger swimmers to have the best senior career possible for them.

Ideally, the younger you put them in the water the better.  Before six, I like to see kids comfortable in the water, willing to jump off the side and put their face in the water without an issue.

Between five and six, a child can begin learning to swim freestyle and backstroke.  Key accomplishments are getting up, on plane, in the water and being able to do a low head rhythm breathing on freestyle. At this age a legal breast is unlikely, but a bonus. Assuming good coaching,they can learn these skills on a swim team, or in swim lessons, even a summer league team.

By eight I would like to have them on a year-round team swimming three practices of 45- 60 minutes. At this age the emphasis in the pool should be focused on learning mechanics and rules, mixed with fun and they may be only swimming the short course season (September to April). In addition, a second, or even third, sport that keeps them running is a great way to get some conditioning without pushing young shoulders. My favorite option for a second sport is soccer.

Starting on a swim team at nine will still work and the swimmer will catch-up.

By ten, swimming should begin to increase to four practices a week with some workout yardage coming into play. Also basic dryland should be a regular part of their training habit. Keep up the second sport and swimming only short course season is still fine, but swimming year-round..

As athletes turn 11 it becomes time to start focusing a bit more. While still doing two sports, swimming needs to become the primary sport. It is time to start swimming year-round. Stroke mechanic work never ends, but by eleven a swimmer should have all legal strokes, turns, and starts.  Now starts an emphasis on training. Yardage begins to grow and 5000-yard workouts are not daily, but not uncommon.

At 12 we have built to six workouts a week, and doubles during the summer. Yardage begins to increase and it is becoming very difficult for a child to enter the sport and expect they can catch up to their swimming peers who started even just two years ago.

As a swimmer turns 13 they are entering the beginning of their senior career. Dryland work should become a more critical part of their training, and at some point they should begin lifting. The decision to start lifting is one which should be made cautiously, working with coach, and if needed, your pediatrician. You need to ensure that the young athlete’s body is mature enough.

By this time, it is unlikely that a teenager just entering the sport will catch up to his experienced swimming peers. That doesn’t mean they cannot be contributing members to a high-school team and enjoy the benefits of participating in the sport. And, of course there are the few naturals who have just enough background, and the perfect swimming body, that allows them to catch up, usually in sprints.

Now entering high-school, their career as a junior closed

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